The Sign of the Ram

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The Sign of the Ram
The Sign of the Ram FilmPoster.jpeg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Sturges
Screenplay byCharles Bennett
Based onthe novel The Sign of the Ram by Margaret Ferguson
Produced byIrving Cummings Jr.
StarringSusan Peters
Alexander Knox
Phyllis Thaxter
Peggy Ann Garner
CinematographyBurnett Guffey
Edited byAaron Stell
Music byHans J. Salter
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • March 3, 1948 (1948-03-03) (United States)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Sign of the Ram is a 1948 American film noir directed by John Sturges and written by Charles Bennett, based on a novel written by Margaret Ferguson. The drama features Susan Peters and Alexander Knox.[1] It also featured Ron Randell.[2] The film's title alludes to people born under the astrological sign Aries (the Ram), who are supposedly strong-willed and desire to be admired, as explained in the dialogue.

The film marked Susan Peters' return to the screen after a three-year absence following an accident that paralyzed her. It was her final film. It was also the next to last film for Dame May Whitty.


Sherida Binyon (Phyllis Thaxter) is driven by Mallory St. Aubyn (Alexander Knox) to Bastions, his family estate on the western coast of England, where she is to serve as a secretary to Mallory's wife Leah (Susan Peters). Leah is a poet, confined to a wheelchair due to an accident when she rescued her step-children (by Mallory's first wife) from drowning. Mallory and the three children--Jane (Allene Roberts), Logan (Ross Ford), and Christine (Peggy Ann Garner)--all seem devoted to Leah, perhaps out of guilt. Leah, however, manipulates the family's affections through her own condition while also flirting with her doctor (Ron Randell), Besides the doctor, the family is frequently visited by a gossipy neighbor, Clara Brastock (Dame May Whitty).

Christine and Clara both raise Leah's suspicions that Mallory and Sherida are attracted to each other, even though that is not true. Leah's grip on the family further weakens when the doctor reveals that he intends to propose to Jane, which Leah tries to prevent. Logan, a law student, also resumes a romance with Catherine Woolton (Diana Douglas), a neighboring young woman. Leah also tries to subvert that relationship by claiming that Catherine, an adoptee, came from a family afflicted by mental illness and cannot dare to pass it on to any children the couple might have. When a distraught Catherine attempts suicide but is stopped by Logan and after Christine, her mind twisted by Leah, tries to poison Sherida, Leah is left alone in the home. In one final act of control, she is able to make her way to the cliff above the ocean and throws herself off.



The film based on a 1945 novel by Margaret Ferguson, which The New York Times said it was "a book to chill the cockles of your heart."[3] Since the story concerned a poet in a wheelchair, it was thought to be an ideal comeback vehicle for Susan Peters, who had been injured in a hunting accident near San Diego on 1 January 1945 that permanently paralysed her. Peters was under contract to MGM at the time. Her last completed film was Keep Your Powder 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.[4]

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."[4]

Peters took the project to her agent, Frank Orsatti, who got director Irving Cummings, who wanted to move into producing, involved in the project. 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.[5] "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.[4]

With Cummings as producer, the project was announced in April 1947[6] and John Sturges was announced as director in June.[7] Peggy Ann Garner was borrowed from 20th Century Fox. Filming started 8 July 1947. "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."[4]

Seymour Friedman shot background footage in Cornwall, England.[8]


Film critic Bosley Crowther, in The New York Times, was harsh. According to Crowther: "Plainly the story is claptrap. And the direction of John Sturges is such that the illogic and the pomposity are only magnified. By showing Miss Peters, in her wheelchair, as though she were an alabaster doll, with just about as much personality, he has completely denatured her role. And by directing Phyllis Thaxter, Peggy Ann Garner, Allene Roberts and Alexander Knox to hit such a slowness of tempo and such a sombreness of tone that the whole thing drifts into monotony, he has only emphasized the static qualities. If it weren't for the noisy interjection of thunder-drums and pounding surf from time to time, this would be an effective soporofic. And it might have been kinder to let it be."[9]

Film critic Hal Erickson wrote for AllMovie: "Far more tasteful than it sounds, Sign of the Ram was a worthwhile valedictory vehicle for Susan Peters, who died a few years after the film's release."[10]

The film was not a box office success.

Susan Peters' later career[edit]

In February 1948, Irving Cummings announced that Signet's next movie would be a romantic comedy, Paris Rhapsody, based on a script by Charles Bennett. It would be made in Paris the next winter.[11] The same month Signet announced they would make The Pasadena Story.[12]

However the film was never made and The Sign of the Ram would be 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.[13][14]


  1. ^ The Sign of the Ram at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  2. ^ Vagg, Stephen (August 10, 2019). "Unsung Aussie Actors – Ron Randell: A Top Twenty". Filmink.
  3. ^ "Recent Spring Novels: Among the Recent Spring Novels". New York Times. Apr 22, 1945. p. BR13.
  4. ^ a b c d Scheuer, Philip K. (6 July 1947). "Wheel Chair Film-Making Deal Thrills Susan Peters". Los Angeles Times. p. C1.
  5. ^ THOMAS F. BRADY (Aug 10, 1947). "HOLLYWOOD DIGEST: Priest-Historian Advises on Joan of Arc -- Susan Peters Returns". New York Times. p. X3.
  6. ^ Hopper, Hedda (Apr 3, 1947). "Looking at Hollywood". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 35.
  7. ^ Schallert, Edwin (4 June 1947). "DRAMA AND FILM: Wanda Hendrix Gains Stellar 'Big Girl' Role". Los Angeles Times. p. A2.
  8. ^ "FILMLAND BRIEFS". Los Angeles Times. Dec 5, 1947. p. A9.
  9. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times film review, March 4, 1948. Accessed: February 17, 2008.
  10. ^ Erikson, Hal. The Sign of the Ram at AllMovie.
  11. ^ "SELZNICK TO MOVE OFFICES TO COAST". New York Times. Feb 16, 1948. p. 17.
  12. ^ THOMAS F. BRADY (Feb 9, 1948). "SIGNET WILL MAKE 'PASADENA STORY': Cummings' Company Acquires the Comedy by 'Leo Rosten From Curtiz Productions". THE NEW YORK TIMES. p. 25.
  13. ^ "SUSAN PETERS DIESi 'LOST LL TO LIVE: ' I Paralyzed by 1945 Hunting Accident, Actress Continued Career From Wheelchair". New York Times. Oct 25, 1952. p. 17.
  14. ^ "Actress Susan Peters, Paralyzed by Bullet, Dies: Death Attributed to Complications Arising From Tragic Hunting Accident in 1945 ACTRESS". Los Angeles Times. Oct 24, 1952. p. 1.

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