Ruby (reviewed by Lisa Marie Bowman)

The 1977 film, Ruby, opens with a scene set in 1935.  The Great Depression is still raging and the only people making money are industrialists like Joseph P. Kennedy and gangsters like Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello.  In the Florida swamps, gangster Nicky Rocco (Sal Vecchio) is betrayed by both his gang and his pregnant girlfriend, Ruby (Piper Laurie).  As Nicky’s bullet-ridden body sinks into the bayou, Ruby goes into labor and gives birth to Leslie.

16 years later, Ruby owns her own drive-in.  The theater employs several members of the old gang and Ruby is herself married to one of Nicky’s former partners, the crippled and blinded Jake Miller (Fred Kohler, Jr.).  Ruby’s lover is another former member of the gang, Vince Kemper (Stuart Whitman).  Leslie (Janit Baldwin) is now 16 years old and has never spoken a word in her life.  Ruby laments that she never made it as a lounge singer but she does a good job running the theater and it seems to be a popular place to see movies.  She’s even able to show Attack of the 50 Feet Woman, even though that film came out in 1958 and Ruby is set in 1951.  That’s the power of having mob-connections, I guess.

When strange things start to happen at the theater, it could just be a case of Ruby having bad luck and the former gangsters that she’s hired not being particularly good at their jobs.  Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that Nicky swore to get revenge on everyone with his dying breath.  One employee is found hanging in a projection booth.  Another is found hanging from a tree.  Another is left in a cold drink machine and the lady who puts in a quarter to get a cup of tea instead gets a cup of blood.  While Ruby might be in denial about the fact that her business is obviously cursed, Vince realizes that something has to be done so he brings a psychic/exorcist named Paul Keller (Roger Davis, who also provides some narration at the start of the film).

Of course, it’s not just ghosts that Ruby and the gang have to worry about.  Leslie is acting strange as well!  At one point, Leslie even speaks but it’s not with her voice.  It’s with Nicky’s voice!  Leslie has been possessed and soon, Nicky himself is appearing on the drive-in’s screens and repeating, “I love you, I love you.”

Ruby is a real mess of a film, one that attempts to rip-off The Exorcist while tossing a bit of Carrie in as well.  Director Curtis Harrington plays up the campier aspects of the story and Piper Laurie gives a scenery-chewing performance that suggests that she realized it was pointless to try to take anything about Ruby seriously.  Stuart Whitman plays Vince as being the most well-meaning but also the most clueless man in Florida while poor Roger Davis is stuck with the most earnest role in the film and, as such, gets the unenviable task of trying to explain what’s going on in a rational manner.  There’s nothing rational about Ruby, which goes from being a film about gangsters to being a film about ghosts to being a film about possession without even stopping to catch its breath.  It’s a deeply silly film but one gets the feeling that it was made to be silly.  Ruby works as long as you just accept the weirdness of what you’re watching while you’re watching it and you don’t give it too much thought afterwards.

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