In honor of the 40th anniversary of Robert Ryan’s death July 11, 1973 with a special nod to Karen & The Dark Pages for their spectacular tribute to this incredibly real man!
“Ryan was unfailingly powerful, investing his tormented characters with a brooding intensity that suggests coiled depth. Cut off from the world by the strength of their ‘feelings’ his characters seem to be in the grip of torrential inner forces. They are true loners. Ryan’s work has none of the masked, stylized aura of much noir acting. He performs with emotional fullness that creates substantial, complex characters rather than icons.” –Foster Hirsch-FILM NOIR: The Darker Side of the Screen
ClearlyRobert Ryan’sinfinite presence in film and his numerous complex characters manifest an embracing universal ‘internal conflict’ of masculinity. I tribute certain roles the actor inhabited during his striking career. Though he was cast more often in the part as the imposing heavy, the depth and breadth of Ryan’s skill with his rough-hewn good looks should have landed him more roles as a lead male capable of such penetrating levels of emotion. He had a depth that suggests a scarcely hidden intensity smoldering at the surface.
A critic for the New York Times reviewing Act of Violence (1948) wrote about Robert Ryan’s persona as the madly driven veteran bent on revenge, Joe Parkson calling him “infernally taut.”
Frank Krutnik discusses ‘Masculinity and it’s discontents’ in his book In A Lonely Street,“In order to make the representation of masculinity in the noir thriller, there follows a schematic run-through of Freudian work on the determination of masculine identity.” Claiming Freud’s work can be co-opted into film with an emphasis of it’s relevance to analysis of the cultural machinery of patriarchy.” He discusses patriarchal culture which relies heavily on the maintenance of a gender-structured ‘disequilibrium’ with it’s roots in the myth of the Oedipal Complex. Involving not only the power-based hierarchy of male service to masculine power but the established normative gender values which inform both the male and female figure.
Many of the characters in Ryan’s noir world are informed by a cultural ‘determinacy of the phallus’ that authorizes toughness and strips the limits of desire as an obligation to masculine identity. Patriarchal power structure predetermines a fixed and limited role that creates a destiny of submission and impotence in Ryan’s characters. But within the framework of these extreme male figures lies an intricate conflict of varying degrees of vulnerability and fragility.
Ryan manifests this duality within hyper-masculine characters. Outwardly physical, confrontational, and hostile, Ryan is a master at playing men who suffer from alienation and inferiority surrounding their own ‘maleness’ and self-worth. He was never just a dark noir brute or anti-hero but a complex man actualized through layers of powerful dramatic interpretation. His performances suggest a friction of subjugated masculinity bubbling within.
The trajectory of the male through the Oedipus Complex encompasses the male subjectivity which is a principle issue in the noir ‘tough-thriller.’ The ‘existential thematic’ link to the Oedipus myth concerns questions of male desire and identity as they relate to the overarching law of existing patriarchal culture substituted for the original fearsome ‘divinity.’ This element is one of the driving psychological themes underlying in any good classic film noir.
In this post I put my focus primarily on Ryan’s characters within the framework of each film and while I discuss the relationship between him and the central players I do not go as in depth as I usually do discussing his co-stars or plot design.
I apply this thematic representation to much of the roles engendered in the films of Robert Ryans‘ that I’ve chosen to discuss here. A patriarchal power structure establishes the tragedy of man’s destiny, a fixed and limited role in the character’s own destiny as there is a predominant power that threatens them into submission and sheds light on their own impotence. So many of the noir characters in a Robert Ryan noir world are shaped by a cultural authority structured through ‘determinacy of the phallus’ that authorizes toughness in the male identity that strips away the limits of desire, as an obligation to ‘masculine identity.’
I’m focusing on particular Ryan’s roles within a noir context that depict archetypal hyper-masculine tropes and the problematic strife within those characters. Whether Ryan is playing the deeply flawed hero or the tormented noir misfit, his characters are afflicted with an inherent duality of virility and vulnerability, an inner turmoil, alienation, persecution and masochism. It’s a territorial burden that Robert Ryan so effortlessly explores.
These films show Ryan’s trajectory through forces of menacing restraint and poignant self-expression. Within a noir landscape, the schism of stark virility and tenuous masculinity exposes the complexity of alienation, masochism and frailty. Robert Ryan’s performances are a uniquely fierce and formidable power.
