Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Five Nights With…1956: Ransom!

Continuing on from yesterday, the next film on my list is Alex Segal’s ‘Ransom!’.  My ‘Tuesday Top Ten’ will be taking a brief hiatus this week for this particular series.  I, apparently, have time management issues and was unable to put together the Top Ten I had wanted to and I didn’t want to just lazily throw one together (not like I haven’t done that before, but I have a legitimate excuse to skip a week).

As I mentioned yesterday, ‘Ransom!’ is linked to yesterday’s entry, ‘Jubal’, through their star, Glenn Ford.  They provide him two very different films, themes and characters and give him a chance to be completely overshadowed by his costars.  This isn’t to say that he is a bad actor or that he fails to impress to a certain degree, but his reserved method of acting made it easy for the other actors in his films to chew the scenery or to merely emote stronger and thus steal my gaze.  I haven’t seen a lot of his films, but the ones I’ve seen recently have left a slightly forgettable taste in my mouth.

But there is more to this movie than Glenn Ford.

You may not be aware of this, but ‘Ransom!’ is actually the inspiration for 1996’s ‘Ransom’ starring Mel Gibson (and to a lesser degree, 1963’s ‘High and Low’).  I didn’t know that when I first saw that it was coming on TCM a while back, but then I read the synopsis and it became obvious.  I’m in the minority I think when it comes to the 1996 film.  I actually really liked it.  I feel that it contains Mel Gibson’s finest performance and holds the tension rather well, especially with regard to Gibson’s angle.  I’ll try and refrain from comparing the two films too closely, since that isn’t how films should be reviewed, but I don’t think I’ll be able to completely avoid comparison.

The story is the same.  David and Edith Stannard have a wonderful life, complete with joy and happiness and a beautiful son, Andy.  Then one day Andy is picked up from school by someone claiming to be a nurse and he doesn’t come home.  David and Edith are racked with panic until they receive the ransom demands and then they fall into full-fledged hysteria as they try and work out the best possible solution to this horrendous situation.  After some statistical facts run across David’s ears, he decides that the best course of action is to outright deny the kidnapper’s request and formally refuse to pay the ransom.  His wife, and the community at large, disagree with him.  All looks to be lost, and David is playing a dangerous game, but he pushes forward, confident that his decision is best.

The one thing that struck me when the credits began to roll was the sad fact that this film is just half of an idea.  I think the reason that I respond to the 1996 version more than this one is that it actually pushed through and brought the ‘idea’ to completion.  It wasn’t a perfect completion, but it at least felt somewhat thought out.  This 1956 version just feels half-baked.  It has a stirring premise and the decision to refuse ransom makes this all the more titillating and intriguing and yet it was almost as if that was all the screenwriter had going and then decided to completely drop the ball.  The ending feels so tacked on, like a lazy way out of a predicament the screenwriters and director were just stumped as to how to ‘wrap up’.  I’m not sure that the way the 1996 version went about that ending was much better, but it was at least an ending (and it does contain that intensity filled confrontation).

What ‘Ransom!’ does have going for it is Donna Reed’s magnificent performance.  She completely unearths so much raw intensity and mangled depression as Edith Stannard.  The phone scene, where she hears that her son is missing, is just remarkably played, and when she turns on her husband she completely devours the scene.  Her decent down those stairs is heartbreaking.  Next to her, Glenn Ford just doesn’t reach.  He does well in his smaller, quieter scenes, and he certainly had a charisma that is shown well in the first few frames of the film, but when he tries to force intensity he just looks constipated and comes off too exaggerated, especially next to Reed’s undeniable naturalness.

I also want to point out that the opening scene, with the jovial score and narrated look at the neighborhood, made this appear to be a sitcom and really took me out of the tone of the story.  I wonder if that was intentional, trying to make the shock of what was about to happen feel more like something that could happen to anyone, but I don’t know if it paid off like intended.

Still, this is far from a bad film, it just doesn’t feel like a complete one.  It was an idea that didn’t get fully developed, but certain aspects of the film should not be missed (namely Donna Reed).  Sadly, this film does not have a DVD release, and finding it on VHS is going to be very hard to do.  If you do see this grace TCM anytime soon, I recommend giving it a watch. 

Tomorrow we’ll be chiming in on ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, which was also released in 1956.  This Alfred Hitchcock film is a very stirring thriller that shares a particular theme with today’s entry; that of kidnapping!  If you’re able to see the film tonight, I HIGHLY recommend it (yes, it is one of Hitchcock’s finest films), and if you’ve already seen it I look forward to your comments tomorrow.  


  1. Glad to hear Reed is in fine form, as I need to explore more of her work. I haven't seen either version, but I do want to give them a look, especially the 1996 one for what you said about Gibson's performance.

    1. It really is a great showcase for Gibson. I haven't worked out my final ballots for 96, but he's in contention for a nomination.

  2. I agree with what you said about Ford, the word that comes to mind when I think about him is solid. He's never bad and sometimes an able comedian but I don't think I've ever seen him be riveting nor the strongest piece of his pictures. Probably his strongest performance is in the original 3:10 to Yuma but usually his co-stars brushed him aside. It's Gloria Grahame you remember from The Big Heat and Rita Hayworth in Gilda or Lee Remick and Stefanie Powers in Experiment in Terror. And yet he was an enormous star for several decades whose career often outlast those more memorable players so for him dependably good worked.

    Donna Reed is the strongest element in this but it does have that strong supporting cast, Robert Keith again! and I'm a big fan of the little remembered Juano Hernandez, and the film overall is a taut thriller as far as it goes. The Gibson one was okay though it didn't blow me away and until now I hadn't thought of it in years.

    1. For me, the remake pushed it further and filled in the gaps, whereas this one was almost a little too straightforward.

      And 3:10 is all about Heflin for me.