Edgar G. Ulmer's Ruthless is a healthy slice of American Gothic, telling the rise and fall of wall street financier Horace Vendig, a man who rolled over anyone who stood in his way, including his lifelong friend Vic Lambdin, to accrue his considerable wealth. Told almost entirely in flashback, Ruthless is a film which attempts to comprehend how a man like Horace could become so rotten, examining his quaint upbringing and early relationships, offering up insights into what motivated Horace from an early age to be successful at any cost. The characterization of Horace is what makes Ruthless such a compelling experience, with Zachary Scott making this despicable character somewhat likeable, or at least empathetic, as the story documents this character's struggles at an early age to feel successful and desired. Through the flashbacks to Horace's youth, Ruthless paints a portrait of a character who always viewed money as the ultimate symbol of success, being the lone son in a fractured household with little confidence, little money, and even less assurance from his divorced parents. Ruthless expresses how this environment breeds in Horace a character who always needs to prove himself, with these insecurities being the first step towards his detachment from nearly anyone who stands in his way. It's his ambition to accrue wealth and be successful, unlike his deadbeat father, with his formative years being the kindling which created this monster of a man who only looks out for his own personal gains. At its heart, American Gothic very much an angry film that raises questions about the darker aspects of the American Dream and capitalism in general, examining how the insatiable desire for success and greed are merely a bi-product of capitalist culture, with Horace pushing his own morality aside for the sake of the all mighty dollar. Whether it be an old friend such as Vic, or a business partner who helped him in the past, Horace's short-term memory when it comes to gratitude or empathy perfectly encapsulates the Wall Street mindset, where nothing else matters when compared to dollars and cents. Through the film's desire to understand Horace's formative years, Ruthless earns much of its commentary on the insatiable qualities of greed when money is what defines success, manging to never feel too heavy-handed thanks to a full-bodied characterization. Featuring black and white cinematography that gives the film a gothic look and feel, Edgar Ulmer's Ruthless is an engaging Eagle-Lion story that earns many of its ideals thanks to strong performances and a sharp screenplay.
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