Within the framework of these ‘extreme’ male figures lies an intricate conflict with varying degrees of vulnerability & fragility within the male psyche. The narratives don’t necessarily flesh out this conflict plainly, but Ryan’s performances certainly suggest and inform us about the friction of this subjugated theme bubbling to the surface as he manifests the duality within his hyper-masculine characters. Robert Ryan was a master at playing men who suffer from alienation and inferiority surrounding their own ‘maleness’ and self-worth.
Ryan is never just a dark noir ‘brute’ or anti-hero but moreover a complex male who is actualized through layers of powerful dramatic interpretation. A complexity of stark virility and ‘tenuous maleness’ as the narrative witnesses Ryan’s trajectory transforming him through various dynamic forces of menacing restraint and poignant self-expression. Outwardly physical, confrontational, hostile and ultimately masculine, and the schism that is inwardly emotional, alienated, self deprecating, masochistic and fragile within the film noir landscape. Robert Ryan’s performances still maintain a uniquely fierce and formidable aesthetic of the ‘suffering-marginalized man.’
13 Days of schlock, shock…horror and some truly authentic moments of terror…it’s my pre celebratory Halloween viewing schedule which could change at any time, given a whim or access to a long coveted obscure gem!
No doubt AMC and TCM will be running a slew of gems from the archives of Horror films to celebrate this coming Halloween! Films we LOVE and could watch over and over never tiring of them at all….
For my 13 days of Halloween, I thought I might watch a mix of obscure little gems, some vintage horror & Sci-Fi , film noir and mystery/thriller. Halloween is a day to celebrate masterpieces like The Haunting, The Tingler, House on Haunted Hill, Curse of The Demon, Pit and The Pendulum, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, Psycho just to name a few favorites.
But the days leading up to this fine night of film consumption, should be tempered with rare and weird beauties filled with a great cast of actors and actresses. Film’s that repulse and mystify, part oddity and partly plain delicious fun. Somewhat like Candy Corn is…for me!
I’ll be adding my own stills in a bit!…so stay tuned and watch a few of these for yourselves!
The Witch Who Came From The Sea 1976
Millie Perkins bravely plays a very disturbed woman who goes on a gruesome killing spree, culminating from years of abuse from her drunken brute of a father. Very surreal and disturbing, Perkins is a perfect delusional waif who is bare breasted most of the time.
Ghost Story/Circle of Fear: Television Anthology series
The Phantom of Herald Square starring David Soul as a man who remains ageless, sort of.
House of Evil, starring Melvin Douglas as a vindictive grandpa who uses the power of telepathy to communicate with his only granddaughter (Jodie Foster) Judy who is a deaf mute. Beware the creepy muffin people.
A Touch of Madness, stars Rip Torn and Geraldine Page and the lovely Lynn Loring. Nothing is as it seems in the old family mansion. Is it madness that runs in the family or unsettled ghosts?
Bad Connection starring Karen Black as a woman haunted by her dead husband’s ghost.
The Dead We Leave Behind starring Jason Robards and Stella Stevens. Do the dead rise up if you don’t bury them in time, and can they speak through a simple television set.
Night Warning 1983
Susan Tyrrell plays Aunt Cheryl to Jimmy McNichol’s Billy, a boy who lost his parents at age 3 in a bad car wreck leaving him to be raised by his nutty Aunt. Billy’s on the verge of turning 17 and planning on leaving the sickly clutches of doting Aunt Cheryl and she’ll kill anyone who gets in the way of keeping her beloved boy with her always….Tyrrell is soooo good at being sleazy, she could almost join the Baby Jane club of Grande Dame Hag Cinema, making Bette Davis’s Baby Jane seem wholesome in comparison.
Also known as Butcher Baker Nightmare Maker...
Murder By Natural Causes (1979 Made for TV movie)
Written by Richard Levinson and William Link the geniuses who gave us Columbo, this film is a masterpiece in cat and mouse. Wonderfully acted by veteran players, Hal Holbrook, Katherine Ross and Richard Anderson and Barry Bostwick. Holbrook plays a famous mentalist, and his cheating wife has plans to kill him off.
from IMDb -A meek pharmacist creates an alternate identity under which he plans to murder the bullying liquor salesman who has become his wife’s lover. Starring Richard Basehart, Audrey Totter , Cyd Charisse and Barry Sullivan
Messiah of Evil aka Dead People 1973
A girl arrives on the California coast looking for her father, only to learn that he’s disappeared. The town is filled with eerie people, and a strange atmosphere of dread. She hooks up with a drifter and they both uncover the true nature of the weird locals and what they’re up to. They learn the horrific secret about the townspeople…This film is very atmospheric and quite an original moody piece. Starring Marianna Hill, Michael Greer, Joy Bang and Elisha Cook Jr.
