There’s nothing like diving into a series of films in one fell swoop to watch the breadth of a talented performer or director. I did this with RUTH ROMAN. I call her The Mighty Roman. I find her a very commanding presence. Her darkness could be part of it. She’s sable; with a dark touch of Dana Wynter / Suzanne Pleshette / Gail Russell / Gail Patrick / Jean Simmons / Barbara Rush~thing going on…all rolled up into one fierce package. Someone in my FaceBook group mentioned another actress who did not have the chops to stare a man down. Well Ruth certainly can. My God it’s withering. There’s a touch of danger in her. Her performances are believable and with conviction. I’m not quite sure why she really wasn’t a bigger star. Why couldn’t she truly break out though she’s done 60+ films. Could it be she was more character actress than leading lady?
Well I’m going with that and nudging Ruthie’s name as a participant in the “WHAT A CHARACTER!” blogathon. To be included in this peren nial favorite, now in its fifth year, is a big deal for my little blog. Hosted by Aurora of “Once Upon A Screen”, Kellee of “Outspoken and Freckled” and Paula of “Paula’s Cinema Club” this blogathon shines a spotlight on those somewhat unheralded in our cozy little classic film community. So let me showcase the Mighty Roman here and later talk about one of my favorite films of hers “TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.”
Ruth Roman is a Yankee, a New Englander born in Revere, Massachusetts in 1922 ( though different sources cite different years for her birth ). She studied acting at the Bishop Lee Dramatic School and cut her teeth with the New England Repertory Company before heading out to Hollywood. She tooled around in bit parts in ‘uncredited girl’ roles young actresses are wont to do before getting her break by studio head Dore Schary to appear opposite relative newcomer, Kirk Douglas in “CHAMPION.”
Roman plays housewife to dopey Glenn Ford in “YOUNG MAN WITH IDEAS.” She tones it down. For me it’s a crime to see her wearing an apron, running after three kids and puttering around the house, when she seems like she should be in a board room…but I went with it. Next up she’s a glamorous Nancy Drew trying to figure out if Richard Todd is indeed a murderer in “LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE.” I enjoyed this movie. While in my kitchen I heard the familiar voice of that other tigress, Mercedes McCambridge and ran into the living room to confirm it. Yup. It was her. I love that crazy McCambridge and her staccato delivery. Ruth is a good girl in this; falling in love…and then in fear. She’s light, easy…witty and clever with black shining eyes.
Ruth does another turn as a good girl in Hitchcock’s masterpiece of double trouble: “STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.” Ruth doesn’t have much to do in this Hitchcock classic but be the supportive girlfriend. And see…she can be that way too. Again I think she tamps it down to make it plausible for Farley Granger to get a girl like her. ( He really is more suited to a Cathy O’Donnell-type ). But that’s okay Ruthie. You’re in a Hitchcock film. Hell, what blondes can do, so can brunettes.
Roman had a real~life drama on her hands when the cruise ship she was on sunk. In 1956 returning to the States from Europe, the Andrea Dorea collided with MS Stockholm. Roman ran back to her cabin to grab her three year old little boy and put in a lifeboat. The boat took off before Ruth could board it. She got on another lifeboat and was reunited with her son via the Ile de France. Don’t know if her career could ever compare to that.
If my preference is seeing Roman on the mean side ~ ( hey, what can I tell ya? ) ~ then “INVITATION” satisfies my need. Starring Dorothy McGuire and Van Johnson, Roman plays Johnson’s ex-fiancee ( Maud ) who is dumped so he can marry McGuire. Roman does not suffer loss easily and is a stone cold bitch when she discovers Johnson only marries McGuire because she’s dying. Oh yeah, she makes sure she knows this:
“Oh, don’t worry, I just happened to be in the building, and dropped into his office. Oh, he’s still yours, at least for the time being. I told you, remember, the day of your wedding, ‘I don’t give up so easily.’ Remember? I said, ‘The first round goes to you, or your father’s money … You can have Dan,’ I said, ‘for about a year on loan.’ And that’s why you’re really here, isn’t it? Because the year’s dwindling out fast. Only a couple of months left, and you’re scared to death. Well, Ellen, do you think I have given up?”
I’ve only seen pieces of “THREE SECRETS” many years too long ago. One of my friends has reviewed this film in his cozy corner of my blog. Tell me THIS doesn’t whet your appetite. Roman is comfortable in westerns as proof is in the sasparilla of “BELLE STARR’S DAUGHTER” “COLT .45” “REBEL IN TOWN”, the famed Anthony Mann’s “THE FAR COUNTRY” with James Stewart and “DALLAS” with that lovely stalwart tall drink of water…Gary Cooper. Also in the cast, waiting in the wings, is the other side of midnight: Steve Cochran. She worked with the dark, handsome and dangerous Steve Cochran in a film I’d like to look at in detail. “TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.”
