Tag Archives: Robert Ryan

The Longest Day (1962) 4.71/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 88.4
Genre: War
Duration: 178 mins
Director: Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Darryl F. Zanuck
Stars: Robert MitchumRichard BurtonHenry Fonda

Very likely the best of all the WWII movies, The Longest Day is a masterful account of the preparation for and execution of the largest land and sea military action in history: D-Day. Starring practically every available movie star of its day and directed by a crew of directors including an unaccredited Darryl F. Zanuck, it’s a logistical achievement worthy of the momentous day it’s chronicling. All the major elements of Allied invasion are represented with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum taking on the roles of the commanders of the front line divisions, the former of the airborne, the latter of the marines. Robert Ryan, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, and Richard Todd also feature but more peripherally, the latter excelling as leader of a British commando unit. The Germans are represented in force too (with Curd Jürgens doing particularly well) as the action constantly switches back and forth between both sides.

Needless to say the acting is first rate with Mitchum especially standing out as the beleaguered general of those who were always going to be the hardest hit as they stormed the beaches. The battle sequences involving him and his men are by far the most thrilling and rightly so given how relevant they were to the entire invasion. That said, there isn’t a single battle sequence in The Longest Day which won’t have you on the edge of your seat and what’s more, they are all entirely different to each other in both logistics and execution. However, during all the back and forth shifting between battle sequences, it still finds the time for moments of quiet reflection and the tone which it sets during these moments is deeply affecting.

The most impressive feature of the film is without a doubt the fact that at all times, The Longest Day never fails to intertwine the role and perspective of the individual soldiers with the broader strategic advancements of their respective units. The later A Bridge Too Far did this too when chronicling Market Garden but not as well as it’s done here. The Longest Day puts us right in the middle of the action so that we feel intimately familiar with the ebb and flow of the advance and it’s thrilling stuff. The film is shot magnificently and even though the US, British, and German episodes are all helmed by different directors, there’s a seamless look and feel to the whole thing. Overall, The Longest Day is a captivating piece of cinema which shows great deference to the momentous events of that day. There are some fine movies which focus on the same events but none are as comprehensively great as this.

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Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) 4.71/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 88.3
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Duration: 81 mins
Director: John Sturges
Stars: Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Lee Marvin

“I’m half horse, half alligator. Mess with me and I’ll kick a lung out of ya.” Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, and the immortal Spencer Tracy star in this gritty WW II era western. Tracy stars as a disabled veteran who arrives in a one-horse town to look up the father of a Japanese-American soldier who saved his life whilst giving up his own in the process. Met with paranoia, aggression, and fear he soon begins to suspect that the townspeople are guilty of a dark secret concerning the Japanese father. Tracy was always the best at playing the iron willed moral compass of a film and in this film he hones that skill to a fine point in what must be one of his finest performances. The bad guys are all played with suitable menace with Marvin and Ryan standing out in particular. Director John Sturges lets the considerable tension simmer just beneath the surface for most of the film but when Tracy squares off against the various villains that tension becomes palpable. Though the drama builds up slowly, Sturges gives the story a real sense of urgency beginning with that thumping introduction as the camera moves in on Tracy’s train hurtling through the desert towards the dark truth. There are some truly outstanding action sequences including a tasty fight between Borgnine and Tracy where the latter gives us one of the earliest glimpses of martial arts fighting in a Hollywood picture. Bad Day at Black Rock is a remarkable film defined by some career-best performances, a brave story, and some extremely inspired direction that was well ahead of its time.

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The Set-Up (1949)


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Rating: The Good – 84.6
Genre: Film-Noir
Duration: 73 mins
Director: Robert Wise
Stars: Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias

Told in real time, The Set-Up follows a journeyman boxer’s last grasp at glory as he prepares for, fights, and evades the consequences of the biggest fight of his life. Robert Ryan is in fine form as the man who won’t lie down even when he discovers late on in the fight that the fix is in. He exudes determined vulnerability all the way through and the fight scenes in particular (Ryan was a former Golden Gloves champion) are some of the best captured anywhere. Robert Wise shows early on that he was an exceptional director in the making by giving the real-time action an effortless gliding quality and some of the shots, particularly those exteriors of the arena and the adjacent motel are just gorgeous. Art Cohn’s script is expertly tailored to the tight constraints of the picture and it brings the best out of the various actors. The Set-Up is full memorable moments and scenarios from the middle-aged woman who claims to have no love for the sport only to be baying for blood once inside, to the interactions between the mobster, his floozie, and the surrounding men. At just over 68 minutes long, this one will zip along but it’ll live long in the memory nonetheless.

