A great piece on the wonderful Robert Ryan, one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood history. I was actually thinking of writing a series of posts on Ryan myself, but I’ll let this suffice. I think Ryan’s characters are almost uniformly wonderful–the lieutenant desperate to get at least one of his men back to American lines during the Korean War after the Chinese invasion in Men in War. The pathetic but still honorable traitor desperate to never go back to prison in The Wild Bunch. The sheer hatred for the scum of the city and his ability to be redeemed by the right woman in On Dangerous Ground. The racist redneck in Bad Day at Black Rock.
I especially like the thuggish gangster with no patience for the new sophisticated ways of post-war corporatized gangsters in The Racket. Ryan’s character seems almost perfect for The Godfather films, with the transition from the old ways to the new, from Sonny to Michael Corelone. Ryan doesn’t fit into the quasi-legal world of the new gangsterism. He’d rather throw a guy out the window. Ryan’s pure malevolence here is just great to watch. Unfortunately, he’s cast with Robert Mitchum. While later in his career, Mitchum could channel evil like few others, he was still in his suave phase here and he plays the incorruptable and brave cop with far too much smoothness. I would have rather seen the roles reserved, with Ryan ready to do anything to bring down the evil gangster. I thought Thomas Meighan did a much better job as the cop in the original 1928 version of the film.
Anyway, even if you can’t go to the Film Forum retrospective on Ryan, you can watch most of these great films at home.