WEIRDLAND: Happy Anniversary, Robert Ryan!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Robert Ryan!

Happy Anniversary, Robert Ryan!

Robert Ryan, portrait by RKO studio photographer Ernest Bachrach, 1942

In The Set-Up (Robert Wise, 1949), veteran boxer Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan) hides out in the deserted “Paradise City” venue, which a few moments earlier had been oozing with carnal and visceral presence. Meanwhile, his troubled wife (Audrey Totter) leaves the bustle of the “Dreamland” penny arcade by a flight of stairs to the complete isolation of a downtown walkway.

Noir of the Soul: On Dangerous Ground (1952), Nicholas Ray’s tale of a city cop gone rotten, departing into the country to work on a rape and murder case, highlights all of this powerful filmmaker’s stylistic strengths, from his knowing and caring work with performers to his keen eye for setting and his meshing of the arc of dramatic flow to both human feeling and situational design. Ray, who had studied architecture with Frank Lloyd Wright, was long fascinated with horizontal design, and so this film is a blunt contradiction of the principle of vertical obliquity so firmly stated by Schrader. Here, whether he is racing through the alleyways of the city in order to find low-life criminals to pummel and insult or, slowly softening and losing his anger, meandering in the snow-covered fields or the pine forest of the country to chase the rapist–killer, Robert Ryan’s Jim Wilson centers a cinematography that spreads action out laterally, giving us the incessant feeling that the conditions of the drama are not bounded by the arbitrary limits of the frame.

A simple narrative device accentuates the visual strength of the frame and enlivens our optical engagement with the action once Jim is out of the city: his meeting and slowly developing familiarity with the woman with whom he ultimately falls in love, Mary Malden (Ida Lupino, in one of the signal performances of her great career), a blind young woman who is the sister of the adolescent boy who committed the crime. The city in this film, more than the setting of the establishing scenes early on, is the locus of despicable behavior, greed, anxiety, and mistrust that Jim carries in the depths of his heart even while he is running through the snowy fields under a brilliant, open sky. -"A Companion to Film Noir" (2013) by Andrew Spicer & Helen Hanson

No comments :