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Ruby Ha Ha

Ruby, at the Orson Welles Cinema starting tonight

By Esther Dyson

AS MOVIES GET more and more scholarly attention, the audience becomes more highly educated, upper-middle-class, intellectual, leaving the All in the Family types at home to watch All in the Family on TV. So when a film portrays a busdriver the average moviegoers will think of the busdriver he knew and loved rather than identify with the busdriver.

This patronizing attitude is hard to avoid unless one is dealing with a hero in diagulse like Joyce's Leopold Bloom, or one romanticizes the characters as in Hollywood movies. Hollywood truckdrivers and gangsters had dialogue written for them by James Agee and William Faulkner and Dudley Nichols, so if they weren't exactly clever at least they talked fast and sharp.

Ruby, on the other hand, was written in part by its actors, who are all non-professionals. They worked on the script along with 29-year-old writer-director Dick Bartlett, Ruby is a lady busdriver, plump, grey, going on fifty--a perfect target for cheap humor. She does her route mornings and afternoons and has the use of the bus for the rest of the day. Her husband, Clifford, lives in a wheelchair and spends his time making fudge on the kitchen stove. He travels through the town on his wheelchair stopping at every house like a mailman, but the woman who brings him a glass of water still has some fudge left over from last week.

Ruby, bored with her husband and their lecherous, nosy neighbor, puts on a dress one evening and takes off in her schoolbus for a bit of fun. At the local nightclub she hears Earl Tibbits, a slick, cheap singer played with just the right sliminess by Danny Kosow. She waits around after the show and he takes her for a ride in his sports car. The next morning it's back to work for Ruby, but she meets Earl again the following night.

Counterpointing the realistic presentation of Ruby's fling with Earl Tibbits is the treatment of her niece Vivian, a self-contained, gum-chewing teenager, much closer to Nabokov's Lolita than was Sue Lyon, who played the part in Kubrick's movie. With no claims to any particular beauty or charm. Vivian succeeds--where Ruby doesn't--simply because she is young, because she doesn't care, because she regards adoration as her due.

Vivian's lover, or suitor, follows her around on a big horse, appearing at odd moments out of the bushes. Her father (Ruby's brother) trying out a new sit-down lawnmower given to him for his birthday, detects the presence of a stranger when he discovers a pile of horse dung on the lawn. But he is too late: Vivian has already climbed out of her bedroom and is riding away with her arms around her lover.

THE PHOTOGRAPHY throughout is unpretentious and lets the story proceed, except for a minor lapse when the camera jazzily sweeps over Vivian's face again and again. There are some good moments of visual humor--Ruby's feet descending a staircase, Ruby's great big bus and Earl's tiny sports car leaving the driveway of the nightclub simultaneously, and a few parodies of romantic absurdities like those in A Man and a Woman.

Ray Loring's music, sounding like something left over from a late twenties radio program, fits perfectly the jaunty, affectionate tone of the film. It was made last year, and it's set in the present, but somehow Bartlett's fondness for the New England town and its characters approaches nostalgia.

Despite occasional absurdities, the film is faithful to the spirit of small-town life. Bartlett lovingly chronicles the story of Ruby in her own setting: clam suppers, TV and sixpacks, high school teachers, neighbors. Ruth Hurd, who actually is a busdriver, plays Ruby. She gives a stunning performance as an aging woman determined not to be confined to her husband's chairside, yet ill at case elsewhere. Fixing herself a huge Ice Cream sundae and eating it as she watches the passersby from her porch, quietly slipping out by the back way after she has dressed up to go out and enjoy life, gingerly sipping a seven-and-seven in the nightclub, she is endearing without being bathetic, absurd without being ridiculous. When Earl Tibbits prances around the school bus calling "Pussycat! Oh pussycat!" and suddenly Ruby comes bounding around the corner, enormous in a big pink dress, Earl looks like more of a fool than does Ruby, because the film has made us appreciate in her qualities which Earl can't see.

THIS IS THE particular genius of Dick Bartlett. Films in the fifties went through a sort of social revolution when they started showing busdrivers and such people as ordinary human guys. These films mostly treated their characters with a neo-realist awareness of social problems and the dignity of the little man in a condescending celebration of the unwashed. Ruby, on the other hand, doesn't represent anybody but a human being. If you look at us in the right way, we're all pretty funny.

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