Rambling Rose (1991) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

It is rare, but Tuna and I do disagree now and then. In this case we don't disagree on the movie - two thumbs up, even though it is a chick-flick. But we disagree on the musical score. Tuna recommends the score unreservedly. I like the Louis Armstrong material, but absolutely despise the corny Broadway show-tune incidental music that Elmer Bernstein supplied for the background music. I suppose this is a matter of my personal preference. Remember, I'm the guy who fell asleep during Cats, now and forever. I believe that there is a place for show tunes, but that place is a public bath where men hang out in order to look at each other naked.

Don't write me any hate mail if you like show tunes. I'm just kidding. I'm the guy who used to sing in these things for a - I was about to write "for a living", but I don't think that is accurate! Let's just say I did them. Why did I stop? Let's put it this way. Here is a career guideline that I will pass on to you younger guys so that you can learn from my wisdom. If you are in any profession that Robert Goulet can do better than you, think about a career change.

Tuna's words are in yellow, mine in white.

Rambling Rose (1991) stars Laura Dern as a troubled young girl in 1935 who comes to live with a genteel family and help watch kids and assist with the housework. The father, Robert Duvall, and the oldest son (who is in the throes of puberty) notice immediately that Rose radiates charm, cheerfulness and sex appeal. When Daddy (Duvall) comments "Rosebud, I swear to God you are as graceful as a capital letter `S.' You'll give a glow and a shine to these old walls," she falls instantly in love with him. The first time the mother, Diane Ladd, leaves for the evening, Rose throws herself at Daddy. After fondling her bare breast, he has the sense to stop himself, which makes him all the more moral to the three children who have been spying on them.


Dern shows clear breasts in two scenes, pokies and breast see-throughs in others, and wears the hell out of a nearly transparent dress walking through main street looking for "the man of her dreams."
Later that night, Rose visits the oldest son, Buddy (Lukas Haas) in his bed, hoping to get some of the guilt off her chest. It is her chest that interests Buddy as well, and he not only gets to first base with her, but gets her off with his hand as well. Here is where we learn that Rose can't say no.

Daddy sees what a threat Rose is to the happiness of his family, and is not sure how long he can resist her. He would like nothing more than to fire her, but the rest of the family, especially his wife, will not hear of it. When Rose decides to look outside the family for the "man of her dreams," her promiscuity causes still more trouble for the family and strengthens Daddy's resolve to fire her. This pretty much sets up the conflict that drives this wonderful character driven drama. I highly recommend it, and don't want to give away the entire plot. I am not alone in liking it.

Director Martha Coolidge (Valley Girls, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, etc) did an amazing job with the screenplay adapted by Calder Willingham from his own autobiographical novel. She also provides one of the better commentary tracks I have heard on the DVD. Young Lukas Haas as Buddy showed acting ability far beyond his years. Robert Duvall was perfect in the roll of Daddy, and Diane Ladd was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a very complex character. Dern was nominated for Best Actress, which marks the first time a real-life mother and daughter have been nominated for Oscars in the same film. This is my choice for Dern's finest performance. I doubt that any man could watch her as Rose and not be completely captivated by the character.

Director Coolidge clearly understands cinematography, and worked closely with DP Johnny E. Jensen and Art Director Christiaan Wagener and set decorator Robert Gould to produce the look and feel. Elmer Bernstein provided a suitably subtle score, and an early Louis Armstrong recording of Dixieland was used as a sort of theme song. Unable to find a suitable master of the Armstrong recording, they carefully remastered the only 78 recording they could find. This attention to detail is one of the reasons Coolidge succeeded so well with Rambling Rose.

Scoop's additional thoughts from his 1999 review:

  • Rambling Rose is a sensitive story about a sweet and highly sexed girl who comes to live with a very conservative Southern family (dad is going to "rescue" her), and the resulting adventures as these polar opposites come eventually to love one another intensely.
  • This is a good movie, albeit kind of a chick flick, but I don't mind chick flicks. The only thing I didn't like about it was the incidental music. It was written by movie legend Elmer Bernstein, and it sounds like the overture for a Broadway play. I went to see it not knowing anything about it, and in the first 20 minutes I thought to myself "Oh, no, it's a friggin' musical". I really expected people to start singing something like "One, singular sensation ...." at any moment, but they never did. Bernstein has had some ups and down in his career. He has scored more than 200 movies. At his apogee, he scored The Magnificent Seven, which may be the most recognizable movie music ever written. (It's better known as the Marlboro Country music). At his perigee, he scored Robot Monster. I'm not joking - he wrote original music for what is arguably the worst movie ever.

DVD info from Amazon.

Widescreen letterbox, 1.85-1

The DVD is marvelous, with deleted scenes, biographies, trailer, full length commentary, and an alternate ending. The film is visually appealing, and the DVD transfer is credible.

  • It is a richly photographed movie, with a lot of nostalgia for the detail of the South that existed between the two great wars of this century.
  • Dern appeared in a see-through in the scene with the little kid. This was a controversial scene in this movie, because Dern lets the kid touch her because he's curious and insistent. When he gets to the lower parts, she climaxes while he studies her, and he doesn't quite know what's going on. It is beautifully executed, realistic, and sensitive, but there will always be people offended.
  • Although director Martha Coolidge has had some success, she has never had a hit. Her last theatrical film was "Out to Sea", that Lemmon-Matthau thing about con men on a cruise ship. She has done two solid cable efforts since then, the middle section of "If these walls 2", and the Dorothy Dandridge film.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3/4, Maltin 3/4, Apollo 80.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.8, Apollo users a very impressive 81/100. These scores are consistent with the critical consensus.
  • With their dollars ... it took in only $6 million domestic.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B.

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