Wednesday, August 17, 2011

ROBERT RYAN at Film Forum in New York City

ROBERT RYAN at Film Forum in New York City
"Life, death, loneliness, loss: these were some of the things we learned from the quiet art of Robert Ryan."
– Pete Hamill

When I was a kid, I used to watch movies with my dad.  He used to work a lot so when he and I would watch a movie on TV it was quality time.  Despite being in a remote town in PA, he was a good movie guy.  He got the ball rolling by making me watch "On the Waterfront," with the great Brando, Burt Lancaster in "Elmer Gantry" and Howard Hawks' "Red River," with John Wayne and Montgomery Clift that he told me were all great actors.  But one actor that he always told was the GUY, was Robert Ryan, his personal favorite.  Robert Ryan is indeed a great actor, Jeff Bridges who was in "The Iceman Cometh" with him as a young man, says that Ryan was the greatest actor that he'd ever seen on screen or worked with. Robert Ryan was an actor's actor who never was an "A-Lister" but when paired with such stars as Clark Gable, Robert Mitchum, John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, James Stewart, Lee Marvin and Spencer Tracy, he more than held his own.  

Ryan often played conflicted, ambiguous characters in such films as Nicholas Ray's "On Dangerous Ground," Anthony Mann's great western "The Naked Spur," Fritz Lang's version of Clifford Odets' "Clash By Night," or Max Ophuls' "Caught," in those great director's movies and many others he simply dominates the screen even though his characters are not very nice people.

In other films like the adaption of Melville's "Billy Budd," Richard Brooks' "Crossfire," Robert Wise's "Odds Against Tommorow," and "Bad Day at Black Rock" with Spencer Tracy, Ryan is just downright mean, cementing himself as possibly the screen's greatest heavy.  However all of his characters brought an intelligence and gravitas that gave dimension to all of those characterizations.  

In real life he was the exact opposite, a private, family man, a fierce liberal who campaigned for many causes like civil rights, against Sen. McCarthy's withchunts, anti-nukes, etc. He did many stage productions at the height of his movie stardom which not too many actors would do including Irving Berlin's last musical "Mr. President."  He said, "In movies, I've played pretty much everything that I've dedicated my life to fighting against."  A legitimate tough guy in a land of fake tough guys, he was a Marine Drill Instructor and an Ivy League boxing champion who on the set of "The Wild Bunch," threatened to punch out legendary tough guy Sam Peckinpah whom he didn't get along with. Legend has it that he and his friend and total political opposite John Wayne almost came to blows. Shortly after Ryan died in 1973, his estate sold his apartment in the Dakota building to a young couple named John Lennon and Yoko Ono. 

The Film Forum on West Houston Street in NYC is doing a very overdue tribute to Robert Ryan's career showing 21 films over 12 days this August, it's going on now.  2 excellent films where Ryan gets to really show his stuff and are playing in this festival are Roy Ward Baker's 3-D survival tale "Inferno," and Robert Wise's boxing film "The Set-Up."  Both films feature tour de forces by Ryan.  In "Inferno," he plays a not so nice millionaire who's left to die in the desert with a broken leg by his cheating wife.  He's alone on screen trying to survive for most of the movie and one can't help but rooting for his boorish character to survive.  In "The Set-Up," considered by many one of the best of all the boxing movies and Bob's favorite role, Ryan plays a real ham and egger in the dead end world of small time boxing.  “Bob caught all the nuances of guts and shattered hopes, and small-time aspirations of a never-was beating the hell out of the desperation of being a club fighter.– Samuel Fuller.  I'll be as bold to say that Ryan's performance is the best in any boxing movie.  

So I think my old man was right about saying that Robert Ryan was "the man."  An actor first, a star second, not afraid to take an unsympathetic role.  Ryan brought a dignity and intelligence to any film that he was in and if you love movies and acting you should definitely try to catch some of his films at the Film Forum, TCM or Netflix.  You will be entertained.  The writer who did Robert Ryan's obituary when he died in 1973, wrote this very lovely summation of Ryan's career, "he left behind a lifetime of roles too small for his talent..."  Well said. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Remembering Thurman Munson

Me and millions of others remember exactly where they were in 1979 when they heard that Thurman Munson was killed tragically in a plane crash at the age of 32.  It was a very sad day for all of baseball and heartbreaking to Yankee fans who had lost their Captain, their heart and soul.  A great player who led the Yankees to 3 straight World Series appearances and winning 2 in '77 & '78.  Munson played with a fire that is rare in a player and his style clicked with fans. He was a lunch bucket type of player from Canton Ohio, whose uniform was always dirty, played through injuries and the only time he'd smile on the field is after the Yankees had safely secured a win. 

His fight during a collision with his rival, Boston catcher Carlton Fisk is the stuff of legend. In '76, Owner George Steinbrenner named the catcher to be the first captain of the New York Yankees in 37 years succeeding the late, great Lou Gehrig.  Munson was perhaps the best clutch hitter of his time leading the '70's Yankees from being an also ran to champion in a short time.  Those Yankee teams were something else, a collection of rogues starting from "The Boss" George Steinbrenner, Manager Billy Martin, controversial power hitting outfielder Reggie Jackson whom Munson feuded then befriended, flaky Mickey Rivers, tough guys Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles to quiet superstars like Catfish Hunter and Ron Guidry.  They were nicknamed the Bronx Zoo but it was their captain Munson that held the ship together and led them to victory.  Thurman Munson a beloved Yankee, team captain, champion.  His locker at the old Yankee Stadium remained empty with his number 15 jersey hanging there since that day in August of '79 and that locker was moved to the new Yankee Stadium paying tribute to Munson.  
Hopefully the veterans committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame will rightfully place him in Cooperstown. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame much more so than the recent batch of statistical  compilers who've recently entered the HOF.  Here's a 3 segment video biography of the Yankee great. 
Some of Thurman Munson's accomplishments as a player: 
*3 consecutive seasons batting .300 or better with 100 or more RBI each year. He was the first catcher to accomplish the feat in three consecutive years since Yankee Hall of Famer Bill Dickey's four straight seasons from 1936-1939, matched only by Mike Piazza since (1996–1998).

*Munson had a career .357 batting average in the post-season with three home runs, 22 RBIs and nineteen runs scored. 

*Munson's batting average in the World Series was .373.

*1976 AL MVP 

*7 Time All-Star (1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978)

*3 Time Gold Glove Award winner (1973, 1974, 1975)

*New York Yankees' Team Captain 1976-'79

*1970 AL Rookie of the Year 

*Lifetime Batting Average .292

*Number 15 Retired by the New York Yankees