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The Wild Bunch (1969)


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Rating: The Good – 85.5
Genre: Western
Duration: 145 mins
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Stars: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan

Sam Peckinpah chipped in with his own meta-analysis of the Western in this uniquely poignant tale of an ageing group of outlaws and the extinction they face at the hands of politicians, modern war-mongers, and their mechanisms of change. Like Leone did in Once Upon a Time in the West, Peckinpah breaks the “rules” of film making to telling effect by beginning the film in a manner more suited to the end of the more traditional westerns. Picking up where most leave off, he then proceeds to fold back the genre with a majestic grace so that from early on in The Wild Bunch, there is a clear sense that the outlaws are wandering into a changed world which has no place for them. There is a brutal beauty as well as sadness to this and Peckinpah catches both superbly. It seems fitting too that the sterling cast gave their most memorable performances in a film of this stature. William Holden is supreme as he gives us one of the most iconic western anti-heroes, Pike Bishop, and he is matched every step of the way by Ernest Borgnine as Dutch Engstrom. Robert Ryan is also excellent as the ambiguously placed Deke Thornton. The violence and action have been much talked about but whatever your take is, there is no disputing the artistry in the choreography of the first and last scenes in particular. And like everything else in The Wild Bunch, the violence tells its own part of the story too.

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The Professionals (1966) 4.72/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 85.4
Genre: Western
Duration: 117 mins
Director: Richard Brooks
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan

“Maybe there’s only one revolution since the beginning. The good guys against the bad guys.” Three years before The Wild Bunch, Richard Brooks wrote, directed, and assembled a middle-aged western heavy mob of his own with Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode squaring off against a Mexican revolutionary played by (err..) Jack Palance, who has kidnapped a wealthy American’s wife (Claudia Cardinale). Marvin and co. play four specialists (guns, explosives, horses, tracker) who are put together to traverse the Mexican desert, rescue said wife, and bring her back across the border alive.

Although The Professionals is not as overtly philosophical as Peckinpah’s later film, it has some wonderful moments of quiet reflection where times past and the politics of the modern world are considered in mature and touching ways. Rather than being seen as increasingly obsolete, however, the seasoned experience of the four heroes is taken more traditionally as a virtue, as their combined expertise is put to work in a series of well crafted and memorable set pieces.

The Professionals is a technically superb movie on nearly every level. Conrad L. Hall’s photography creates an awesome  backdrop worthy of the epic action and the use of the “day-for-night” technique gives the night time shots a striking beauty. Maurice Jarre’s score is as rousing as any from that vintage and used well throughout. However, the real strength of the film is the script and story. The plot was hugely original for its time and the manner in which it develops is disciplined and clever. The scenarios which the protagonists act out are its equal and the dialogue is as good as if not better than anything the western has offered up.

Needless to say, the cast is uniformly splendid and while Ryan and Strode have less to do than the other two, they throw in with some wonderfully memorable performances. But this film is all about Marvin and particularly Lancaster who were rarely better. Marvin gives one of those thoughtful man-with-the-will-of-iron turns but with more emphasis on the former than we typically saw from him. This sets the tone for the film more than anything else. Lancaster, on the other hand, sets the theme, the momentum, and the energy with a profoundly magnetic turn as the “the whirlingist dervish of them all!”. Charming, chilling, rousing, and full of shrewd intelligence, his Dolworth is easily one of the most under-appreciated western characters and as we watch Lancaster swinging from trains and scaling 100 foot canyon walls (without a safety harness), the character and actor become one and the same. What an actor. What a man. What a professional.

Although, it has unfortunately been somewhat forgotten over the years, The Professionals is one of the very best westerns of its era. It takes a refreshing break from town marshals and nasty cattle ranchers to explore the more peripherally relevant themes of the wild west but, best of all, it throws a handful of movie legends together with a script and movie big enough to do every bit of their monumental personalities justice. “So what else is on your mind besides 100 proof women, 90 proof whiskey, and 14 carat gold?” Pure class!

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Crossfire (1947) 2.57/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 67.6
Genre: Film-Noir
Duration: 86 mins
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Stars: Robert Mitchum, Gloria GrahameSam Levene

“Hating…can end up killing people who wear striped neckties.” A standard enough murder plot involving three off-duty soldiers is elevated due to some prescient social analysis and even a forewarning of where the anti- communist witch hunts (still in their infancy) were heading. Robert Young plays the insightful detective, Robert Mitchum the good-hearted sergeant, and Robert Ryan the surly soldier who may or may not have something to do with the murder. Dmytryk shot the film in a film noir style for convenience and in truth that’s where its connection to the genre ends. The plot is much more basic than your typical noir and the characters nowhere near as ambiguous. That said, the film remains one of the clearest explanations of hate and bigotry and is worth watching for that alone. As an interesting side note, Crossfire is the film that supposedly drew the attention of the House of Unamerican Activities towards liberal Hollywood.

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