Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ryan's Daughter

 Well the David Lean film's are almost at an end. Next week it all winds up with his final film A Passage to India. I was unsure of Ryan's Daughter as I've never been overly fussed on Robert Mitchum. Suffice to say his performance was outstanding and I saw him in a different light than I'd seen him before. Irish accent and all! The other thing I walked away with is that this film is grossly under-rated.

 Ryan's Daughter is not highly regarded as a film. When released in 1970 it was harshly recieved by critics. Many have susequently claimed that this critisim was the reason Lean didn't make another film for fourteen years. This wasn't the case because in that time he tried to get several projects off the ground, each of which fell through for various reasons. When I look at the critisims over Ryan's Daughter I shake my head in dis-belief. For me this is as good a film as any Lean made, and like many modern critics are realising, this is actually a quiet, understated masterpiece that is slowly being recognised. Not before time I may add. As I left the theatre yesterday I felt great sadness to realise such a fine film can go so long neglected and over looked.

 Why is this?? The intial reception has obviously left its residual effect. When released the film was poorly recieved in America but was a financial success world wide. I'm afraid America is only one part of the world, and just because it was unsuccessful there shouldn't mean the film as a whole was bad. The critisims are somewhat unfounded as Lean had made three brilliant films before hand, and Ryan's Daughter was, no matter what, going to be judged against them. Lean found himself in the position Quentin Tarantino did after Pulp Fiction. Audiences wanted another film like it and hence were unimpressed with Jackie Brown. Unfortunately Lean and Tarantino became victims of their own success. In the process these two films are under rated even though are both superb in their own right.

 Much of the critisim to is because of the subject matter. We are all aware of Ireland's history, so Lean was quite brave as an Englishman in making a film about Irish history. Unfortunately some of the critism is directed to Lean's apparent anti-Irish sentiment. In Ryan's Daughter he apparently makes the Irish look like nothing but a bunch of daft paddy bog trotters. Well of course he does because that is how the English viewed them!! I mean how can a bit of historical accuracy be so mis-construed?? I feel as if it was just critisim for the sake of it. While I'm no expert of Irish history I didn't get an anti-Irish vibe from Lean. In fact the English have a minor visual role in the film really. Sure Rosy falls in love with an English officer, but the film is more about internal Irish sentiment than that of the English towards them.

 Some have gone as far as to say Lean even attempted to blacken the events of the Easter Uprising of 1916 in relation to the events of the troubles of the late 1960's and early 1970's. In other words the film was a load of English propaganda. Well I say poppy cock. At no time through out the film did I feel it was pro-English or propagandist in feel. Some could say 'Ah what does a Kiwi on the other side of the world know'?...well I do know this, I know propaganda when I see it and this even isn't close. Like I have stated, Lean took a real risk in being English, and making a film as an Englishman, on Irish history. I think he has made a credible film from the view point of a small community far from the large cities of Dublin and Belfast.

 Other critisim is about the pacing of the film. It is said to be too slow, and far too expansive. Lean had to trim the length of the film as it was initially considered too long. Again what poppycock, as it is no longer than any of his previous films. The pacing is excellent in my view as he builds the tension towards the climatic scene where Rosy is beaten and shaved by the angry villagers. For me Lean has perfectly replicated the life of a small Irish village that is remote and rife with its own internal politics and pettiness. Unemployment is high and the youth have little to do. We see this in their tormenting of Michael, the village idiot played by John Mills, a role for which he won an Oscar.

 So this is a film that has gathered an unwarranted amount of critisim. Most of it is nit-picking, and at most just straight out ignorance. I suppose the feeling and events of the times unduly affected it somewhat. Ryan's Daughter has all Lean's hall marks and is as good as anything he had previously made. The one thing I admire about him is his ability to capture, and use, natural scenery so brilliantly. In my Lawrence of Arabia post I stated only John ford was as good at Lean at doing so. In Ryan's Daughter Lean filmed in the remote Dingle Peninsula. It is rugged country , almost barren of trees, and a ground covered in rocks and boulders. It is an Ireland we very rarely see and it is one I have only read of. It is subjected to the Atlantic weather and we see this in all its ferocity, in for me, the film's best scene.

 The local nationalists were expecting some German arms to wash up on some local beaches. Unfortunately a huge storm broke out and the beaches are from from smooth to say the least!! In fact the swell is absolutely huge!! The waves are at least three stories high and move with incredible speed. The wind is howling, and the rain is coming in horizontally. It is an incredible scene which Lean captures superbly. Honestly I felt in awe of it, and terrified too by such immense power. Lean is such a master at capturing such natural beauty. I sat there and marveled at the fact that this wall of water  had nothing behind it except the whole Atlantic ocean all the way back to the American and Canadian coasts.

