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ROBERT RYAN - The Real Quiet Man

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"With his veiled stare, his weary face,and his bitter voice, Ryan trails behind him all the lassitude and solitude of the world."

Thierry G?nin, L'Avant Sc?ne


Robert Ryan didn't like talking about himself, he let his work speak for itself, apparently. If left at that, many might get the impression this quiet actor was one of the meanest men in town, since the majority of his most vivid screen roles were tough, steely-eyed villains, bigots, psychotics and at least one "Jasper". Doing a little digging around I found the man himself to be quite different. Quietly, but firmly and decidedly, different.


Robert Ryan never rose to the ranks of fame as that of actors he deeply admired, men like Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy and Gary Cooper. But don't get the idea that bothered him. Without that fame and the fuss that comes with it, he managed to fill out great parts and tower in the lesser ones and keep doing the work he loved, almost until he died.


He was also a study in contradictions:


* A Dartmouth graduate who majored in literature. And who was, in four years of intercollegiate boxing competion, undefeated (a record).



* An Ivy Leaguer who during the Depression would take on jobs such as ranch hand, male model, gold prospector, sand hog (he helped dig the Linoln Tunnel - many commuters don't thank you for it, Bob), stoaker aboard a steamer, and even as a loan collector. He had this to say about the last job:


"Here I was collecting money from families who hadn't

eaten in days. It was too much. I was bugged by it

and quit after two weeks."



* The tough boxing champ and future screen menace was, in fact, very shy as well as bookish:


"I am an only child, which can have a very

damaging effect. Moss Hart once said that

he thought all the people in the theatre,

or at least successful people, came from

an unhappy childhood. I don't know whether

that's true or not and I can't say that mine

was that unhappy, but it was quite often

a lonely one."



* The incarnation of bigotry in movies like *Crossfire* and *Odds Against Tomorrow* , he was always very liberal in his values:


"I have been in films pretty well everything

I am dedicated to fighting against."


"[Ryan is] a disturbing mixture of anger

and tenderness who had reached stardom

by playing mostly brutal, neurotic roles that

were at complete variance with his true

nature." John Houseman


* Seldom given the romantic lead, and anything but warm and fuzzy in his style, he in fact enjoyed one of the more relatively stable marriages (to one wife, actress/children's book writer Patricia Cadwalader) and homes in Hollywood. He and his wife also founded and helped direct the Oakwood School (right in their backyard) for children, a progressive school which still flourishes today.


* So natural a fit in the gritty, urban world of the noir, he slipped into a saddle in a number of memorable westerns with ease:


"There's a whole body of Americans, at least,

who think I've never made anything but westerns ...

But I am an urban character. I was born in the big

city. I also have a long seamy face which adapts

itself to Westerns - but I don't for one moment

consider myself a Western actor essentially."


* Remembered only as a screen tough guy, his first love was the stage, to which he would return at the drop of a hat. He helped organize a theater group at UCLA, was one one of the founders---along with Henry Fonda and Martha Scott---of the Plumstead Playhouse Repertory Company.


"You say Shakespeare

and I'll play it in the men's

room at Grand Central."


* After serving in WWII in the Marines as a drill seargent and seeing the effects of combat on returning soldiers, Ryan became a dedicated pacifist. His wife, coming from a Quaker background, shared his views.


I have enjoyed spending a little time getting to know the man behind the tough guy image---which was only partly true, for though he was tough, he was also humane and that does shine through his finest work.


If you are not familiar with his movies, don't miss:


On Dangerous Ground

Clash by Night

The Set-Up


Beware, My Lovely

The Naked Spur

About Mrs Leslie

God's Little Acre



Any others who admire this actor and would care to discuss him and his movies?


P.S. If you are a fan, don't fail to visit this marvelous site, which provided me with many of the Robert Ryan quotes I included here: http://www.hillebrander.de/ryan.html



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Quite a lot of work and research you put in there MissGoddess. I'm a big fan of Robert Ryan after getting over my fear of him. He looked so intimidating. But when I saw him in "Tender Comrade" he won my heart over. Now I love him, mean and surly or reluctantly romantic.


Thanxxx for the info.

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Four of my favorite Robert Ryan films that haven't been mentioned are:


*Woman on the Beach*

*Bad Day at Black Rock* (another "bigotry" role)


*House of Bamboo*


I came to appreciate Robert Ryan only recently. He was just one of those actors who was always there in '60s/early-'70s movies (my teenage/early-20s years when "old movies" meant "boring movies" -- then about two years ago I saw *On Dangerous Ground* , then *The Set-Up* . Very good, I thought. Then I saw *Clash by Night* and now he ranks with Stewart & Mitchum on my chart.


And he was born in Chicago.


From Chicago -- Go Cubs (maybe this is the century)!

