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So What Did Hitchcock Have Against Ruth Roman?


TomJH
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Ruth Roman was a beautiful actress, under contract to Warners for part of the '50s, whose career never quite hit the heights. The most famous film in which she ever appeared was, without doubt, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train, and it's undoubtedly the film for which she will be best remembered.

 

Which is rather unfortunate for Roman. She has always come across as a bit of a cold fish to me in that film, while in some other films (Champion coming to mind) she projected a more appealing warmth and vulnerability. She is far more entrancing in that Mark Robson boxing drama, to me, at least, than she is in the Hitchcock film.

 

Hitch was a master filmmaker and manipulator, but I've always wondered a little about the coldness of Roman's performance in that film. For starters, and it almost looks like sabotage to me, look at Roman's appearance. Here are a couple of images of her, followed by two from Strangers on a Train:

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRh_C3Ri9NHDlptZV0xBd0

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcT6DYXC22hxiHnhYt000Ja

 

Okay, as I said, a lovely looking woman.

 

So here is how she looks in the Hitchcock film:

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQWLrfeyzzgONlp_16a9_H

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSzKOgpmTrASHtP4lOhgjo

 

Okay, she's not exactly chopped liver in these pix but she is also clearly not looking at her best either. Obviously, a difference in hair styles has a lot to do with it. I've always sort of wondered, though, Why? Was there a reason she was made up to look less attractive than she could? Possibly she was uncomfortable on the set, thus the "coldness" of her performance. Maybe Hitchcock was ticked that he couldn't get a blonde for the lead and felt that he was "stuck" with Roman, and took a bit of his resentment out on her. And that included her hair styling.

 

Has anyone else ever noticed that Ruth Roman doesn't look nearly as attractive as she could in the most famous film of her career? And that prompts the question, trivial as it may seem, Why?

 

By the way, this thread was inspired by Mongo's beautiful image of Roman from the set of Always Leave Them Laughing.

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This is incredible timing, because a few days ago I watched "Strangers on a Train". My copy was recorded a couple of years ago, and Alec Baldwin, the host of the Essentials, commented how good Ruth Roman was in this movie. He also cited that she had an icy projection, which, in his opinion, added to the performance. We all know that Hitchcock preferred blondes as his leading ladies, and I've heard that Warner Bros. insisted that he use Roman for this movie, since she was a contractee at the studio. I've always loved Ruth Roman, regardless of the movie. Was she a help or a hindrance in ths movie? I don't know, but I hope there are others who will respond to this.

 

 

 

 

 

Terrence.

 

 

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Well, willbe, that's sort of nasty speculation but maybe speculation is the only thing we can do in regard to this question.

 

I find it peculiar, to say the least, to de-emphasize an actress' physical attractiveness in the kind of role in which physical attractiveness is usually a priority. Ruth Roman was a knockout but you really wouldn't know that if you only ever saw her in the Hitchcock film.

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Tom, based on my reviews of his, cough, Vertigoisayouknowwhatdream, films and Tippi Hedren's assessment of the old deviant, I believe Hitch was nasty.

 

A brilliant filmmaker, but a nasty pervert all the same. The studio heads were brilliant business men, but they were nasty **** as well.

 

Different times, different rules for women.

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> {quote:title=TomJH wrote:}{quote}Well, willbe, that's sort of nasty speculation but maybe speculation is the only thing we can do in regard to this question.

 

Probably have to check the Hitch biographies to find out what they say on the matter...

An article from Literature/Film Quarterly (Volume 28, number 4, pages 274-283) with a link on the Hitchcock Wiki

http://www.hitchcockwiki.com/wiki/Literature_Film_Quarterly_%282000%29_-_Fashion_dreams:_Hitchcock,_women,_and_Lisa_Fremont

 

mentions that, according to Farley Granger, "Hitchcock always 'had to have one person in each film he could harass....'"

And that person was Ruth Roman in "Strangers on a Train."

Maybe because Jack Warner wanted and got her in the role and Hitch didn't like that loss of control over who he cast in the film?? Maybe he was trying to get back at Warner through Roman??

For example, "Warner thinks she's so special. We'll see about that..."

