Archive for the ‘Robert Ryan’ Category

set-up

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SET-UP is a genre film with style, a sports noir, based on a poem of all things, and directed by the versatile Robert Wise.  Though shot in film noir tradition with film noir themes of steep odds and tragic heroism, THE SET-UP is primarily a sterling example of a boxing picture, and it is a widely-acknowledged inspiration for Martin Scorsese while shooting RAGING BULL.  (I guarantee you that Quentin Tarantino saw it too, when considering Bruce Willis’ storyline in PULP FICTION.)

 

 

In this movie, Robert Ryan plays Stoker, an over-the-hill boxer who discovers that he’s expected to take a dive by a powerful gangster.  He’s a loser several times over, but he’s not about to lose for lack of trying – but there’s a price to standing up against the underworld.  That price is apparent through the pummeling Ryan takes throughout the movie.  Ryan was seldom better cast – imposing enough to be credible as a professional boxer, but wearing his heart on his sleeve, lacking of the drive and the viciousness of the most successful of punch-drunk champions. The soul is in his eyes; the fists only secondary implements by contrast. An essential Robert Ryan performance for longtime fans and soon-to-be fans of one of the most fascinating, thoughtful, and under-acknowledged of old-Hollywood film stars.

 

– Jon Abrams.

 

Please read this excellent essay on the film over at Screen Slate today.

 

THE SET-UP plays at 5pm this evening at the IFC Center in New York City. It isn’t on Blu-Ray yet but you can still find it on the DVD format.

 

 

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ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948)

 

 

This is a quietly astounding movie, one which is not nearly as well-remembered as it could and probably should be.  ACT OF VIOLENCE began as a story by Collier Young, who was married to and divorced from Ida Lupino and Joan Fontaine. That’s a pretty interesting off-screen life. The script is by Robert L. Richards, who also wrote WINCHESTER ’73 and GORGO but was blacklisted on account of his left-leaning beliefs, which very likely are trace elements noticeable in the finished film. Directed by Fred Zinnemann (who also made HIGH NOON and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), ACT OF VIOLENCE isn’t overtly political but is easily applicable to many of the major social issues of its era, and still.

 

Act of Violence

 

Robert Ryan plays Joe, a crippled POW who returns to plague a local war hero, Frank, played by Van Heflin (from POSSESSED and SHANE), and by proxy his young wife, played by Janet Leigh (of PSYCHO fame).  Joe is so furious in the pursuit of his quarry that Frank, in frantic desperation, turns to some shady characters for protection, namely an aging prostitute, a lawyer, and a hitman. It’s a shockingly rapid moral decline, or else a violent stripping-away of heroic tropes. The look of the film reflects this descent into darkness, beginning in glorious day and heading into an unfathomable night.

 

AOV

 

ACT OF VIOLENCE was lit and shot by the cinematographer Robert Surtees, Oscar-nominated sixteen times over — and father to Bruce, a talented cinematographer in his own right who shot many of my favorite movies and worked frequently with Clint Eastwood.

 

Act of Violence

 

Why is Ryan’s character so intent on wreaking vengeance on a small-town  an all-American hero, his former friend)?  The answer to that question is truly surprising – in my opinion this film is one of the great morality plays of the film noir era.  In ACT OF VIOLENCE, Ryan literally emerges from shadows; he’s intense, and scary, and ultimately, entirely within comprehension, as the kind of tormented figure that is created by wartime. Torment is something Robert Ryan played particularly well, so fans of his should rush to see this film. And if you aren’t already a fan, this is exactly the kind of movie that’ll make you one.

 

TRAIN

 

This piece is expanded a little from my capsule review included in my tribute to the great Robert Ryan. Check it out!

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

MEN IN WAR (1957)

 

MEN IN WAR is a 1957 film directed by Anthony Mann, from a script by Philip Yordan which was adapted from a novel by someone named Van Van Praag (awesome).  Even though the majority of movies of the era were being shot in Technicolor, MEN IN WAR is in black and white.  I wonder if that was a budgetary issue, an aesthetic decision, or something else.  I’d be projecting, as I haven’t been able to dig up an answer to that question just yet, but there is something to the idea that black and white is a more fitting format for this story.  It’s less Hollywood-idyllic, and more stark and unforgiving.  There’s redemption in it, but not in a sweeping, overstated way.  It’s an unabashed tribute to the American military, but an appropriately business-like one.  The score by Elmer Bernstein is typically right on-point to the movie’s aims.  It’s lovely and effective music, and outside of the title song (whose lyrics are a little too on-the-nose to ever play by today’s standards), it’s as relevant still as the rest of the movie is.