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Miss Goddess -- There's the Robert Ryan thread I was wondering about... and wishing for. Fantastic write-up. Nicely crafted and well thought out. Your words connected with me. And looky there... bullets. Steppin' out are we? Very nice.


Robert Ryan is my kind of man and my kind of actor. He was a kind man and a very smart man. He was also a very underrated actor. He would often play unlikeable characters but his sympathetic portrayals of these characters would ultimately make you like them on some sort of level. He was a master at this.


I've seen the following Ryan films:


The Woman on the Beach


Act of Violence

The Set-Up

The Racket

On Dangerous Ground

Clash By Night

The Naked Spur

Bad Day at Black Rock

House of Bamboo

The Proud Ones

God's Little Acre

Odds Against Tomorrow

The Longest Day

The Professionals

The Wild Bunch


I like every one of those films and Ryan is a big reason why in most of them. *Clash by Night*, *The Set-Up*, and *House of Bamboo* feature my favorite Ryan performances. His performances in *God's Little Acre* and *Act of Violence* are the most unique of the ones I've seen.


I didn't realize Ryan was in Gary Cooper's *North West Mounted Police*, Miss G. I also didn't realize what Madeleine Carroll's character's name was in that film, either. Interesting.

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Hi Theresa! I'm glad to you see you like Robbie-Baby, too. He possesses that outer toughness, inward, sensitive intelligence I find irrisistible. I still have many of his movies to discover, but it's a journey I'm bound to enjoy.


You've mentioned *Her Twelve Men* before, but I didn't realize RR was in it---even better! :)

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Thanks, CM---I know what you mean about how intimidating he can appear. I felt the same whenever I first saw him in movies, I couldn't stand him. But now I see how talented an actor he was and in looking more closely, how some of his tough guys showed a spark of humanity and troubled conscience. But always, he was a force to be reckoned with.


What makes me most drawn to his more romantic or complicated parts is that pull of opposites: the inner sensitivity fighting like mad, not to come out, but to stay hidden! In several movies he is absolutely terrified of allowing himself to be loved, to be tender, to relent. And behind that I can't help but see a scared little child.

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Four of my favorite Robert Ryan films that haven't been mentioned are:


Woman on the Beach

Bad Day at Black Rock (another "bigotry" role)


House of Bamboo


I'm glad you brought them up, ChiO. From that list, Woman on the Beach and Lonelyhearts impressed me the most. Especially *Lonelyhearts* . I find his character very riveting and charismatic, and---this is just my perverse sense of humor---hilarious. I can't help but feel amused at his vehement cynicism, it's too strong not to be crying out to be proven wrong. And I think Myrna's character has a heck of a time staying married to him given his constant hammering on her about her infidelity. However, I think she might have fared better had she jerked her head up and gave him as good as he got, and not taken every word he said so seriously. He's not God, his judgements are not absolute and he can be persuaded to change his mind. But no, everyone stands around, mutely, providing him with a willing audience to spew to and so of course he keeps on spewing.


Interesting character development by a very good actor.

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*Billy Budd* is one I still haven't seen. I know it's a part of that recent set of Literary Classics, but whether it will be shown on TCM I don't know. Probably not if it's Fox. If that's the case, Fox Movie Channel, maybe will air it. I will be renting it from Netflix no doubt.

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>>>I didn't realize Ryan was in Gary Cooper's North West Mounted Police, Miss G. I also didn't realize what Madeleine Carroll's character's name was in that film, either. Interesting. <<<




I have forgotten Ryan's part in NWMP, it's been a long time since I watched it. You can imagine the thrill I feel whenever Gary says MY name. And I love Gary's character's name, it's my favorite: "Dusty Rivers". Great name.

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>>>Miss G, this is a great tribute to a wonderful actor. I really cannot think of a single Ryan performance that I do not admire. Thanks.<<<


I am very happy that you enjoyed it, and others, too. I hope you all will visit that website I linked to, as well. It's one of the best I've seen, especially the "Journey Into Ryan" segment---that you have to see.

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>>>Has anyone seen Born to Be Bad (Ray, 1950)? It's one of the few times I've been a bit disappointed in a Ryan performance. Maybe the title and the director made my expectations too high.<<<


I felt the same about it. This was definitely one of those roles that was way too small for him.

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Theresa, I hope you (and everyone) can see *About Mrs Leslie* one day. I woudl be in heaven if TCM could air it. It's the tenderest love story, but you will be bawling your eyes out at the end. I haven't seen it myself for probably more than 10 years, but it made that much of an impression on me.


*Here he is needling Myrna in Lonelyhearts, and below, with Shirley Boothe in About Mrs Leslie*





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In *Odds Against Tomorrow* , Ryan is a frustrated, hemmed in failure who is desperate for one more shot at the big time. In this scene (top picture), which takes place early on in the movie, we glimpse his vulnerability, but that will be all but eclipsed by his angry bigotry in the film's climax.








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