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For communicating a threatening undercurrent in every word he spoke, Robert Ryan was supreme.  He had a presence on screen that made even his gentlest, caring motions taut with menace.  Even in roles where he was not subject to outbursts of violence, he could still be forbidding, angry, retributive.  In some of his best roles, he created towering villains of cinema, including the ones in Crossfire (1947), Beware, My Lovely (1951), and The Naked Spur (1953).

 

Or that is the common image of him.   But even a glance at his filmography reveals as many positive roles, if not heroes.  The best of them including The Set-Up (1949, and my favorite of his movies), On Dangerous Ground (1951, yes, he starts out a villain, but ends up a hero--my favorite of his movies), and Act of Violence (1948), where he is portrayed a villain, but turns out a good-guy.  It's my favorite movie of his.

 

If there ever was an actor whose on-screen persona conflicted with his real life personality, this is the guy.  While he is remembered for portraying violent, bigoted, or vindictive people, he personally campaigned for tolerance, even-handedness, civil liberties, and civil rights.  He was one of the few who vocally opposed McCarthy's witch-hunting, and supported the blacklisted Hollywood Ten.  And didn't cave to pressure dissuading him from doing it, unlike some others.  He was involved with the creation of social- and civil-activitst groups, a number of theater groups, and a private school.  

 

His early life reads like a tale of a poor depression boy:

 

 After a failed attempt to become a journalist in New York City, the young Ryan grabbed a ship bound for Africa and worked as an engine room janitor for two long years. He dug subway tunnels in Chicago, mined for gold and punched cattle in Montana and, back in Chicago, sold cemetery plots and steel products. The low point came with a stint as a bill collector for a loan company, shaking poor people down for money they didn’t have (from http://dartmouthalumnimagazine.com/articles/actor-who-knew-too-much).

 

Yet he was just the opposite.  All of this bumming around came after his graduation from--Dartmouth, the son of a wealthy Chicago contractor.  While there, in addition to being the heavyweight champion each of his years, he became acquainted with the theater, starting out in the direction of playwright.  It was that which eventually got him work, and a career, starting out directing theater at a private school.  A good summary of his life can be found here: 

 

http://www.filmnoirfoundation.org/sentinel-article/RobertRyan.pdf.

 

He's another one of those conflicted actors, like Sterling Hayden, or Robert Mitchum, who felt ambivalent, or outright disdainful (or so they said) of their profession.  But like them he also took his work seriously.  Some speculate his low view of his worthiness is what drove him to his activism.  But I withhold from adopting such psychological rationales.  The motivations of people's actions are complex, and subtile.  Facile cause-and-effect speculations I am confident never have great explanatory power.  

 

Some of my regrets for TCM's STOM tribute are the lack of his final performance in The Iceman Cometh (1973), and some of his TV work, including his appearance as Jay Gatsby opposite Jeanne Crain in the 1958 Playhouse 90 adaptation of The Great Gatsby.  Now I think of it, didn't TCM show his appearance as Lincoln in the Screen Director's Playhouse adaptation of "Lincoln's Doctor's Dog?"

 

My final regret is one beyond TCM's control.  He evidently was slated to play Commodore Matt Decker in the Star Trek episode "The Doomsday Machine."  Though William Windom did a fine job, it still would have been killer to see Mr. Ryan in it.

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I am a big fan of Robert Ryan and he is one of my favourite tough guys.  I want to see everything he was in.

 

I love artists who are complicated.  I will be watching every title in the Star of the Month festival whether it is new to me or I have seen it lots of times.

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Or that is the common image of him.   But even a glance at his filmography reveals as many positive roles, if not heroes.  The best of them including The Set-Up (1949, and my favorite of his movies), On Dangerous Ground (1951, yes, he starts out a villain, but ends up a hero--my favorite of his movies), and Act of Violence (1948), where he is portrayed a villain, but turns out a good-guy.  It's my favorite movie of his.

 

If there ever was an actor whose on-screen persona conflicted with his real life personality, this is the guy.  While he is remembered for portraying violent, bigoted, or vindictive people, he personally campaigned for tolerance, even-handedness, civil liberties, and civil rights.  He was one of the few who vocally opposed McCarthy's witch-hunting, and supported the blacklisted Hollywood Ten.  And didn't cave to pressure dissuading him from doing it, unlike some others.  He was involved with the creation of social- and civil-activitst groups, a number of theater groups, and a private school.  

Hey, how many movies count as "favorite movies"? I count 3, let's be more precise. :D  Actually, I see that as a compliment, the man played so many characters so well, and  he  always  made the movies he was in better. It's hard to single out one film as the best or a favorite.  I would add THE NAKED SPUR and BILLY BUDD to a list of best (or my favorite) Ryan films. And the list could go on and on.  I would also add that Robert Ryan supports my theory that it "takes a good guy to play a good villain". Like Ernie Borgnine, Richard Widmark, Dan Duryea, etc.