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RMeingast, that is certainly interesting that Hitchcock picked on Roman during the making of Strangers. Feeling uncomfortable on the set could account for the coldness of her performance.

 

I don't really think that her rather distant, cool performance adds to the characterization or film, though.

 

Who knows what happens on the set of these films. There are so many stories of directors (and some of them great ones) who were not great human beings but they sure could crank out a good product. Sometimes, though, it might backfire. Perhaps Hitchcock's treatment of Ruth Roman is one of those instances.

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> {quote:title=TomJH wrote:}{quote}

> Who knows what happens on the set of these films ...

 

IMHO, the 1929 test footage of Anny Ondra with Hitch provides a rare but vivid glimpse of his on-set misogyny.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zl6SMOSXa7A

 

It was pretty insulting back then to tell a woman "you've slept with men," and Ondra seems genuinely embarrassed by it.

 

 

 

HitchOndra.jpg

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This type of thread distresses me. I have another thread that I bring back to page one every now and then when there is going to be a Ruth Roman showing. And I tend to discuss her work in other threads from time to time.

 

This thread goes back to the ideas that I have been trying to push us away from, that she was a one-trick pony who only made one good film with a famous director. Not true!

 

She had a stellar career and was one of those rare female stars who did not leave the scene because she got older. She consistently worked in films and television right up to 1989, meaning she had a successful 40-plus year career in Hollywood. Surely we cannot attribute all that to Hitchcock. The lady had talent, she had looks and she had brains. Her career is her own creation and it is time she gets some credit and hopefully a SOTM spotlight on TCM.

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> {quote:title=ValeskaSuratt wrote:}{quote}

> IMHO, the 1929 test footage of Anny Ondra with Hitch provides a rare but vivid glimpse of his on-set misogyny.

>

I don't know, Countess Valeska, think people around Hitch (she calls him "Hitch" in video, btw) were well aware of his antics... And with Ondra being a comic actress in her native Czechoslovakia and in Czech, German and Austrian films, I think she probably wasn't too angry with Hitch and thought it mischievously funny... (Think her few dramatic roles were limited to Hitchcock's films "Blackmail" and "The Manxman." Don't think English-speaking audiences would've known she was a comic actress. But Hitch spent time in Germany in 1924 and 1925 and would've been aware of her. Hitchcock was greatly influenced by German filmmakers during his time there... )

 

But I don't know for certain. I do happen to have a friend in Prague on Facebook who is an expert on Ondra. I should ask her what she knows about it...

 

 

 

 

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Willbefree wrote:

*That's an easy one. She wasn't an icy blonde with big hoo-hah's and thus wasn't in the pervert Hitch's, um, dreams.*

 

WBF:

Well she might not have been an icy blonde, but check the second picture below and you'll see that she had, big, er . . .

 

If I remember correctly, she looked very delectable in the party scene of SOAT, where she is wearing a strapless gown.

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*This thread goes back to the ideas that I have been trying to push us away from, that she was a one-trick pony who only made one good film with a famous director. Not true!*

 

I totally agree. She was a vital presence in any number of movies in the late 40s and 50s. For her to be known basically for her role in the Hitchcock film is why I totally dislike the auteur theory. Only a role in film by an anointed director seems to merit attention, and a prolific career spannng decades is ignored, or at best, a footnote. Pathetic that we treat many acting personalities this way.

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In his long interviews with Truffaut, Hitch mentioned that he had to take Ruth

since she was a Warner Bros. leading lady. Apparently there wasn't much

he could do about it. Since Robert Walker sucks so much of the air out of

the picture, most everybody else seems rather bland, the Senator's daughter

included. It seems to be a fairly thankless role and Ruth Roman did okay

with it. She looked pretty good in it, but maybe D.C. was considered less

glamorous back in the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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*TopBilled wrote: This thread goes back to the ideas that I have been trying to push us away from, that she was a one-trick pony who only made one good film with a famous director. Not true!*

 

TopBilled, I did not make that statement in my original posting. I said that the Hitchcock film is the most famous one of Roman's career for which she remains best known. My concern was that her best known film does not show her off at her best, as opposed to, say, Champion, which I cited for the sake of comparison.