 

 

 

MEN IN WAR stars Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray, two of the most underrated movie stars of the 1940s and 1950s, and two of my all-time favorites.  Ryan is the dark figure with the world-weary eyes and fighter’s frame who is best known by today’s audiences, if at all, from his small role in THE DIRTY DOZEN.   His career was much longer and more distinguished than that, as described by this tribute that I wrote in honor of the man and ten of his greatest movies.

Ray, for his part, is possibly even less well-remembered today, although the reasons why are hard to understand.  (It may have something to do with the apparently sad later years.)  At his peak, Ray had an appealing, gravel-gargling voice and an every-day tough-guy manner that are enormously charismatic.  I can’t help but think of Michael Chiklis when I think of Aldo Ray, although Quentin Tarantino thought of Brad Pitt.  (Pitt’s character in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, Aldo Raine, is a direct tribute to this iconoclastic actor.)  Ray also didn’t have the broadest filmography, having not appeared in as many memorable films as he probably deserved to have.  Remind me to write up a nifty film noir called NIGHTFALL that Aldo Ray starred in, the same year as MEN IN WAR.   Generally Ray played scrappy tough guys, outsiders with big mouths and big attitudes.  That’s what he plays here.

 

 

 

MEN IN WAR takes place on a very specific date: September 6th 1950.   It takes place during the Korean War, which is interesting, because in 1957 that wasn’t too far in the past.  Just as historically interesting, both Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray served during World War II, Ray having seen action in Japan.  One has to imagine that this added to the naturalistic performances that this movie displays, something of a hallmark of Anthony Mann’s films.

 

MEN IN WAR (1957)

 

Ryan plays a beleaguered lieutenant, Benson, whose forces have been diminished and separated from any communication with the rest of the American presence in Korea.  He needs to get his men to safety, and they’re already beginning to fall apart.  Vic Morrow (now best known as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dad) makes a strong impression as a shell-shocked young soldier.  So does James Edwards as Sergeant Killan, a kind-hearted African-American G.I. who is a friend to Morrow’s character and, unfortunately, due to cinematic conventions, doomed.  The scene where Killan stops in a clearing to decorate his helmet with the wildflowers he finds, ending as it does with his silent murder by encroaching commandos, is one of the movie’s most striking images.

 

 

Aldo Ray enters the movie in a Jeep, carrying his commanding officer alongside him, even though the colonel has been rendered mute by minefire and, presumably, having witnessed too much carnage.  Ray’s character identifies himself only as Montana, a rambunctious and headstrong G.I. who is fed up with battle and only cares to get his colonel to safety.  Ryan’s character wants to requisition the Jeep, and Montana’s services, in order to press on with his diminished forces.  Ray’s character, even out-ranked as he is, resists every step of the way.  The movie centers around the conflict between the two men.

 

 

It’s a vivid conflict, and it’s profoundly effective, enacted as it is by two such charismatic actors.  The appeal of Ryan and Ray is very different, but equally potent.  Ryan, so often a convincing heavy but in this case allowed to play the kind of role here that his obvious real-life decency fits like a glove, is a quieter, sterner kind of a good guy.  Ray is the more quintessentially American character, brash and arrogant — although you also see his point.  The main question of the movie is about what is the right thing to do in the chaos of war, to look out for self or to fight as part of the unit, even if the latter seems hopeless.  It’s not exactly as if Montana is being selfish — he seems to care about his Colonel as much as, if not more than, himself.  But ultimately, as pro-military as this movie is, Montana must come to understand and embrace Benson’s all-for-one ethos.  That the movie brings us, the audience, to see things the same way, and to appreciate the very real heroism of the men who fight our battles for us overseas, is why it is still a captivating piece of work today, and obviously still just as relevant.  There can be no doubt that Steven Spielberg saw this movie before making SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  MEN IN WAR is a little more ambiguous than that much more recent film, but it is just as effective at approximating the senses and textures of battle — an amazing feat, for a movie fifty years old.

 

Today being Memorial Day, if you’re looking for an appropriate movie to mark the occasion and spark reflection, let me please recommend this one.

