'The Story of Ruth (1960) - Movie Review'
IT should be apparent to anyone who has ever read the Biblical Book of Ruth that to get a screen play from it a writer would have to do a lot of reading between the lines, then put his imagination to rather extensive use. As it stands, it is a curiously cryptic and temptingly stimulating book.
Well, it's obvious that Norman Corwin made bold enough to do both in preparing a script for Samuel G. Engel's big wide-screen color film, "The Story of Ruth," which opened to the public at the Paramount and Normandie yesterday. But, unfortunately, his interlinear reading appears to have been on the innocent side and his use of imagination circumspect and dull.
Where you would think a writer might have found for the background of Ruth something softly feminine and romantic, Mr. Corwin has made her out to be a somewhat metallic former high priestess of a pagan theology who backslides her own religion and is married to a Judean because of his more comforting god. The two talk religion, not sweet nothings, when they get alone beneath the stars.
And you might think this same writer could have arranged for Ruth something sweet and perhaps a little racy with her late husband's kinsman, Boaz, after she has been made a widow and fled to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law. But Mr. Corwin has mainly arranged for her to be charged with idolatry, a not very interesting defection. It is from this charge that she is freed by a virtuous Boaz.
All in all, Mr. Corwin has concocted a rather stiff and pompous dramatic account of how the great-grandmother of King David got over being a Moabite and got herself married to a Judean by lying beside him on the threshing floor. (Mr. Corwin has not even let her go to that modest extreme. He has kept the two at arm's length, with only a tender look passing between.)
And Mr. Engel and Henry Koster, who directed, have followed a stiff and pompous line in putting a potentially romantic and poetic story on the screen. Their style, decorative and dramatic, is ornate, heavy and grim, pretentious of deep spiritual meaning but without convincing throb of flesh or soul.
It is hard to say whether Elana Eden, who plays Ruth, could successfully convey a considerable surge of emotion if she had a script and direction to spur her on. She is a pretty young lady, possessed of a very lovely and expressive pair of eyes. But without either a script or direction she is flat and mechanical, another automaton walking and talking through a Hollywood Biblical film.
Peggy Wood does show some range of feeling as Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth, and could well be a satisfactory character in a more eloquent film. But there's no eloquence whatsoever in Stuart Whitman as a shaggy and brutish young Boaz. Tom Tryon, who play's Ruth's first husband rather nicely, would be better in the role.
Viveca Lindfors makes an arrogant and raucous headmistress for the high-priestess school, and Jeff Morrow is affected as the kinsman who surrenders Ruth to Boaz.
During this latter occurrence there comes one of those lines that prove to be beautiful howlers when they pop out in Biblical films. The character played by Mr. Morrow has got drunk at the harvest festival and reeled off to bed to the embarrassment and annoyance of most of the people there. His servant, bored and disgusted, rolls his eyes in his head and mutters to a companion, "It happens at EVERY festival."
Could it be that these people have been going to the film affairs at Cannes?
By: Bosley Crowther
Published: June 18, 1960