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Slayton, totally enjoyed your take and comments on Mister Ryan!

 

I remember once that someone said he had a face that looked like a four-wheeler had run over it, which made him look more tough.

 

 

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I just love Robert Ryan and everything about him - great actor, unconventional good looks, support for civil rights, etc. I look forward to watching his movies this month. I may have seen some of them many times like CROSSFIRE and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK where he plays these awful bigots yet he was so unlike that in real life. That's why they call it acting! Also want to see CLASH BY NIGHT again with the great Barbara Stanwyck and THE SET-UP. I don't think he got the credit he deserved; I'm glad TCM is honoring him.

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When I saw Robert Ryan in Clash by Night I absolutely loathed him, hated him...  But of course, that's what makes him a good actor.  He had me completely believing his character.  He wasn't so likable in Bad Day at Black Rock, either.

 

(I think I saw these two movies one after the other, and I thought to myself, "Sheesh, has he done anything where you can actually feel sympathy toward him?") ;)

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When I saw Robert Ryan in Clash by Night I absolutely loathed him, hated him...  But of course, that's what makes him a good actor.  He had me completely believing his character.  He wasn't so likable in Bad Day at Black Rock, either.

 

(I think I saw these two movies one after the other, and I thought to myself, "Sheesh, has he done anything where you can actually feel sympathy toward him?") ;)

 

Funny but I saw Ryan in those two films and then Crossfire!    Later on I finally saw The Set-Up;  here was a character that one can feel sympathy for and Ryan plays him just as well as those 'bad boys'.

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I recently watched Robert Ryan's final film performance in the 1973 adaption of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. As Larry Slade, one of the dead end patrons of a dingy 1912 New York bar who live on booze and illusions, it is all etched in Ryan's face and eyes: the bitterness, the anger but, above all, a terrible, terrible sadness. Yet there is still, at times, a tired compassion for others, no matter how much the hopelessness of their situation. as well as his own.

 

I wonder how much the sadness that I saw in Ryan's performance is a reflection of his own life, inasmuch as Jessica, his wife of 33 years, died of cancer around the time of this film's production. The film would be released in November, 1973, four months after the actor had succumbed to the same disease that had taken his wife.

 

theicemancometh.jpg

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I recently watched Robert Ryan's final film performance in the 1973 adaption of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh. As Larry Slade, one of the dead end patrons of a dingy 1912 New York bar who live on booze and illusions, it is all etched in Ryan's face and eyes: the bitterness, the anger but, above all, a terrible, terrible sadness. Yet there is still, at times, a tired compassion for others, no matter how much hopelessness of their situation. as well as his own.

 

I wonder how much the sadness that I saw in Ryan's performance is a reflection of his own life, inasmuch as Jessica, his wife of 33 years, died of cancer around the time of this film's production. The film would be released in November, 1973, four months after the actor had succumbed to the same disease that had taken his wife.

 

theicemancometh.jpg

I have wanted to see this movie for a long time.  Thanks for sharing thoughts on this film and the photograph.

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I have a favorite performance of Ryan's, beyond all his renowned bad guy parts. It's in the western, THE TALL MEN (1955). He competes with Clark Gable for the hand (and body) of Jane Russell, during a cattle drive from Montana to Texas. Ryan plays a rich influential man, and tries to woo the wildcat Russell and teach her manners. Gable is his usual rough and tumble self, and upset that Jane would.prefer the relatively refined Ryan.

 

Expansively shot in Cinemascope, and directed by Raoul Walsh, veteran of many outdoor adventures, it also features Cameron Mitchell as Gable's brother. Not sure if this 20th Century Fox epic will be featured this month, but it is a good change of pace for Ryan.i

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I have wanted to see this movie for a long time.  Thanks for sharing thoughts on this film and the photograph.

THE ICEMAN COMETH 1973 is available free on AMAZON PRIME. Fans who want to see Robert in a nice guy role should be pleased with ABOUT MRS. LESLIE 1954. Originally I watched the film to see Shirley Booth who made very few movies. Shirley was wonderful, and Robert matched her showing a different side of himself.

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I do not know if TCm will show Ernest Borgnine`s very nice commentary of Robert`s career,They acted together in three films BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, THE DIRTY DOZEN, and THE WILD BUNCH. Ernie`s tribute is available on YOU TUBE.com

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I do not know if TCm will show Ernest Borgnine`s very nice commentary of Robert`s career,They acted together in three films BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, THE DIRTY DOZEN, and THE WILD BUNCH. Ernie`s tribute is available on YOU TUBE.com

I've seen that commentary and it is beautiful.  I have seen the star of the Month video and it is a wonderful video.

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THE ICEMAN COMETH 1973 is available free on AMAZON PRIME. Fans who want to see Robert in a nice guy role should be pleased with ABOUT MRS. LESLIE 1954. Originally I watched the film to see Shirley Booth who made very few movies. Shirley was wonderful, and Robert matched her showing a different side of himself.