 

@jonnyabomb

 

 

MEN IN WAR (1957)

The Professionals (1966)

THE PROFESSIONALS is a politically-charged white-men-in-Mexico Western that starts out bombastic and boistrous and maintains that stance throughout.  The opening vignettes introduce the four lead characters in their most characteristic arenas.  Rico Fardan, the reserved, pragmatic, always-prepared leader, is shown testing out a new machine gun that you know full well you’ll eventually see him use, due to the fact he’s played by Lee Marvin.  Hans Ehrengard, the frontier-era horse whisperer, is shown punching the shit out of an animal abuser.  That’s quintessential Robert Ryan, doomed decency and temperamental violence often in the same character.  Jacob Sharp, the archer, is  bringing a live captive into town for sentencing.  As played by Woody Strode, he’s a proto-DJANGO [UNCHAINED-style], a calmly-effective bounty hunter in an unfriendly time for guys who look like him.  And Bill Dolworth, the devilish explosives expert, is first introduced in bed with a woman who we quickly find out is another man’s wife, because the guy is about to walk in the door and Dolworth is pulling on his longjohns and diving out the window.  Burt Lancaster, one of the greatest Hollywood leading men ever, could play noir and he could play arthouse drama, but here he’s the comic relief and the leading man all in one.

Lee + Burt

Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode.  That is kind of an all-star super-team of old-school movie tough guys.  If I have to bring up THE A-TEAM to get some of you youngsters to go watch this lesser-acknowledged classic, then that’s what I’m going to do.  It’s clear where that popular 1980s action template came from — the grizzled and grey veteran soldier, the horndog ladies’ man, and the two other guys who handle all the transportation.  Four guys with their own individual and shared histories take on a dirty job no one else is able or ready to handle.

The Professionals (1966)

In THE PROFESSIONALS, these four rough riders are hired by big-business tycoon Ralph Bellamy — you know him best from a weirdly similar role in TRADING PLACES — to rescue his young wife from a marauding revolutionary who has taken her south of the border.  Bellamy perenially played a lovelorn shnook but here he’s an intriguingly nastier sort of character.  In the great Hollywood tradition of casting great stars in ethnically incongruous roles, Jack Palance plays the revolutionary, “Jesus Raza,” and the Tunisian-by-way-of-Italy bombshell Claudia Cardinale plays the Mexican-born “Maria,” an old flame of Raza’s, as it turns out.  If you’ve read my page before you already know how I feel about Claudia Cardinale. Or you could just look at a picture:

The Professionals (1966)

THE PROFESSIONALS is a great big-screen action classic, three-times Oscar-nominated, with some fascinating sociopolitical subtext.  Writer-director Richard Brooks (BLACKBOARD JUNGLE, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, IN COLD BLOOD) adapted Frank O’Rourke’s novel for screen with the legendary Conrad Hall (COOL HAND LUKE, BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID, FAT CITY, AMERICAN BEAUTY) believably and beautifully shooting California for Mexico.  The movie works just fine on the level of supreme entertainment, but if you read Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation, as I did when I was lucky enough to learn from him as an undergraduate, it becomes apparent that THE PROFESSIONALS is reflective of the era during which it was made.  The Professionals are comparable to the American Green Berets, an elite military-trained fighting force, who are sent into a foreign nation for dubious reasons and in the course of their adventure they become disillusioned with their mission.  Very potent stuff, but it’s buried under a rollicking mainstream Western facade.  The subtext is there if you want to think about it, but you can also just sit back and enjoy.

The Professionals (1966 film)

Since I’m a huge Robert Ryan fan, I do wish he had a little more shine in the movie.  According to some interviews on the Blu-Ray, Ryan wasn’t well during filming, which could explain it.  (I’m also a Woody Strode fan but unfortunately Woody Strode being underused in a film is somewhat more routine occurrence.)  Ryan and Strode, as the horse wrangler and the team scout, are really playing strong support to the buddy-movie pairing of Marvin and Lancaster, the gunman and the dynamite setter.  Ryan does play an interesting contrast to his frequent noir antihero persona, though.  This is one of his most thoroughly decent roles – Ryan’s horse expert is tender and protective of every horse the group encounters.  He’s one of those guys who seems to care more about animals than people, and who can blame him, in a movie where one species is clearly more consistently trustworthy than the other.  Many of this movie’s heroes have abandoned ideals for commerce when it begins.  What makes the movie ultimately so thrilling and rewarding, then, even more than the banter and the gunfights, is to watch them rediscover actual virtue.  That these Professionals end up refusing a hefty payday for the right reasons and manage to stick it to a corporate fatcat in the process is arguably even more satisfying today than in 1966.  Besides, who can resist the following exchange:

“You BASTARD!”

