Monday, August 18, 2014


Frankly, most of my knowledge of the Bible comes from popular culture; my only direct exposure to the Old Testament (except for plowing my way through Genesis on a summer vacation) was when I took a Jewish history class in college. So this story was new to me—if I get the details wrong, blame it on the filmmakers. The film breaks the tale into three parts. We begin in the land of Moab, where the people worship the bug-eyed god Chemosh and once a year pick a worthy young girl to sacrifice to him. In the opening scene, the 5-year-old Ruth is picked for the "honor," but a rash appears mysteriously on her arm and she is declared unfit. Then the narrative jumps ahead some years to focus on Mahlon (Tom Tryon), a Judean from Bethlehem whose family moved to Moab to escape famine and poverty. He is hired to make a glittering crown for the next sacrifice and winds up hitting it off with the grown-up Ruth (Elana Eden), now a temple priestess, who is charmed by the stories of his "invisible" god who is everywhere and who does not demand human sacrifice. Soon Ruth rebels against her elders (Thayer David and Viveca Lindfords), and Tryon is held responsible and sentenced to life in slavery. She helps him escape but he is fatally wounded, and in his last dying moments, he "marries" Ruth. In the third part of the film, Mahlon's mother Naomi (Peggy Wood, pictured with Eden) resettles in Bethlehem and takes Ruth with her. They have a rough way to go: the Judeans don't trust the Moabite Ruth, and Mahlon's oldest brother Tob, a surly brute of a fellow, tries to claim Ruth as his wife based on Hebrew law, even though it's the younger brother Boaz (Stuart Whitman) who slowly falls for her.

This is a Biblical epic that, at just a little over two hours, doesn't wear out its welcome. Oddly, there are no big action scenes, but that's mostly made up for by sequences of much pomp (the sacrifices, the big feast at the end). The sets and costumes are also grand, and the narrative remains clear throughout. The acting is above average for the genre: Tryon (pictured at left) is quite good as Mahlon and his presence is missed in the second half. Whitman, his replacement as leading man, is good but not as personable. Israeli actress Eden is lovely but not the most expressive person—Ruth is at the center of the film but doesn't have much of a personality. I enjoyed seeing two actors I know from other indelible roles: Wood (the Reverend Mother in THE SOUND OF MUSIC), and David (Ben Stokes and his descendent the Professor on Dark Shadows). The widescreen print I saw was clean and crisp; it's also out on DVD. [Fox]

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