Devil times Five aka Peopletoys 1974
This film is a very unsettling ride about a bus load of extremely psychopathic children who escape after their transport bus crashes. Finding their way to a lodge, they are taken in by the vacationing adults and are eventually terrorized by these really sick kids. Claustrophobic and disturbing. Stars Sorrell Booke, Gene Evans. Leif Garrett plays one of the violently homicidal kids.
The Night Digger 1971
Starring the great Patricia Neal, this is based on the Joy Cowley novel and penned with Cowley for the screen by the wonderfully dark Roald Dahl, Neal’s husband at the time.
From IMDb -Effective psychological love story with a macabre twist not found in the original Joy Cowley novel. The dreary existence of middle- aged spinster Maura Prince takes an unexpected turn with the arrival of young handyman Billy Jarvis, but there is more to Billy than meets the eye. This well-crafted film, full of sexual tension and Gothic flavor, was Patricia Neal’s second after her return to acting, her real-life stroke worked deftly into the story by then-husband Roald Dahl. Written by Shane Pitkin
They Call It Murder (1971 Made for TV movie)
A small-town district attorney has his hands filled with several major investigations, including a gambler’s murder and a possible insurance scam. Starring Jim Hutton, Lloyd Bochner, Leslie Nielsen, Ed Asner and Jo Anne Pflug
A Knife For The Ladies 1974
Starring Ruth Roman and Jack Elam, there is a jack the ripper like killer terrorizing this small Southwest town. Most all the victims are prostitutes. A power struggle ensues between the town’s Sheriff and Investigator Burns who tries to solve the murders.
Born To Kill 1947
Directed by the amazing Robert Wise ( The Haunting, West Side Story, Day The Earth Stood Still )this exploration into brutal noir is perhaps one of the most darkly brooding films of the genre. Starring that notorious bad guy of cinema Lawrence Tierney who plays Sam Wild, of all things, a violent man who has already killed a girl he liked and her boyfriend. He hops a train to San Francisco where he meets Helen played by Claire Trevor who is immediately drawn to this dangerous man.
The Strangler 1964
Starring the inimitably imposing Victor Buono, who plays mama’s ( Ellen Corby/Grandma Walton) boy Leo Kroll, a psychopathic mysogynous serial killer, under the thumb of his emasculating mother. Kroll’s got a doll fetish and a fever for strangling young women with their own panty hose. The opening scene is chilling as we watch only Buono’s facial expressions as he masturbates while stripping one of the dolls nude by his last victim’s body. Part police procedural, this is a fascinating film, and Buono is riveting as Leo Kroll a psycho-sexual fetish killer who is really destroying his mother each time he murders another young woman. Really cool film by Allied Artist
Murder Once Removed (1971 made for tv movie)
A doctor and the wife of one of his wealthy patients hatch a plot to get rid of her husband so they can be together and get his money.Starring John Forsythe, Richard Kiley and Barbara Bain.
Scream Pretty Peggy (1973 made for tv movie)
This stars Bette Davis who plays Mrs. Elliot. Ted Bessell’s plays her son Jeffrey Elliot a sculptor who hires young women to take care of his elderly mother and his insane sister who both live in the family mansion with him. Also stars Sian Barbara Allen. What can I say. I love Bette Davis in anything, especially made for tv movies, where something isn’t quite right with the family dynamic. Lots of vintage fun directed by Gordon Hessler
The Man Who Cheated Himself 1950
A veteran homicide detective witnesses his socialite girlfriend kill her husband. Then what ensues is his inexperienced brother is assigned to the case.Starring Lee J.Cobb, Jane Wyatt and John Dall
The Flying Serpent 1946
Classic horror/sci fi flick that just doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Almost as fun as The Killer Shrews. Starring veteran actor George Zucco
The Pyjama Girl Case 1977
This more obscure Giallo film directed by Flavio Mogherini and starring one of my favorite actors Ray Milland, Also starring Mel Ferrer and the beautiful model/actress Delilah Di Lazzaro. I’ve left my passion for Giallo films in the dust these days, but I decided to watch one that was a little off the beaten track.