“Yes sir. In my case an accident of birth. But you sir, you’re a self-made man.”

THE PROFESSIONALS showed tonight at 92Y Tribeca but I didn’t get this piece up in time.  So:

Call me a bastard on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

The Professionals (1966 film)

The Professionals (1966)

The Professionals (1966)

 

When you get in a habit of writing about movies and their makers, you get in a secondary habit of writing memorial pieces to the dearly departed.  Looking back doesn’t have to be a melancholy process; it can also be an occasion to celebrate favorite film presences who always deserve the attention.

Today, November 11th, is Robert Ryan’s birthday.  If you don’t know who he is, I’m about to help you with that.

Robert Ryan is one of the great unsung movie stars of the past century.  While it’s certainly fair to classify Robert Ryan as “unsung”, it may not be entirely accurate to generalize him as a movie star – while he had the occasional lead role and his headshot lines the walls of the Formosa alongside much more famous names, Ryan was more often a supporting player, a character actor, and very often, a heavy.

It’s somewhat fitting that today is Veteran’s Day, as Ryan served in the United States Marine Corps as a drill instructor during World War II.  He was also a boxer, a ranch hand, and an attempted playwright.  When he entered movies as a contract player at [initially] RKO Pictures, film noir was the name of the game, and Ryan was a perfect, if unlikely, fit for the genre.  He was equally adept at playing cops and killers, and so he did, for the majority of his career (sometimes even playing both at once).  As he started looking older, he started getting cast more often as generals and men out of step with changing times.  Never could he have been cast as an out-and-out weakling, but very rarely was he allowed to play a thoroughly decent man either.

I suggested that Robert Ryan was an unlikely fit for the dozens of tough-guy roles he played because he was in real life a pacifist and a prominent civil rights activist.  More than that, though, all you have to do is look at a still photograph of Robert Ryan to wonder how he ever got pigeonholed as a tough guy.  He had the heavyweight boxer’s frame and the dark brow of a tough guy, and clearly the integrity and the talent, but there is a kindness and an obvious sensitivity in his eyes that cannot be missed.  Maybe it’s that dichotomy that was so endlessly fascinating to directors and casting agents.  He looks immediately like a good guy; maybe that’s why it was so shocking and effective when he played against that initial impression.  That conflicted image is still potent and alive and born out by his many performances if you watch them today.

There’s not a ton written about Robert Ryan.  There are a couple scarce or out-of-print biographies, but otherwise I’ve just used the internet and David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary Of Film to write this piece.  The best place to learn about Robert Ryan, fittingly, is in his movies.  Here are some of my favorite Robert Ryan roles (a couple are probably already familiar to you, but some, like The Outfit, are harder to find, and I am still questing to see them myself!):

Crossfire (1947)

In this movie, Robert Ryan plays one of a group of American soldiers released home from the military.  One of them apparently killed another man, and Robert Mitchum and Robert Young play the investigating officers in the case.  The motive turns out to have been anti-Semitism, and the guilty man turns out to be Ryan’s character.  It’s a testament to his frightening talent that it’s not immediately apparent that Ryan is playing a hateful murderer, and that he’s never quite entirely, one-sidedly, despicable either.  The horrifying thing about racists is that they begin as people, before hatred twists them into the demons they are, and Robert Ryan resolutely illustrates this idea in this movie.

Also, in a movie with a surplus of ‘Robert’s, including the venerable Mitchum, he stands out as the most memorable.

Act Of Violence (1948)

This is a quietly astounding movie, one which is not as well-remembered as it could be.  Directed by Fred Zinnemann (who also made High Noon and From Here To Eternity), Robert Ryan plays a crippled POW who returns to plague a local war hero, played by Van Heflin (from Shane), and his young wife, played by Janet Leigh (of Psycho fame).  Ryan is so furious in his pursuit that Heflin, in desperation, turns to some shady characters for protection.  Why is Ryan’s character so intent on wreaking vengeance on such an all-American hero (and his former friend)?  The answer to that question is truly surprising – it’s one of the great morality plays of the film noir era.  In Act Of Violence, Ryan literally appears from shadows; he’s intense, and scary, and ultimately, entirely within comprehension, as the kind of tormented figure that can emerge from wartime.