 

Roman did not do well by Warner Brothers with most of the properties in which she was cast and her film career was, by and large, over by the mid '50s. The vast majority of the rest of her career was then in television. Dallas, Lightning Strikes Twice, Mara Maru, Blowing Wild, all those WB roles were essentially toss away parts. Interestingly, though, all those same films do show off her considerable physical attractiveness far more than does the Hitchcock film.

 

It's great for you to want to bring viewers' attention to other films and performances of Roman that you consider worthy of notice in order to bring a more balanced perspective to her overall career. The fact still remains, however, that, as I stated, she never did hit the heights as a star or actress, largely due to the fact that Warner Brothers wasn't, for the most part, being as supportive to their contract players with good properties in the '50s as they had been to many of them in the previous two decades.

 

I noticed, by the way, that you chose not to address my original question. I hope you will reconsider that because I'd be interested in hearing your opinion, especially since you are a huge Roman admirer. People have stated that Roman was forced upon Hitchcock for the film, the implication being that he didn't want her in the role. Does that have something to do with the fact that the quite stunning beauty of Miss Roman was strangely played down in the film? In addition to that, does that have something to do, as well, with the general coldness of her performance?

 

I know you dislike someone saying that more people have probably seen Ruth Roman in Strangers on a Train than any other single film in her career, but, unfortunately, it remains a true statement. It must also upset you that she is not at her best, either physically or histrionically, in that same film. And I find it curious that it turned out that way when she was being guided by the most famous director of her career on that occasion.

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I think she probably wasn't too angry with Hitch and thought it mischievously funny

 

RM, women then (and probably now) were expected to laugh off such an insult. Retorting in kind is frowned upon. The only good invention since 1929 in the workplace is the sexual harassment suit.

 

It was pretty insulting back then to tell a woman "you've slept with men," and Ondra seems genuinely embarrassed by it.

 

VS, yes it was. Since she wasn't allowed to retort with "if you weren't a fat perv, you could have done the same", she had to feign embarrassment to get the job.

 

Good thing Hitch had a giant talent. If he didn't, he would be running the projector at seedy movie houses.

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> {quote:title=willbefree25 wrote:}{quote}I think she probably wasn't too angry with Hitch and thought it mischievously funny

>

> RM, women then (and probably now) were expected to laugh off such an insult. Retorting in kind is frowned upon. The only good invention since 1929 in the workplace is the sexual harassment suit.

>

> It was pretty insulting back then to tell a woman "you've slept with men," and Ondra seems genuinely embarrassed by it.

>

> VS, yes it was. Since she wasn't allowed to retort with "if you weren't a fat perv, you could have done the same", she had to feign embarrassment to get the job.

>

> Good thing Hitch had a giant talent. If he didn't, he would be running the projector at seedy movie houses.

 

 

 

I'm not defending Hitchcock. I saying I don't know what Miss Ondra thought at the time.

I have a friend in the Czech Republic who is an expert on Ondra and I will ask her if she knows anything about what happened in the video.

 

I agree with what you wrote about it being offensive but we don't know the details.

You're really making assumptions with no actual evidence concerning what the people involved did think about it. Just like I assumed people would be used to Hitchcock and his antics.

Maybe you're wrong, maybe I'm wrong.

I'll try and find out more... Oy!!

 

As for Hitchcock himself, don't think his behaviour towards women was anything unusual for the time. Apparently sexual politics was pretty common in Hollywood at the time too.

With studio bosses, and others, taking advantage of actresses (and actors), and actresses (and actors) using sex to get ahead...