I had never heard of this movie, didn’t know what the heck to expect; it’s better that way. I was pleasantly surprised. “TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY” reveals a couple of layers I enjoyed.
THE BOY CAN ACT
STEVE COCHRAN plays an ex-con just released from prison. I always liked Cochran…his lush deep dark looks and tough guy persona. But that’s not quite what I got in “Tomorrow…” ( no tough-guy, but still killer looks. ) See, he’s been in prison for eighteen years since he was a thirteen-year old boy. So his new life on the outside is really quite an adjustment. And Cochran plays his character as slightly emotionally stunted. He never waivers from that, and it’s always subtly evident; this is a testament to his ( very under-rated ) acting. He pulls it off. ( His dark humor in “Deadly Companions” was an eye-opener as well. ) There was a boyishness to him in “Tomorrow…”. He is hurt, defensive, mistrustful. There is a sweetness to him that endeared him to me.
Now remember, he was thirteen when he went into prison eighteen years ago. When it dawned on my thick skull what that “really” meant, I confess it quickened my pulse a bit, seeing how good Cochran looks. And the first woman he falls hard for?
Brittle, hard as nails, bottle blonde Ruth Roman. Mama mia!! The poor lug doesn’t know what hit him. Sometimes ten cents a dance is a high price to pay.
He’s socially awkward, and sweet as well; and that makes for an apt pupil. She sees “something” in this young man. Uhmmmm…mostly, she sees a patsy.
A STAGEDOOR JOHNNY….WITH NO BAUBLES, BANGLES or BRAINS??
Using his prison pay, he buys her a gold-plated watch. She can’t let herself be soft; it’s a hard cold cruel world for a blonde alone. With a twist of fate and Ruthie’s lies, they are now on the run.
ON THE LAM
This is some kind of wildly subversive Hitchcockian plot twist. Not only is Cochran, ‘the wrong man’ but he think he IS the man. “Tomorrow Is Another Day” is a unique “on-the-lam” tale because she’s tricked him into thinking he must run. He never wants to go back to prison, he’s never really ever able to breathe comfortably, he thinks she’s going to tell on him…so he’s always on edge. Not the fey-jittery-Farley Granger-edge, but a darker weightier edge. She’s actually kind of holding him hostage with her secret. You feel sorry for him.
The laugh’s on her when she realizes she’s hitched her little caboose to a convicted murderer. Into the frying pan.
They’re on the lam. They change clothes and hitch rides. They’re not out in the open. They do a lot of walking, and hopping on trains. They talk. He’s a survivor in this environment. They register in a seedy motel as man and wife with phony identities. Ruth still holds Cochran at arm’s length. “Don’t get any ideas, Buster” is easier said than done; she’s warming up to him. In spite of herself, she slowly falls for Cochran. In an effort to disguise herself from The Law, Ruth dyes her blonde hair brunette. Yay!!! Finally! It’s Ruth Roman, dark and lovely as she should be, like we know and love her. Cochran’s man/boy gets plenty of ideas. After all, they’re now married ( if in name only )…it has been eighteen years…and it IS Ruth Roman. Ruth turns girlish, asks him if he likes her new hair color. He does. He likes her. He loves her. The wait is over…they really become man and wife here.
TRUST…THE BEGINNING OF LOVE
Now a brunette, her glam toned down and her softness revealed, Ruth and Cochran catch a break by helping migrant farmers Ray Teal and wife Lurene Tuttle, one of my favorite character actresses. ( See my contribution about her for the 2014 ‘What A Character‘ blogathon at the Once Upon A Screen blog. ) Ruth has softened considerably and Cochran seems more at ease. She’s toned down her hardness and he takes the lead a bit more in their new life together. Even if she has to scold him she never pulls out the beeyotch card, but does it a maternal wifely way. They live the life of lettuce pickers in a small itinerant California community. Whoa! This is far afield from the bright lights of a 40-watt dim and dirty dance hall, and Ruth takes to it. It was easily and subtly done to watch her warm up to Cochran and gain his trust. He begins to trust. She’s wifey now in a little wooden shack…making dinners, sewing patterns, and pregnant to boot. They’re both able to exhale.
AS USUAL, GREED REARS ITS GREEDY, UGLY HEAD
Cochran’s true identity is discovered by Tuttle and Teal ( sounds like an old vaudeville team, doesn’t it? ) and trust begins to break down with everybody. I love Lurene Tuttle’s acting here. Her character is in conflict about a choice some might find easy to make. That she struggles with this choice, is a testimony to her.
I have waaay more Ruth Roman films to discover, but I’ve got a good head start. “Tomorrow Is Another Day” weaves a tale of folks trapped by circumstances. Showing the growing love of two distrusting people was an added bonus for me. I heartily recommend this film to you. The Mighty Roman is in good company with other character actors and actresses who rarely get the spotlight. Want to read about ’em? Click onto Aline MacMahon. and Guy Kibbee and read about other great character actors. Start with Day 3 and work your way back to Days 1 and 2:
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