 

The Set-Up (1949)

The Set-Up is another film noir, this one directed by the versatile Robert Wise.  Though shot in film noir tradition with film noir themes of steep odds and tragic heroism, The Set-Up is primarily a sterling example of a boxing picture, and it is a widely-acknowledged inspiration for Martin Scorsese while shooting Raging Bull.  (I guarantee you that Quentin Tarantino saw it too, when considering Bruce Willis’ storyline in Pulp Fiction.)  In this movie, Robert Ryan plays an over-the-hill boxer who discovers that he’s expected to take a dive by a powerful gangster.  He’s a loser several times over, but he’s not about to lose for lack of trying – but there’s a price to standing up against the underworld.  That price is apparent through the pummeling Ryan takes throughout the movie.  He was seldom better cast – imposing enough to be credible as a professional boxer, but at heart, lacking of the drive and the viciousness of the most successful champions.  He’s too down-to-earth, too human for that.  Essential Robert Ryan.

The Racket (1951)

Another film noir, The Racket was actually a remake of an earlier, Howard Hughes produced, Academy Award nominated film.  Just goes to show that remakes aren’t always a terrible thing.  The Racket is a fairly straightforward story of an incorruptible cop who goes up against an otherwise unstoppable crime boss.  It’s a story at least as old as cinema itself, but one thing that distinguishes it  — besides the classic tough-guy dialogue — is the casting of Roberts Mitchum and Ryan, reteamed from Crossfire, as the two polar opposites.  Guess who plays who?  Actually, maybe it’s not necessarily that obvious.  Both stars had a tremendous capacity for menace as well as embattled decency, but in this case Mitchum is the cop and Ryan is the crook.  The Racket is a solid B-picture, maybe not as transcendent as some others of the same vintage, but for certain fans of studio-era crime movies, this could be considered the Heat of its day.

The Naked Spur (1953)

For his role in this movie, I put Robert Ryan on my list of the top twenty movie villains of all time.  Already well-practiced at threatening Janet Leigh on screen (as in Act Of Violence), Ryan also gives Jimmy Stewart a run for his money in The Naked Spur, the third of the batch of five dark-themed Westerns that Stewart made with director Anthony Mann.  Those who only know Jimmy Stewart from the perception of the idealistic and square persona that he is believed to have embodied in several Frank Capra films (a perception that isn’t entirely accurate to begin with) would be surprised to see Stewart in the films he made with Mann (and in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, for that matter) – Stewart plays a desperate, stern man who is determined to bring a notorious killer to justice, dead or alive.  Ryan plays the killer, of course, but this time without his usual shades of gray.  In this movie, he’s a schemer who thrives on the discord and chaos that he creates; pretty unrepentant.  If this were the only movie one ever saw Robert Ryan in, one might despise him on sight, so good is his performance.

 

Bad Day At Black Rock (1955) 

Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin play Robert Ryan’s henchmen in this movie.  Let me repeat that:  Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin, in their imposing prime, play secondary bad guys to Robert Ryan’s lead bad guy.  Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin take orders from Robert Ryan.  And in this corner:  the ever-lovable Spencer Tracy, as a one-handed stranger who arrives at a small town run by the aforementioned gentlemen, stirring up secrets that they may kill to keep hidden.  All we can say to you, Spencer Tracy, is “good luck!”

I’m being somewhat flippant about this John Sturges classic, which is a comparatively-lesser-known great American film of the 1950s – both a solid thriller and a significant political statement.  It’s just that so much has been written about Bad Day At Black Rock already, that it’s hard to add much besides additional praise.  Paul Thomas Anderson is just one of many contemporary directors who have cited this movie as a formative influence; I wonder how many contemporary onscreen bad guys have studied Robert Ryan’s performance in it!