 

But you have to remember times were different then, sadly, as women only had the right to vote in the United States from 1920, for example. In Canada, for example, it wasn't until as late as 1929 that women were legally regarded as "persons." It was actually a complicated case concerning the law that stated only "qualified persons" could be appointed to the Senate of Canada (part of the Canadian Parliament). A top court in Canada ruled that women were not and could not be "qualified persons" and thus could never sit in the Senate. This was appealed to Britain, and they ruled:

 

 

"The [Lord Chancellor|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Chancellor|Lord Chancellor], [Viscount Sankey|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Sankey,_1st_Viscount_Sankey|John Sankey, 1st Viscount Sankey], writing for the committee, found that the meaning of "qualified persons" could be read broadly to include women, reversing the decision of the Supreme Court. The landmark ruling was handed down on October 29, 1929. He held that "[t]he exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours," and that "to those who ask why the word ["person"] should include females, the obvious answer is why should it not."^[[8]|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwards_v._Canada_%28Attorney_General%29#cite_note-Edwards2-7]^ Finally, he wrote:

 

bq. "[T]heir Lordships have come to the conclusion that the word "persons" in sec. 24 includes members both of the male and female sex and that, therefore, ... women are eligible to be summoned to and become members of the Senate of Canada, and they will humbly advise His Majesty accordingly."^[[8] "|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwards_v._Canada_%28Attorney_General%29#cite_note-Edwards2-7]^ \ ^[[8] "|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwards_v._Canada_%28Attorney_General%29#cite_note-Edwards2-7]^ \ ^[[8] "|http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwards_v._Canada_%28Attorney_General%29#cite_note-Edwards2-7]^

Remember, that ruling above was in 1929!!! It seems ridiculous today to think that women are not "people" but that was the times as they were back in those days.

There was much discrimination against women and male attitudes towards women reflected that.

Hitchcock was no different than most men at the time.

And it took a long time for women to attain equal rights and to end male discrimination, it's still going on today...

 

If I hear's anything from my friend in Prague about what Ondra thought about the video, I'll let you know...

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> {quote:title=TomJH wrote:}{quote}*TopBilled wrote: This thread goes back to the ideas that I have been trying to push us away from, that she was a one-trick pony who only made one good film with a famous director. Not true!*

 

We all know that. This thread is generally about why Hitchcock allegedly didn't like Roman in "Strangers on a Train." We're not bad-mouthing Roman and I know (and have seen her) she was in many films.

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>I said that the Hitchcock film is the most famous one of Roman's career for which she remains best known.

 

Her best known film is not necessarily her best film. The reason it remains the best known is because of the auteur theory and because it is the one film everyone wants to talk about, pretending like the rest of a performer's filmography does not exist. TCM contributes to that to some degree when they keep spotlighting the same films over and over and fail to show other work that indicates talent and a performer's longevity.

 

>Dallas, Lightning Strikes Twice, Mara Maru, Blowing Wild, all those WB roles were essentially toss away parts.

 

I do not agree with this statement. These were medium budget programmers with big names attached to them. She plays an essential role in each one, and that is why audiences came to admire her and followed her over to television.

 

>she never did hit the heights as a star or actress, largely due to the fact that Warner Brothers wasn't, for the most part, being as supportive to their contract players with good properties in the '50s as they had been to many of them in the previous two decades.

 

I think you are expecting her to be another Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. She probably more closely resembles Ava Gardner. The scripts that Warners handed out to contract players in the early 50s may not have all been winners, but most of them were quite good and people still watch them today. Of course, Ruth Roman also freelanced and does a fine job post-Warners in pictures like REBEL IN TOWN, 5 STEPS TO DANGER and BITTER VICTORY. She's paired with Richard Burton and Curt Jurgens in BITTER VICTORY. You can't say that is a throwaway picture with a throwaway part.

 

As for STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, I don't think she was mishandled by Hitchcock at all. The next thing you will be saying is that he mishandles Jane Wyman in favor of the blonde Dietrich in STAGE FRIGHT, or that Anne Baxter is miscast in I CONFESS because she is a brunette. Roman, Wyman and Baxter are just as vital carrying out their assignments with Hitchcock as Grace Kelly is.

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>Only a role in film by an anointed director seems to merit attention, and a prolific career spannng decades is ignored, or at best, a footnote. Pathetic that we treat many acting personalities this way.

 

I think this is why Betty Grable does not get her due. She was the box office champ, in A-pictures, for over a decade. But because she did not make a film with a Hitchcock or a Renoir or a Billy Wilder, critics tend to write her off as fluff, even though audiences still love her.

