Tag Archives: Robert Ryan

The Wild Bunch (1969, Sam Peckinpah), the director’s cut

The Wild Bunch opens with a methodically executed heist slash shootout sequence. Director Peckinpah quickly introduces cast members, partially due to the dramatic plotting, mostly due to Lou Lombardo’s fantastic editing. All juxtaposed with some kids watching ants kill scorpions. The Wild Bunch opens with one heck of a declarative statement. Peckinpah wants to look at violence and how people treat violence as entertainment.

Unfortunately, he also wants to do a Western about men getting old and being men and bonding even though they don’t like each other because they’re men after all and men stick together. Just look at “villain” Robert Ryan, who is pursuing his old gang–led by William Holden and Ernest Borgnine–and is now stuck with a bunch of low-life bounty hunters. Real men aren’t low-life bounty hunters with bad teeth. Edmond O’Brien, the eldest of the “Wild Bunch,” has bad teeth but he’s not a low-life bounty hunter. He goofs off in the steam bath just like Holden and Borgnine.

After the opening, which is simultaneously exhilarating and horrific, The Wild Bunch does a more traditional first act. There’s setup with Ryan hunting down the gang, there’s setup with the backstory between Ryan and Holden, there’s a full introduction of the supporting cast. Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are brothers and dissenting voices in the gang. Jaime Sánchez is the other guy, who’s apparently been there longer than Johnson and Oates, but not as long as Borgnine. It doesn’t really matter because the characters aren’t deep. They’ll occasionally get deep characterizations from the actors, but the script’s pretty thin. In the script they’re just old, mopey, angry, drunk, tired, horny, or some combination thereof.

For Johnson and Oates, it doesn’t matter. They’re around to be flashy so Holden can dwell on all his mistakes. For Holden and Borgnine, it does matter. Borgnine has almost nothing whatsoever to do except back up Holden, so it’d be nice for there to be a reason more than Borgnine admires Holden. And if not a reason, at least something melodramatic. Something melodramatic would show Peckinpah and co-writer Walon Green carried a little.

Instead, no. It’s undeveloped. Just like almost everything else in The Wild Bunch, except Sánchez’s backstory. Out of nowhere, the film goes from being Ryan hunting Holden and company to Holden and company hanging out in Sánchez’s home village in Mexico and becomes darn likable. Oates goes from ominous and dangerous to affable in about three minutes once they get to the village. Cute even. But Peckinpah doesn’t want the audience to like the characters for too long–at least not without reservations or comprise–so they’re always doing something awful.

There’s some good acting in The Wild Bunch. Holden’s a strong lead and he has a handful of phenomenal little moments. They don’t add up to anything, but they’re real good. And Peckinpah’s on for them too, which is nice. Borgnine’s fine. He really is just support for Holden. Sánchez is fine too; Peckinpah was apparently intentional about making him frequently pout. Oates is wild and crazy and it’s okay. It’s an enjoyable performance, but the character is still exceptionally unlikable. Johnson does a lot with a thin part.

Edmond O’Brien is amazing. He chews scenery, drools or spits it out with his chaw, but always with restraint. Whoever thought of dubbing his laughter over shots should’ve had a different thought, however. After some a lot of imaginative stylization in the first third, the film cools down until the grand finale. And that grand finale just shows the same techniques applied to different content; Peckinpah foreshadows pretty much everything in the spectacular open.

As far as the bad guys, Ryan’s okay. Strother Martin and L.Q. Jones are initially amusing as his most vocal moronic sidekicks. They soon get tiring, once it’s clear there’s no more material for them. Ryan gets it worst in that department, however. He’ll be going along fine and then get some trite, waxing nostalgic monologue. It makes for a long movie.

Jerry Fielding’s music is on the low side of mediocre. It’s kind of all right at times, but Peckinpah and Fielding go for a traditional Western score and it doesn’t bring anything to the film. And then there are the times Fielding does action thrill music, which do not work at all. In fact, they’re unpleasant. You’re sitting around waiting for something to happen and then there’s some action and Fielding kneecaps it.

I know Wild Bunch is a sparse, moody look at the male psyche, violence, and the myth of the Old West, but it should better at doing that thing. Peckinpah neglects his actors; not an insignificant problem since there’s only three or four intricate action sequences. There are a couple more elaborate ones, which have spectacle but not much else. But Peckinpah’s ignoring them when there’s nothing else going on except the characters walking, talking, riding.

Despite some dynamic filmmaking from Peckinpah, ably edited by Lombardo, Wild Bunch just doesn’t add up. There’s not enough for the actors, neither in the script nor in Peckinpah’s directorial attention.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by Walon Green and Peckinpah, based on a story by Green and Roy N. Sickner; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Lou Lombardo; music by Jerry Fielding; produced by Phil Feldman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring William Holden (Pike Bishop), Ernest Borgnine (Dutch Engstrom), Edmond O’Brien (Freddie Sykes), Jaime Sánchez (Angel), Ben Johnson (Tector Gorch), Warren Oates (Lyle Gorch), Emilio Fernández (Mapache), Strother Martin (Coffer), L.Q. Jones (T.C), and Robert Ryan (Deke Thornton).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE 2ND ANNUAL GOLDEN BOY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA.


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The Woman on Pier 13 (1949, Robert Stevenson)

The politics of The Woman on Pier 13 are more interesting than the film itself. While it’s rabidly anti-Communist, the film is pro-Union. It sets up the Communist Party (the USA branch—there’s no mention of Soviet ties) as an unimaginably devious and effective organization. There’s no motive for their activities—except to mess with honest, working Americans… in the Union—but villain Thomas Gomez is still fantastic. He doesn’t fret about motivation.