From IMDb- Two seemingly separate stories in New South Wales: a burned, murdered body of a young woman is found on the beach, and a retired inspector makes inquiries; also, Linda, a waitress and ferry attendant, has several lovers and marries one, but continues seeing the others. The police have a suspect in the murder, but the retired inspector is convinced they’re wrong; he continues a methodical investigation. Linda and her husband separate, and there are complications. Will the stories cross or are they already twisted together? Written by <email@example.com>
A wounded criminal and his dying partner take refuge in a sea side castle inhabited by a cowardly Englishman and his strong willed French wife. A bizarre dynamic unfolds as this eccentric couple once captives of the criminals at first, their relationship, strangely begins to evolve into something else.
Dr Tarr’s Terror Dungeon aka Mansion of Madness 1973
This is a mysterious and nightmarish excursion into “the inmates have taken over the asylum” theme. Based upon Edgar Allan Poe’s The System of Dr Tarr and Professor Feather
Blue Sunshine 1978
Three women are murdered at a party. the wrong man is accused of the crimes. yet still more brutal killings continue throughout the town. What is the shocking truth behind these bizarre epidemic of …people are losing their hair and turning into violent psychopaths?
Starring Peter Brocco, Francis Fuller, William Hanson, the adorable Ruth McDevitt, Ian Wolfe and PaulaTrueman playing elderly tenants who first try to thwart by rigging accidents, a group of developers from tearing down their building. Old homes and old people…It turns into murder! This is a wonderfully campy 70s stylized black comedy/horror film. I love Ruth McDevitt as Miss Emily in Kolchak : The Night Stalker series.
The ensemble cast is brilliantly droll and subtly gruesome as they try to stave off the impending eviction and relocation to the institutional prison life of a cold nursing home facility.
A modern Gothic commentary on Urban Sprawl, the side effects of Capitalism on the elderly and their dust covered dreams, and the fine balance between reverence for the past, and the inevitability of modernity.
The jaunty music by Bernardo Segáll and lyrics by Jeremy Kronsberg for “Sassafras Sundays” is fabulous!
The Evictors 1979
Directed by Charles B. Pierce whose style has somewhat of a documentary feel ( The Town That Dreaded Sundown 1976 Legend of Boggy Creek 1972) This film has a very stark and dreading tone. Starring one of my favorite unsung naturally beautiful actresses, Jessica Harper ( Suspiria, Love and Death, Stardust Memories, and the muse Pheonix in DePalma’sFaustian musical Phantom of The Paradise ) and another great actor Michael Parks. A young couple Ruth and Ben Watkins move into a beautiful old farmhouse in a small town in Louisiana. The house has a violent past, and things start happening that evoke fear and dread for the newlyweds. Are the townspeople trying to drive them out, or is there something more nefarious at work? Very atmospheric and quietly brutal at times. Also stars Vic Morrow
Starring Ida Lupino and Howard Duff. Agnes Langsley gets a job as a caretaker of an old estate. The last occupant was the owner’s cousin Jennifer who has mysteriously disappeared. Agnes starts to believe that Jennifer might have been murdered. Is Jim Hollis the man whom she is now in love with… responsible?
Directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Lucille Ball, George Sanders and my beloved Boris Karloff!
There is a serial killer in London, who lures his young female victims through the personal ads. He taunts the police by sending cryptic notes right before he is about to murder again. Great cast includes Cedric Hardwicke, George Zucco and Charles Coburn...
Love From A Stranger 1947
A newly married woman begins to suspect that her husband is a killer, and that she is soon to be his next victim.Starring John Hodiak and and Sylvia Sidney
Savage Weekend 1979
Several couples head upstate to the country and are stalked by a murderer behind a ghoulish mask.
Directed by the great Don Siegel ( Invasion of The Body Snatchers 1956, The Killers 1964Dirty Harry 1971 This stars Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman. Eastwood plays John McBurney who is a Union soldier imprisoned in a Confederate girls boarding school. A very slow yet tautly drawn web of psycho sexual unease forms as he works his charms on each of these lonely women’s psyche.
The Mad Doctor of Market Street 1942
An old forgotten classic horror, starring Lionel Atwill and Una Merkel. Atwill plays A mad scientist forced out of society when his experiments are discovered. He winds up on a tropical island, there by holding the locals hostage by controlling and terrorizing them.
The Man Who Changed His Mind original title (The Man Who Lived Again) 1936
Directed by Robert Stevenson. Starring my most favorite of all Boris Karloff, and Anna Lee of Bedlam
Karloff plays Dr. Laurence, a once-respected scientist who begins to delve into the origins of the mind and soul connection.