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> {quote:title=finance wrote:}{quote}That's what I once read. I believe either that FOURTEEN HOURS had been releaseed, and Hitchcock saw it, or he was familiar with Grace from her stage work.

 

Sources, sources, Fi... Gotta have those sources... You remember the book title, etc???? ;)

 

Anyway, I have no idea when Hitchcock first was aware of Kelly??

And you could very well be correct... :)

 

But for something interesting, a private letter Grace Kelly wrote Hitchcock (and Hitchcock's private reply) is below.

 

Kelly was declining a part in Hitchcock's planned "Marnie."

 

592955772.jpg?key=4001510&Expires=134608

 

Universal Studios owns the letter and Hitchcock's reply:

 

http://www.hitchcockwiki.com/wiki/Hitchcock_Gallery:_image_1945

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*Her best known film is not necessarily her best film. The reason it remains the best known is because of the auteur theory and because it is the one film everyone wants to talk about, pretending like the rest of a performer's filmography does not exist.*

 

I agree that we should look at the overall career for a fair assessment of that actor/actress, and not concentrate on just one film. Having said that, I wrote that Strangers on a Train was her most famous film, not her best. However, to be honest, since you brought up the issue of her best film, I can't think of a better one that she was ever in either. Can you? The only one that I've seen that could compete with it would be Champion, a film in which I think Roman's performance was very appealing.

 

> *Dallas, Lightning Strikes Twice, Mara Maru, Blowing Wild, all those WB roles were essentially toss away parts.*

*I do not agree with this statement. These were medium budget programmers with big names attached to them. She plays an essential role in each one, and that is why audiences came to admire her and followed her over to television.*

 

Here we are going to have to agree to disagree. While Roman was given the opportunity to co-star with a couple of formerly huge male stars like Cooper and Flynn, those films in themselves were signs of a disrespect on the part of Warner Brothers towards those actors by giving them such second rate material. That doesn't mean that they are bad films. Each of them can be enjoyed on their own terms but they are not top tier studio productions. They were reflections of the studio's faltering faith in Cooper and Flynn as box office stars, and Ruth Roman got dragged into the mix with them.

 

Films like these are why I say, and repeat, that Warner Brothers did NOT do justice to Ruth Roman's film career. Look at her performance in Blowing Wild! She's sexy and attractive, and does a great job of playing the down-to-earth "nice" girl in the film (quite frankly, I thought Gary Cooper's character a little blind to have not paid more attention to her). But it's a decidedly minor role for Roman and, quite frankly, a bit of an insult to her to get such a relatively small part in that film, no matter how illustrious her co-stars may be.

 

*As for STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, I don't think she was mishandled by Hitchcock at all.*

 

Again, a difference of opinion, and this time a strong one. I suspect that if anyone saw Ruth Roman for the first time in the Hitchcock film they wouldn't pay much attention to her, and would have a limited interest in seeing anything else in her career.

 

As opposed (for me, at least) to Champion. When I saw her beauty, combined with the vulnerability of her character (taken advance of by that "louse" Kirk Douglas), I wanted to see more of her. My point is that by looking at Roman in just this one film (and not an overall career) she's so appealing in it that I want to see more of her. And that, unlike Mr. Hitchcock's film, is a sign of something going very well for her in Champion that failed to materialize in the other.

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQJ5KOWxzzId3vyd_spxnc

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I am not trying to dismiss your legitimate viewpoints, but I get the impression you have not seen her entire body of film work. One cannot make comments that the Hitchcock offering is her best dish if one has not tasted from the entire buffet to compare it.

 

I would suggest that you watch 5 STEPS TO DANGER, available on Netflix streaming. She does wonders with a low-budget production. You truly do not know if she is a femme fatale, an escaped mental patient, or a sane woman that someone is trying to kill in the first half of the movie. She takes what others might consider a mediocre script and keeps you guessing. She works the character from multiple directions at the same time, and I don't think even Bette or Joan did anything as great as that.

 

She is also very good in DOWN THREE DARK STREETS. This time, she is the victim of an extortion plot, and she does such a great job pulling you in and making you feel for the character, even though the woman may very well have brought all the trouble upon herself.

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