Friday, July 3, 2009

Film Review: RYAN'S DAUGHTER (1970, David Lean)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 206 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Robert Mitchum, Trevor Howard, John Mills, Sarah Miles, music by Maurice Jarre, written by Robert Bolt, lensed by Freddie Young.
Tag-lines: "A story of love...set against the violence of rebellion."
Best one-liner: "There's loose women, and there's whores... and there's British soldier's whores!"

David Lean said, "Mitchum can, simply by being there, make almost any other actor look like a hole in the screen." And while that is, in fact, entirely true, RYAN'S DAUGHTER doesn't quite use Mitchum to his full potential.

There's plenty of moping around...

...and not quite enough of this.

This film has been called an 'overblown, offensive mess' as well as an 'underrated masterpiece,' and the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between. In the plus column, the visuals are magnificent. Using the 65mm Super Panavision frame as a canvas, DP Freddie Young paints some of the most monumental 'beach-scapes' ever committed to celluloid.

In the minus column, there's a fairly cloying score from the usually first-rate Maurice Jarre, a remarkably hamfisted and shallow portrayal of a mentally disabled man (by John Mills, who won an Oscar for it!),


and a 200 minute + run-time that isn't quite called for. So it's a mixed bag. The sort of mixed bag where Mitchum threatened suicide to escape his contract and Trevor Howard remarked, "Three hours was rather long for a trifling love story."

Trevor Howard, quick to anger.

But Mitchum must've cared somewhat (he does an Irish accent!), and he makes the best of things in his low-key role. He does get to be shirtless, teach children (Umm…probably not a great idea), and be cuckolded by Sarah Miles, so it's by no means a loss.

The lengthy shoot must've been quite something- between Mitchum's propensity for finishing bottles of gin in under an hour and Howard's inclination toward "making love to bottles of Chivas Regal," one can only imagine the year-long bender such a shoot inspired. One’s Blood Alchohol Content probably rises just from watching this. Howard broke his collarbone riding a donkey (while in his free time), Mitchum planted a marijuana garden and exposed the locals to his reefer, and Mitchum's 52nd birthday party became the wildest event to ever take place in Dingle, Ireland. Anecdotes aside, RYAN’S DAUGHTER is a breathtaking aesthetic force that never quite congeals as a narrative, but it's well worth the view for a Lean or Mitchum fan.

-Sean Gill

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