From the wheelchair to which the actress was confined as the result of a hunting accident three years earlier, Susan Peters builds a controlled, subtle, expert performance that's the centerpiece of John Sturges' The Sign of the Ram. As the paralyzed young stepmother of three children living in a great Gothic pile on the Cornish coast, she conceals her frustrations under a mask of serenity (she writes mawkish poems for a London newspaper under the name Faith Hope) only to unleash them in sly, vindictive manipulation.
The wheelchair may render her immobile, but her hands, restless and expressive, are ever on the move: posturing with cigarettes and lighter, picking out waltzes on the keyboard, plying her pen, knitting and purling. They seem to have a life of their own a slithery, reptilian life, fueled by the cold instincts of the brainstem alone.
The cast around her pulls its weight, too, in particular husband Alexander Knox, best remembered as the president in Darryl Zanuck's overblown biopic Wilson; Phyllis Thaxter as a hired secretary/companion; and Peggy Ann Garner, as an adolescent girl whose warped loyalty to Peters almost has irreversible consequences. Sturges maintains the pace, a brooding andante, while Burnett Guffey coaxes the most out of the labyrinthine house and crashing Irish Sea.
But it's Peter's movie, and her last (she died four years later). When her machinations come to light, with the fog rolling in, Sturges devises a superb final scene a cinematic `schlussgesang,' as they called those overwrought soprano passages that rang down the curtain in German opera. She deserved nothing less.
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