Sign of the Ram, The (1948): John Sturges Film Noir, Starring Susan Peters in her Final Role

John Sturges directed The Sign of the Ram, a noir family melodrama, written by Charles Bennett, based on a novel by Margaret Ferguson.

The Sign of the Ram
The Sign of the Ram FilmPoster.jpeg

Theatrical release poster

The drama features Susan Peters, Alexander Knox, and Ron Randell.

The film marked Susan Peters’ return to the screen after a three-year absence after an accident that paralyzed her; it was her final film.

The story tells of Leah St. Aubyn (Peters), an invalid wife and mother who exerts dictatorial control over everyone she knows. Leah’s family forgive her temperament due to her medical condition, yet she exploits that fact fully.

Eventually her behavior leaves her alone and without friends. Yet, even in her dark moments she insists upon “controlling all.”

Finally, she engineers her own death.

The story was based on a novel by Margaret Lindsay, published in 1945, which the New York Times described as “a book to chill the cockles of your heart.” The novel concerned a poet in a wheelchair, and was thought to be an ideal comeback vehicle for Susan Peters.

Susan Peters had been injured in a hunting accident near San Diego on January 1, 1945 that permanently paralyzed her. Peters was under contract to MGM at the time. Her last completed film was Keep Your Power Dry. She had an incomplete film The Outward Room, which MGM wanted to reshoot to incorporate Peters’ accident but she persuaded Louis B. Mayer otherwise.

Actor Charles Bickford read the novel and told Peters about it. “Leah is a completely domineering woman,” said Peters. “But I know what makes her that way. It is a fear of being alone.”

Peters took the project to her agent, Frank Orsatti, who got director Irving Cummings involved. Cummings had been ill and wanted to move into producing. Producer Irving Cummings and his son Irving Cummings Jr., and the Orsatti Agency set up an independent company, Signet to make the film. Signet signed a deal with Columbia which provided cast and crew, production facilities and distribution. Peters received 33% of the profits. “It seemed to much more sensible than for me to make a picture on a straight salary, what with income taxes and all”, said Peters.

It was Cummings first movie as a producer. The project was announced in April 1947, and filming started three months later.

John Sturges was announced as director in June.

Peggy Ann Garner was borrowed from 20th Century Fox.

“I know they will come in to see how I look in a wheelchair”, said Peters during the shoot. “If I can send them out thinking I’m an actress I’ll be satisfied. This is my great opportunity.”  Unfortunately, the film was not a box-office success.

Seymour Friedman shot background footage in Cornwall, England.

The Sign of the Ram was Peters’ last feature. She separated from her husband Richard Quine in March 1948 and made a TV series, Miss Susan (1951), and toured in two stage plays “The Glass Menagerie” and “The Barretts of Wimpole Street.”

She committed suicide in 1952.

Cast
Susan Peters as Leah St. Aubyn
Alexander Knox as Mallory St. Aubyn
Phyllis Thaxter as Sherida Binyon
Peggy Ann Garner as Christine St. Aubyn
Ron Randell as Dr. Simon Crowdy
Dame May Whitty as Clara Brastock
Allene Roberts as Jane St. Aubyn
Ross Ford as Logan St. Aubyn
Diana Douglas as Catherine Woolton

Credits:

Directed by John Sturges
Produced by Irving Cummings Jr.
Screenplay by Charles Bennett, based on the novel The Sign of the Ram by Margaret Ferguson
Music by Hans J. Salter
Cinematography Burnett Guffey
Edited by Aaron Stell
Distributed by Columbia Pictures

Release date: March 3, 1948

Running time: 84 minutes

 

Note:

TCM showed the movie on November 18, 2020.

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