In the town of Braddock, North Carolina, social status is everything. This is a harsh reality Ruby Corey (Jennifer Jones) knows all too well. Ruby has long been in love with Boake Tackman (Charlton Heston), but since Boake comes from a prominent family and Ruby does not, it becomes difficult for them to have a relationship. One night, Jim Gentry (Karl Malden) takes some of his wealthy and influential friends, including Boake, to a hunting party at a lodge run by Ruby’s family. It’s the first time Ruby has seen Boake in a while, and she is determined to resume their relationship, much to the dismay of her religious brother Jewel.
Ruby is close to Jim Gentry and his invalid wife Letitia. When she was in high school, Letitia had let Ruby live with her and Jim for a while and took Ruby under her wing, showing her how to live the life of an upper class lady. The next day during the hunt, Ruby and Boake manage to sneak away together and Ruby gets mad at Boake for taking her for granted. Meanwhile, Boake has been seeing Tracy McAuliffe, who is more on his social level, and becomes engaged to her. Ruby is angry when she hears the news and tells him she has no interest in continuing to see him on the side.
Not long after hearing about Boake’s engagement, Letitia becomes ill and Ruby comes to tend to her while she is on her deathbed. After Letitia passes away, Jim proposes to Ruby and they soon get married. But even after marrying Jim, one of the wealthiest men in Braddock, many of the townspeople still look down upon her for being low class. Things aren’t helped when Ruby and Boake dance together at the country club, driving Jim into a jealous rage and he gets into a fight with Boake. Ruby swears it’s Jim she really loves and he believes her. Their marriage wasn’t meant to last, though, and Jim is killed when he accidentally falls overboard while sailboating.
Ruby really does miss Jim, but the rest of town doesn’t believe it and accuses her of killing Jim for his money. But she quickly realizes she now has the power to turn the tables on the whole town. Since Jim had loaned money to so many people to start business, people who looked down on her for so long, she gets her revenge by demanding that money back, putting almost the whole town out of business. Boake was among the many people who got money from Jim, but Ruby is willing to spare him if he starts seeing her again. He refuses, so Ruby destroys the business he’s worked so hard to build. Ruby and Boake meet again at a hunting party at her family’s hunting lodge. During the hunt, Ruby and Boake begin to rekindle their relationship, but Boake is gunned down by Jewel, leaving Ruby to live as a total outcast in town.
Ruby Gentry is a super melodramatic camp-fest, but it’s a rather fun melodramatic camp-fest. The plot is essentially that of a fast-moving soap opera and it isn’t particularly well written. Ruby Gentry is narrated by a doctor we meet in the beginning of the movie, but it’s a pretty baffling narrator choice since the doctor is barely in the movie. Jennifer Jones and Charlton Heston chew the scenery like it’s a piece of prime rib. But if you’re a Charlton Heston fan, Ruby Gentry is an interesting movie because it’s an early movie in his career and he doesn’t play the type of character he would go on to become associated with playing. It certainly isn’t Jennifer Jones’ best performance, but I couldn’t help but have a little fun watching her in this.