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Robert Ryan: A Biography and Critical Filmography [Paperback]

Franklin Jarlett

Price: £26.35 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

31 Mar 1998
This first in-depth Ryan work has two parts: The biographical provides behind-the-scenes information and never-before-published interviews with Ryans children. The reference part contains a filmography (70+ films: plot lines, themes, technical aspects, casts, credits, criticism), and a listing of stage appearances, television performances, narrations, guest appearances, recordings and videocassettes.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland & Co Inc; New edition edition (31 Mar 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786404760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786404766
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 1.7 x 24 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 889,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"a detailed study of the underrated actor whose output took in Crossfire, The Set-Up and The Wild Bunch"--Film Review

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
65 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Robert Ryan: A Special Actor-A Special Man 19 Jun 2000
By Alison M. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Robert Ryan, one of the most brilliant and versatile actors of his time, created a gallery of unforgettable characters during his thirty year career, yet never received the recognition he deserved. Franklin Jarlett's Robert Ryan: A Biography and Critical Filmography goes a long way towards filling this void; it is a fitting tribute to a great performer, who by all accounts was as good a man as he was an actor.
Jarlett's fascination with Robert Ryan began in childhood, as he watched Ryan's films on TV, and his "obsession" continued as he matured. Jarlett was especially mesmerized by Ryan's portrayal of Claggart, in Billy Budd, seeing it as "a chapter to an elusive text of which I did not know the title." Through college and graduate school, Jarlett continued his "quest" for the mysterious qualities which made Ryan so extraordinary. This book is the result, and the author's three years of extensive research, interviews with Ryan's children and many friends, and his in-depth study of the 77 film Ryan made during his prolific film career make this a fascinating and readable must for any Ryan fan's library. Written with an eloquence of which the very literate Ryan would surely approve, the book is loaded with photos as well; stills from nearly all of Ryan's films illustrate the book.
By an ironic twist of fate, Robert Ryan, a quiet, self-effacing man, who often graciously accepted second billing to far less talented co-stars, is suddenly "Hot," thanks to cable television, and to the proliferation of VCR and DVD players, which make older movies new again.. Turner Classic Movies' recent "Star of the Month" tribute to Ryan certainly had legions of his blissed-out fans manning their VCR's, and won him many new fans as well. Ryan's Westerns and his war films play endlessly on TV, and he is such a film noir icon that many of the excellent books on the subject devote entire sections to discussions of his artistry.
Jarlett's book is a perfect source for anyone who wants to know more about this complex and very private man who was such a compelling presence on screen. Ryan was a man of paradoxes. He graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in English Literature, but reigned as the undefeated heavyweight boxing champion throughout his four year college career. Though the product of a relatively prosperous family, Ryan sought out tough and demanding jobs: he worked as an engine room janitor on an African- bound freighter for two years, and as a cow puncher on a ranch in Montana, among other jobs, before finally finding his niche in acting. Ryan's World War II stint in the Marine Corps, though honorably served at Camp Pendleton where he was a drill instructor, sent him back into civilian life with distinctly pacifist leanings. Though Ryan could portray vicious, ignorant bigots with an almost frightening intensity, he himself was a tolerant, compassionate man, so dedicated to liberal causes that he was sometimes targeted and threatened by Right-wing fanatics. And unlike many in an ego-driven industry, Robert Ryan was a modest man. He was thrilled beyond words when he had an opportunity to work with such greats as Spencer Tracy and Frederic March, and never suspected how much younger actors, like Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine, valued the experience of working with him.
The biographical section of the book is arranged chronologically, with each section corresponding to an important period in Ryan's life. Jarlett's meticulous research uncovered many hitherto unknown or forgotten facts, and they make fascinating reading. He discusses the founding of the Oakwood School, a progressive educational establishment started by Ryan and his wife Jessica when their own children were small, and still flourishing today. In the l960's, Ryan spent some time in England, and with the support and encouragement of actors John Neville and Paul Rogers, his co-stars in Billy Budd, he appeared on provincial and London stages in works by Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill. After moving his family to New York, Ryan appeared in many television dramas,and did a number of narrations and voice-overs for various projects. He played the lead in The Front Page and other plays, both on and off Broadway, co-starring with Katherine Hepburn, Helen Hayes, and other renowned leading ladies, to great critical acclaim. But films continued to be the primary outlet for his talent, and he worked steadily in them until his death.
The second half of Jarlett's book is a complete filmography covering all of Ryan's work, from his earliest "walk-on" days at Paramount through his last three movies in l973, the year of his death: The Iceman Cometh, Executive Action, and The Outfit. Jarlett reviews each film, and supplies a complete cast list, as well as notes on critical and audience reception and other pertinent data. The book also contains notes on Ryan's stage performances, television appearances, narrations and recordings, an essay on Ryan as a film noir figure, and a listing of his films available on videocassette. Chapter notes, an extensive bibliography and an index complete this terrific volume. Though this book was originally written as a library reference guide, it has been reincarnated in a very portable paper back form, complete with a fabulous cover photo of Ryan as Montgomery in Crossfire.
Jarlett's book is clearly a labor of love, and perhaps this is the dominant impression. Far from being undervalued or unappreciated, Robert Ryan seems to have been revered and deeply loved by most of the people he came in contact with, and his talents have always been held in high esteem by those who value excellent acting. And those of us who know him only through the many films made unforgettable by his presence, can only be glad that the man himself was as fine as we have always imagined him to be.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ryan is finally recognized!!!! 12 April 2003
By brian krause - Published on Amazon.com
When I saw this book at a local book store, I was ecstatic. I had long hoped that someone would write a biography on Ryan, and wondered why this amazingly talented actor never was recognized for his range, versatility, and talent. The picture on the book's cover grabbed my attention immediately: it was none other than Ryan's psychopathic Montgomery from the film noir gem, Crossfire. Oh great!!! I thought; someone finally decided to take on the task of researching material for a book about Ryan.
After purchasing the book, I rushed home to read it, along the way quickly perusing the scores of stills the author included. I was in my glory, since Ryan was my favorite actor growing up. The book is a fully researched tome that seems to have gotten to the heart of the matter. Yes, the book depicts a man whose performances seemed to exemplify the "art" of film-making, rather than the glitz of fame. Herein one can find definitive examples of Ryan's "art". Read Jarlett's reviews of early Ryan gem performances to understand just how great he was: Act of Violence, The Woman On The Beach, Caught, Beware, My Lovely were just a few examples of film as art, and the author seems to understand the ethos that drove Ryan.