Thanks for the information, sapphiere.  I've been working my way through Ryan's entire career and have seen his broad range of roles.

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I have a favorite performance of Ryan's, beyond all his renowned bad guy parts. It's in the western, THE TALL MEN (1955). He competes with Clark Gable for the hand (and body) of Jane Mansfield,

 

I think your eyes may have been lingering on that body quite a while there, Arturo, old buddy. Look up at the face and hair colour once in a while, too, will ya? ;) It was another actress named Jane in that western role, by the name of Russell.

 

Of course, to be fair to you, both actresses are largely remembered today for the same two things. :rolleyes:

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Tom knows his actresses, for sure.  How anyone could mix up a blond bombshell's name with a dark haired beauty who was introduced to the world by Howard Hughes?

 

Now if one were to mix up Marilyn Monroe  with  Jane Mansfield, that would be different as Mansfield along with Van Doren were hired to be the Monroe versions of their respective studios.

 

 

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I think your eyes may have been lingering on that body quite a while there, Arturo, old buddy. Look up at the face and hair colour once in a while, too, will ya? ;) It was another actress named Jane in that western role, by the name of Russell.

 

Of course, to be fair to you, both actresses are largely remembered today for the same two things. :rolleyes:

Lol. I do know that. I did refer to her as Russell right below, and spelled it "Jane". In my defense, I was viewing the Sophia Loren interview as I was writing this,and they had just shown the famous Mansfield- Loren photo. Thanks for the correction; I have edited my post.
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I was surprised and LMREO'ed when they showed that picture of Sophia and Jayne during that interview.

Yes, that photograph is very famous. I noticed during the interview that Sophia said that she is often asked to autograph that photograph and she refuses in honour of Jayne's memory.

 

My guess is that if Jayne died of natural causes maybe she would.  But what happened to her in that car accident likely has something to do with Sophia's choice.

 

Getting back to Robert Ryan, he certainly did get to share the screen with gorgeous actresses. 

 

Speaking of Monroe, his focus in Clash By Night is Stanwyck, but Monroe is in there.

 

If I were  to compare Jane Russell's beauty to someone, I would choose Ava Gardner.

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I was surprised and LMREO'ed when they showed that picture of Sophia and Jayne during that interview.

There is an even better photo, taken seconds apart (the papparrazzi's flashbulbs must've been flashing furiously), where Loren is looking askanse at Mansfield, as her b o o b is about to pop out. Priceless!

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THE ICEMAN COMETH 1973 is available free on AMAZON PRIME. Fans who want to see Robert in a nice guy role should be pleased with ABOUT MRS. LESLIE 1954. Originally I watched the film to see Shirley Booth who made very few movies. Shirley was wonderful, and Robert matched her showing a different side of himself.

I love About Mrs. Leslie too. Shirley Booth was so poignant in her part and Robert Ryan was excellent

too as John Leslie H.

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I just love Robert Ryan and everything about him - great actor, unconventional good looks, support for civil rights, etc. I look forward to watching his movies this month. I may have seen some of them many times like CROSSFIRE and BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK where he plays these awful bigots yet he was so unlike that in real life. That's why they call it acting! Also want to see CLASH BY NIGHT again with the great Barbara Stanwyck and THE SET-UP. I don't think he got the credit he deserved; I'm glad TCM is honoring him.

I am glad too. Every film I have seen with Robert Ryan has been outstanding, including On Dangerous Ground.

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When I saw Robert Ryan in Clash by Night I absolutely loathed him, hated him...  But of course, that's what makes him a good actor.  He had me completely believing his character.  He wasn't so likable in Bad Day at Black Rock, either.

 

(I think I saw these two movies one after the other, and I thought to myself, "Sheesh, has he done anything where you can actually feel sympathy toward him?") ;)

Yeah, how about On Dangerous Ground where he plays a tough cop who falls in love with a blind girl played

beautifully also by Ida Lupino? One of my favorite films.

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Tom knows his actresses, for sure. How anyone could mix up a blond bombshell's name with a dark haired beauty who was introduced to the world by Howard Hughes?

 

Now if one were to mix up Marilyn Monroe with Jane Mansfield, that would be different as Mansfield along with Van Doren were hired to be the Monroe versions of their respective studios.

As I said in my post, I was watching Mansfield on the screen, and hearing her being discussed, as I was writing the post on THE TALL , MEN, so while I was thinking Russell, I guess my mind had the other one in he subconscious. I DID spell it Jane, like Russell, not Jayne, like Mansfield.

 

Btw, Mansfield was.not hired by her studio to be their version of Monroe, since both were under contract to 20th Century Fox. Rather, she was hired to be their replacement for a recalcitrant Monroe, who had fled to New York, after rejecting script after script. If Monroe didn't come around, they needed someone else. They had tried Sheree.North, but while sexy, attractive.and talented, she wasn't quite equiped to compete.as effectively as Mansfield.

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