Like any good classic mad scientist film, the science community rejects him, and so he risks losing everything for which he has worked, shunned by the scientific community he continues to experiment and further his research, but at what cost!…
The Monster Maker 1944
This stars J. Carrol Naish and Ralph Morgan. Naish plays Dr Igor Markoff who injects his enemies with the virus that causes Acromegaly, a deformity that enlarges the head and facial structures of his victims.
The Pyx 1973
I love Karen Black and not just because she let herself be chased by that evil Zuni doll in Trilogy of Terror or dressed up like Mrs Allardice in Burnt Offerings. She’s been in so many memorable films, in particular for me from the 70s. Here she plays Elizabeth Lucy a woman who might have fallen victim to a devil cult. Christopher Plummer plays detective Sgt. Jim Henderson investigating the death of this heroin-addicted prostitute. The story is told using the device of flash back to tell Elizabeth’s story.
Five Minutes To Live 1961
Johnny Cash, the immortal man in black, plays the very unstable Johnny Cabot, who is part of a gang of thugs who terrorize a small town. This is a low budget thriller later released as Door to Door Maniac. I could listen to Cash tune his guitar while drinking warm beer and I’d be satisfied, the man just gives me chills. Swooning little me…….!
The Psychic 1977
In this more obscure EuroShocker, a clairvoyant… the gorgeous Jennifer O’ Neill, suffers from visions, which inspire her to smash open a section of wall in her husband’s home where she discovers a skeleton behind it.
She sets out to find the truth about how the victim wound up there, and if there’s a connection between their death and her fate as well!
Too Scared To Scream 1985
Directed by actor Tony Lo Bianco A killer is brutally attacking several tenants that live in a high rise apartment building in New York City.Mike Connors stars as Detective Lt. Alex Dinardo who investigates the killings. Also stars another unsung actress, Anne Archer, Leon Isaac Kennedy and Ian McShane
Violent Midnight 1963
An axe murderer is running loose in a New England town! Also known as Psychomania not to be confused with the fabulous British film of devil worshiping bikers who come back to life starring Beryl Reid. This film features Dick Van Patten, Sylvia Miles, James Farentino and Sheppard Strudwick. It’s got it’s own creepy little pace going for it.
When Worlds Collide 1951
Another classic sci fi world is headed toward destruction film, that I remember from my childhood. Starring Barbara Rush and John Hoyt, two of my favorite character actors. It’s a lot of fun to watch and a well made film that’s off the beaten path from… Forbidden Planet and War of The Worlds.
All The Kind Strangers (1974 made for tv film)
Starring Stacy Keach, Sammantha Eggar, John Savage and Robby Benson
A couple traveling through a backwoods area are held hostage by a a group of orphan children who want them to be their parents. When ever an adult refuses to participate in the delusion, they are killed. Great disturbing made for tv movie.
The Todd Killings 1971
Directed by Barry Shear and starring Robert F. Lyons as Skipper Todd, a very sociopathic young man who holds sway over his younger followers like a modern day Svengali. Also starring Richard Thomas, Belinda Montgomery and the great Barbara Bel Geddes as Skippers mother who takes care of the elderly.
From IMDb-“Based on the true story of ’60s thrill-killer Charles Schmidt (“The Pied Piper of Tucson”), Skipper Todd (Robert F. Lyons) is a charismatic 23-year old who charms his way into the lives of high school kids in a small California town. Girls find him attractive and are only too willing to accompany him to a nearby desert area to be his “girl for the night.” Not all of them return, however. Featuring Richard Thomas as his loyal hanger-on and a colorful assortment of familiar actors in vivid character roles including Barbara Bel Geddes, Gloria Grahame, Edward Asner, Fay Spain, James Broderick and Michael Conrad.” Written by alfiehitchie
This film has a slow burning brutality that creates a disturbing atmosphere of social and cultural imprisonment by complacency and the pressure to conform, even with the non conformists.
Todd almost gets away with several murders, as the people around him idolize him as a hero, an not the ruthless manipulating psychopathic killer that he is. Frighteningly stunning at times. One death scene in particular is absolutely chilling in his handling of realism balanced with a psychedelic lens. This film is truly disturbing for it’s realism and for a 1971 release.
To Kill A Clown 1972
Starring Alan Alda and Blythe Danner. Danner and Heath Lamberts play a young hippie couple who couple rent a secluded cabin so that they can try and reconnect and save their marriage.
Alan Alda plays Maj. Evelyn Ritchie the man who owns the property and who is also a military raised- sociopath who has two vicious dogs that he uses as an extension of his madness and anger.