I marveled at the author's ability to write with the same sort of artistic merit that Ryan endorsed: the book contains reviews culled from scores of cinema retrospectives on Ryan's films, including Cahiers Du Cinema, Films in Review, and so on. Jarlett's sources of information were first-rate. Who can deny the opinion of John Houseman, whose preface lauds Jarlett's acumen in discerning Ryan's talents?
I agree with one amazon reviewer who noticed Ryan's subtle touches of brilliance in The Racket, a film which portrayed him as a ruthless racketeer who nevertheless garners a degree of pity. The scene where Ryan's Nick Scanlon jauntily munches on an apple while trading words with Robert Mitchum's stalwart cop was a sublime melding of actor and prop.
But The Racket is just one of countless films in which Ryan lent his talents to make good films better. I wondered why Ryan never went after the blockbuster roles that contemporaries landed. Jarlett clarifies this point: Ryan simply didn't care about them, instead searching for artistic expression. The book discusses the great Hollywood directors with whom he worked, in classics such as House of Bamboo, The Naked Spur, On Dangerous Ground, Lonelyhearts, Odds Against Tomorrow, Billy Budd, The Wild Bunch, and his last most trenchant portrait in The Iceman Cometh. Who else but Ryan could have been better as Eugene O'Neill's anarchist Larry Slade?
The book is a one-of-a-kind, definitive exposition of Ryan's life and films, and I applaud Jarlett's commitment to finally bring the actor's life to the forefront. My only regret is that Ryan was not alive to have placed his imprimatur on Jarlett's superb biography.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superior exposition of Robert Ryan's life and films. 10 April 2003
By brian krause - Published on Amazon.com
Having seen most of Ryan's films when I was a child, I was again drawn to seeing them after purchasing Franklin Jarlett's authorized biography. I saw the book at a local book store, attracted by the book cover featuring the familiar scowling features of Ryan from 1947's "Crossfire", which earned him an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor that year. Before purchasing the book, I perused the fifty or so stills from his films, and the detailed filmography, which convinced me that I had made a smart buy. I can happily report that the book is an inspired piece of writing: Jarlett's literary skills make one want to read more. He obviously has gotten to the quick of the man, drawing from scores of film critiques from Cahiers Du Cinema and other esteemed cinema circles.
I read Jarlett's book with fascination after many years of waiting for someone to write a book about Ryan, who was one of the most undervalued talents in Hollywood. I always found it curious that although Ryan came up through the ranks at RKO as one of its contract players from the forties, along with Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum, he never garnered the stardom that they achieved, as least with mainstream audiences. Jarlett amply elucidated the reasons for this phenomenon: Ryan simply didn't care that much about fame; he would rather appear in a film for artistic merit instead of for box office success. I only needed to look at Ryan's films from the forties, which Jarlett reviews in detail, to see what an amazing list of films there were. He obviously spent long hours researching the book, which contains behind-the-scenes stories that Jarlett elicited from Ryan's close circle of friends (John Houseman, John Frankenheimer, Lamont Johnson, Robert Wallsten, Arvin Brown and Millard Lampell).
I noted one Amazon reviewer to remark that the author captured the actor's essence in such performances as the racketeer in The Racket. I was likewise mesmerized by Ryan's quirky interpretation of the psychopathic ex-G.I. in Crossfire. I especially liked Jarlett's analyses of Ryan's other unsung gems, such as in House of Bamboo when Ryan says to his friend after killing him, "Why did you tip the cops, Griff?", or Beware, My Lovely, Act of Violence, The Naked Spur, to name a few. Another interesting fact that Jarlett brought out was that Ryan was the "film noir" king, with fourteen trenchant portraits in that genre over the years. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to delve underneath the surface of Ryan's screen presence since in real life he was the opposite of what he portrayed on the screen.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ryan brought back to life 26 April 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Although most Ryan devotees focus on his more famous "film noir" vehicles as evidence of his skill, Jarlett illuminates his performances in scores of less known films. In Horizons West, Ryan's interpretation of a disgruntled ex-Confederate major achieves more in his portrait than the sum of the film's parts.
Return of the Badmen also featured Ryan's grim portrait of a cold-blooded bank robber that elevates an otherwise pedestrian horse opera to something nearly sublime. Other choice Ryan vignettes can be found in such early Ryan enterprises like Marine Raiders. Made in 1944 when America was fighting the Japanese, Ryan gives a stout performance that achieves real range, again raising a programmer to cult status. The author provides detailed film critiques from major publications (Time, The New York Times, Variety, etc.), providing readers with a glimpse at what critics of those time periods said about Ryan. I was pleased to note upon reading critical reviews of Ryan's character in Marine Raiders that film critic Manny Farber of Nation magazine compared Ryan with Gary Cooper, though in all honesty, Ryan easily outclassed Cooper as an actor. Perhaps Farber was referring to Ryan's quiet magnetism.
Jarlett addresses the question of Ryan's status as the cinema's epitome of the "noir" protagonist, noting his contributions in such "noir" gems as The Racket, Act of Violence, The Woman on the Beach, Beware, My Lovely, Caught, On Dangerous Ground (John Houseman lauded his portrayal of a disillusioned cop as a "disturbing mixture of anger and sadness"). I cannot think of another actor who deserved a book devoted to his life and works besides Ryan. Kudos to Franklin Jarlett for giving us his gift.
Jarlett illuminates the off-screen actor's life, noting that the actor and his wife founded the Oakwood School in California, which stills remains viable today as a solid, academically oriented institution of higher learning.
Besides the fifty or so movie stills, Jarlett's book features interviews with those closest to Ryan, and a glowing preface by John Houseman, who worked closely with Ryan on various stage productions before they became a fad.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tribute to a master-actor 17 Feb 2010
By Keisuke Kawasaki - Published on Amazon.com
When I was watching a powerful western, THE PROFESSIONALS, one of the characters called my attention. He was a weak and quiet horse wrangler, but the man certainly had some kind of class. Later on, I found out actor's name was Robert Ryan. Since then, I was so interested in this actor, and tried to watch his films as much as possible. I came to notice many things about him. First of all, he was a very expressive actor, and most importantly he always had injected the air of intelligence and quiet grace through his presence. Strangely, he was not casted as the authentic heroes very often, yet he took the villainous parts frequently through out his career. His characters were most often outside of the law, but they had determinations for living, strong faiths for their intentions, and worries which cannot be shared with others. Thus, Ryan's characterizations were complex and most interestingly ambiguous. He was brilliant at expressing the sensitive troubled souls. Thus, he was always something to watch, and he was the one of these few artistic actors.

