Sunday, January 13, 2013
Martha Vickers in Ruthless (1948) and The Burglar (1957)
Remember Martha Vickers? She was drug-addled Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep (1946), Lauren Bacall's slutty younger sister who attempted to sit on Bogart's lap while he was still standing. That was a career-making performance, brief as it was, and a complete change of pace for the former Martha MacVicar, who had been a Powers Girl and a Universal starlet until then. She still looks like Carmen Sternwood in Edgar Ulmer's 1948 Eagle-Lion release Ruthless, a sort of bargain basement version of Citizen Kane with Zachary Scott trambling on all of sundry on his way to the financial top. But, surpríse!, Martha is a victim here, the femme fatale role instead going to former MGM discovery Lucille Bremer, now thoroughly down on her luck. But despite these lovely ladies, and former child prodigy Diana Lynn as the girl everyone is lusting after (!),Ruthless is a tough road to hoe with a screenplay by blacklisted Alvah Bessie who did not have kind words for capitalists such as Mr. Scott. Happily, Martha is back to form again opposite Dan Dureya and, in the final denouement, Jayne Mansfield, in The Burglar, a heist noir that reeks of a Playhouse 90 episode stretched almost beyond endurance into feature film length. It is a much hardened Martha we meet here, though. In real life she had become one of Mickey Rooney's many wives, giving him a son before their 1951 divorce. Rooney was down on his luck, too, by then, even further down, in fact, than fellow MGMer Lucille Bremer, and Vickers went through hell. Allegedly. She left films in 1960 (or films left her) and died of cancer 11 years later. Martha was 46.
Photo: Martha MacVicar at Universal in 1943 right before becoming Carmen Sternwood at WB.