Also more interesting than the film are its credits. Laraine Day gets top billing, but she doesn’t even need to be present until the last twenty minutes. The film’s pacing is awkward, with most of it following either Day’s new husband, played by Robert Ryan, or his old flame, played by Janis Carter. The billing probably should’ve had Day third after Ryan and Carter.

The only thing motivating Ryan’s character throughout is his desire to hide his old Communist Party membership. Even when it becomes clear Day may be in danger, Ryan hesitates. Worse, Ryan doesn’t show any understanding of the character’s selfishness. Instead of being the complicated story of a coward who looks like Robert Ryan, it’s Ryan behaving nonsensically.

Carter’s got some great moments, but her hysterics are fairly awful. John Agar’s good as Day’s impressionable younger brother.

The film’s best performance is from William Talman as a sociopathic hit man. He’s amazing.

Stevenson’s composition’s okay but Roland Gross’s editing is bad. Leigh Harline’s score is terrible.

The film’s peculiar, but not worthwhile.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Stevenson; screenplay by Charles Grayson and Robert Hardy Andrews, based on a story by George W. George and George F. Slavin; director of photography, Nicholas Musuraca; edited by Roland Gross; music by Leigh Harline; produced by Jack J. Gross; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Laraine Day (Nan Lowry Collins), Robert Ryan (Bradley Collins), John Agar (Don Lowry), Thomas Gomez (Vanning), Janis Carter (Christine Norman), Richard Rober (Jim Travers), William Talman (Bailey), Paul E. Burns (J.T. Arnold), Paul Guilfoyle (Ralston), G. Pat Collins (Charlie Dover), Fred Graham (Grip Wilson), Harry Cheshire (J. Francis Cornwall) and Jack Stoney (Garth).


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Berlin Express (1948, Jacques Tourneur)

Berlin Express is a postwar thriller. In the late forties and early fifties, there were a number of such films—most filmed either partially or totally on location in the ruins of Germany. I was expecting Express to be more of a noir, but it’s not. With its pseudo-documentary approach, down to the narration (an uncredited Paul Stewart occasionally sounds exactly like Burt Lancaster, which is disconcerting), Express carefully presents its audience with a look at what’s going on in Germany and what the Allies are doing there too. For the first twenty minutes, a compelling narrative is besides the point.

Eventually, the mystery and espionage thriller elements take over, but Express still handles them differently. Instead of relying just on leading man Robert Ryan (who’s excellent), the film brings in a multinational cast of characters who team up to solve the mystery.

Merle Oberon is sort of Ryan’s love interest, at least until the film gets so philosophical at the end. The ending is where Express falls apart. It goes so far patting the Americans on the back, it becomes a commercial for the occupation of Germany by the Allies—the Americans in particular—instead of a reasonable conclusion. The film resists most of the propaganda pitfalls throughout only to collapse at the finish.

Of the supporting cast, Roman Toporow is the best. Paul Lukas is solid and Robert Coote isn’t bad.

Tourneur’s direction is outstanding.

Berlin Express is a significant historical document, but it’s also mostly successful.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Harold Medford, based on a story by Curt Siodmak; director of photography, Lucien Ballard; edited by Sherman Todd; music by Friedrich Hollaender; produced by Bert Granet; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Merle Oberon (Lucienne), Robert Ryan (Robert Lindley), Charles Korvin (Perrot), Paul Lukas (Dr. Bernhardt), Robert Coote (Sterling), Reinhold Schünzel (Walther), Roman Toporow (Lt. Maxim Kiroshilov), Peter von Zerneck (Hans Schmidt), Otto Waldis (Kessler), Fritz Kortner (Franzen), Michael Harvey (Sgt. Barnes) and Tom Keene (Major).

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, John Sturges)

My reaction to Bad Day at Black Rock is a guarded one. It runs eighty-one minutes and is frequently long when it should be short and short when it should be long. The conclusion, for instance, is something of a misfire. Ironically, after abandoning him for fifteen minutes near the beginning, the film sticks with Spencer Tracy. So the audience misses characters going through huge (and somewhat unlikely) changes.

It’s a strange problem; even though the film has a great supporting cast, it doesn’t have any other principles besides Tracy. Characters become more and less important as the running time progresses. For example, Robert Ryan’s got a lot to do for the first twenty minutes or so, but once his character is clearly defined, he fades into the background a little.

Some of that fading might be Sturges’s fault. While his Cinemascope composition is fantastic–he has this one scene with six people standing around talking and it’s just startling, the figures, dressed brightly even, contrasting the blue, cloudy sky–it’s all very wide. There are almost no close-ups in the film or even medium shots. Sturges is using all of that wide frame and people can get lost.

But the script has its own problems. Mainly Tracy’s character–he keeps changing, as the script keeps unveiling backstory revelations–and with a longer running time, it might work. The film really just needs more time, not just for Tracy, but to make the longish parts seem less plodding.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Sturges; screenplay by Millard Kaufman, adaptation by Don McGuire, based on a story by Howard Breslin; director of photography, William C. Mellor; edited by Newell P. Kimlin; music by André Previn; produced by Dore Schary; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Spencer Tracy (John J. Macreedy), Robert Ryan (Reno Smith), Anne Francis (Liz Wirth), Dean Jagger (Tim Horn), Walter Brennan (Doc Velie), John Ericson (Pete Wirth), Ernest Borgnine (Coley Trimble), Lee Marvin (Hector David), Russell Collins (Mr. Hastings) and Walter Sande (Sam).