This quality was quite unique for an actor in America. Therefore, it is very difficult to classify him with other great actors. He was certainly not as popular as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, or John Wayne. Maybe, he achieved same status along with Robert Mitchum or Richard Widmark, but they were more loved by the public. Some people suggested that Ryan had shared a same caliber with Van Heflin and Arthur Kennedy, but this opinion did not quite ring a bell, because Heflin and Kennedy were strong supporting players. Robert Ryan did not really play pure supporting roles in his golden days. Even his roles were villainous, even his name was not top billed, Ryan was successful playing the pivotal roles in the most of his films. And his characterizations were always powerful, charismatic, and even sympathetic. Thats why, we could say, there were no stars like Robert Ryan, and he was quite original. I was really pleased and thankful that somebody like Mr. Jarlett was sensitive enough to write about this irreplaceable actor.

Many of his films were as interesting as his actings. Mr. Jarlett points out many of the Ryan films as masterpieces such as CROSSFIRE, THE SET-UP, ON DANGEROUS GROUND, CLASH BY NIGHT, GOD'S LITTLE ACRE, LONELYHEARTS, ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW, BILLY BUDD, and THE ICEMAN COMETH. Mr. Jarlett carefully analyzes each film, and places them as the most successful examples which were showcasing Ryan's acting ability in best forms. I respect his opinion. However, I would add THE WOMAN ON THE BEACH, THE NAKED SPUR, INFERNO, MEN IN WAR, THE WILD BUNCH, and ...AND HOPE TO DIE to the must see list of this master actor.

Today, we are fortunate, because most of the Ryan films are available for our viewing. Frequently, they are recognized as the accomplished cinematic arts as well as the sincere provokers of philosophical thoughts.
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