 

The Professionals (1966)

Ten years later, Ryan’s friend Lee Marvin was a big movie star, and he, along with the eternally great Woody Strode, played supporting roles to Marvin and Burt Lancaster in The Professionals.  This is kind of an all-star super-team of old-school movie tough guys, the four of whom are hired by railroad tycoon Ralph Bellamy (you know him best from a weirdly similar role in Trading Places) to rescue his young wife from a marauding revolutionary who has taken her south of the border.  In the great Hollywood tradition of casting great stars in ethnically incongruous roles, Jack Palance plays the revolutionary, “Jesus Raza,” and the Italian bombshell Claudia Cardinale plays the Mexican-born “Maria,” an old flame of Raza’s, as it turns out.

The Professionals is a great big-screen action classic with some fascinating sociopolitical subtext, but as an item of interest for Robert Ryan completists, it’s more of a fun sidebar than a necessity.  He and Woody Strode, as the horse wrangler and the team scout, are really playing strong support to the buddy-movie pairing of Marvin and Lancaster.  Ryan does play an interesting contrast to his frequent persona, though.  This is one of his most thoroughly decent roles – Ryan’s horse expert is tender and protective of every horse the group encounters.  He’s one of those guys who seems to care more about animals than people, and who can blame him, in a movie where one species is clearly more consistently trustworthy than the other.

 

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

What can I tell you about The Dirty Dozen that you don’t already know?  Hopefully, not much.  This is a man’s-man’s classic, featuring some of the screen’s toughest tough guys in a story of an elite squad of criminals and killers who are recruited by Lee Marvin himself to fight the Nazis.  My one regret about The Dirty Dozen, which reunites Marvin with Borgnine and Ryan, is that the latter two aren’t on the team – instead, they play a bureaucrat and an officious rival, respectively.  As Colonel Breed, Ryan definitely gets saddled with the most thankless role (well, second to those Nazi creeps, anyway).  He’s the Walter Peck.  More accurately, if you’ve seen Stripes, he’s the John Larroquette.  He’s still on our side, technically, but he’s a total prick.  Not the best movie to be a fan of Robert Ryan in, but otherwise, The Dirty Dozen is an action-movie essential.

 

The Wild Bunch (1969)

The Wild Bunch is one of the greatest American films, without hesitation.  It’s arguably rebel-director Sam Peckinpah’s masterpiece.  It’s one of those classics that doesn’t feel like homework; it feels like a still-living document.  It feels dynamic, alive.  If it’s that, though, it’s more like the flare-ups of a dying bonfire.  It’s the last mission to end all last missions.  It’s one of the best-ever examples of possibly my favorite genre of film, the badass-old-guy movie.  The Wild Bunch captures a group of movie actors at a moment closer to the ends of their careers than the start.  (Except for Ernest Borgnine, of course, who’s still a fully active badass at 93 years of age.)  This movie is notorious for setting new levels of onscreen bloodshed and gore, but that reputation obscures its true legacy as a melancholy recording of the twilight years of the Western.

In a film full of unforgettable performances, Robert Ryan gives arguably the most affecting one.  Certainly he’s my personal favorite character, as Deke Thornton, the bounty hunter so designated by the railroad tycoons (them again) who are blackmailing him against his freedom to hunt down his fellow outlaws, most of whom – specifically William Holden’s Pike Bishop — he used to run with in their glory days.  (I’m not sure if it was screenwriter Walon Green’s contribution or Peckinpah’s that makes The Wild Bunch a movie that has some of the best character names ever.)

The Wild Bunch was one of Robert Ryan’s last screen performances.  At this point in his career, he was 60 years old, but looked significantly older (perhaps due to the lung cancer that eventually claimed his life in 1973, a year after his wife died of the same disease.)  The life lived shows in every moment of the performance.  Thornton is a neutered pit bull on a leash, forced to track down his old partners by a venal corporate monolith.  If he were free to roam, would he join back up with Pike and the others?  What would be the point?  Those guys are pretty clearly doomed, one way or another.  There at the dusty, wind-swept border, at the end of a violent life whose most hard-lived days are well in the past, what is the point of going on?  And if you do, then which direction do you go?  Nobody says anything remotely like this in the movie, by the way – it’s all there on Robert Ryan’s face, all of the above and much more.  His face was his character, and he knew how to wield it like a mighty instrument.  You can watch and re-watch The Wild Bunch for many great reasons, but I find myself watching it more often than not for Robert Ryan.

So there’s a start; some enthusiastic recommendations to get acquainted with one of the great film careers.  You can go further, or choose different movies, but whichever way you choose, you won’t go wrong.