 The amzing thing is that the actors were filmed on the shore line going into this!! The waves were monstrous, and yet these actors were risking their lives in it!! This is pre-CGI so it is all real. I couldn't believe my eyes, and believe me it was all real as there were no studio shots at all. All they had around them was a piece of rope. Unbelievably these actors agreed to shoot such a dangerous scene. But I tell you what, it is a spectacular scene, and I will never forget it. I have never seen swell like it in New Zealand or on film anywhere. The west coast of Ireland must take some of the worst poundings on it anywhere in the world. Conversely Lean filmed on days when the sun was out and the sea as calm as could be. See the picture on the right!!

Imagine this very coastline in a storm!!
 To get this scene Lean had to wait a whole year for a dramatic enough storm, and this was one of the reasons the film took over a year to make. The scenes were so dangerous that Leo McKern was almost drowned at one stage. He lost his glass eye in the process! Todays prima donna actors wouldn't even consider doing such acting, and would run to their stunt doubles. Even then I don't think they would be keen to be bashed about in such dangerous, cold conditions. They'd call up the CGI boys to make the scene, or run into a studio.

 The thing I noticed too was it always seemed to be wet. Even when the sun was out there were puddles about. The bleakness of the country was shown by the buildings which are all stone and cold looking. Even the smoke coming out of the chimneys looked damp!! The village scenes were brilliant, and showed the remoteness of the country. I can't help but admire the hardiness of the people who live there.

 The film revolves around Rosy, the daughter of the local publican. He has spoiled her, and she is somewhat of a rover. She is bored and disliked by the locals for her airs. She has an affair with a shell shocked English offficer even though she is married to the local school master. It gets about and she is ostracised by the villagers. When the German arms are intercepted by the English she is accused of betraying the shipment to the English, when in fact it was her father who pretended to be an Irish nationalist, but was in fact a English informer. When he has the opportunity to save Rosy he throws her to the wolves to protect his own skin.

 What Lean has done in Ryan's Daughter is shown how love transcends all things, whether it be politics, religion, race, etc. It may be set in Ireland but it could be anywhere in the world where bigotry and intolerance festers. As in all Lean films the cast is magnificent. Robert Mitchum is superb, and I was impressed with his Irish accent and his ability to retain it throughout the whole film. His was a very good performance and I must take re-stock of my opinion of him. For me though the highlight was Trevor Howard as Father Collins. He is a tough man with an incredible amount of power over the villagers. He sees all sides to all stories. For instance he sympathises with the nationalists, and helps in the storm to bring the weapons ashore. But he also sees how love can be stronger than politics as Rosy falls for Major Doryan, ( credibley played by American Christopher Jones ). Howard's scenes were the best in the film though as he was had a real screen 'presence'.

 Leo Mckern was also very good as Rosy's father. He was a typical publican, full of everyone's business, local gossip, and yet not all he seemed. He was in essence a coward, and not a nationalist as he puported to be. McKern plays the part suberbly, and I liked him when he battles with his own conscience when faced with lettting Rosy be beaten up or to turn himself in for informing.
 Like his previous films Lean didn't intially get the actors he wanted. The role of Father Collins was written for Alec Guinness who turned it down because he was a catholic and didn't like Lean's portrayal of a Priest. Gregory Peck, Anthony Hopkins, George C. Scott, and Patrick McGoohan were considerd for the role before it was given to a reluctant Robert Mitchum. Marlon Brando accepted the role of Major Doryan but pulled out due to problems with Burn!. Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton, and Richard Harris were considered as well, before Christpher Jones was given the part. Like his past films Lean didn't get the big names he may have wanted but he got he got the most out of them even though he clashed with many of them. In Ryan's Daughter he had repeated clashes with Jones that were reminiscent of those with Guinness.

 Like the last three films this was in its original form. It was also the original length version. It was in very good condition except for the start and the end. Also it had the inter-mission since it was well over three hours long. This was the first film that Lean filmed in the then new Super panavision 70, which gave a clear difference colour and feel wise through its quintessential 1970's look. I like the pre 1970's technique more though, and fortunately Ryan's daughter doesn't suffer from it. The soundtrack is suitably epic, but somehow lacked the impact of his previous films even the music director himself felt it one of his finest scores.

 Some how Ryan's Daughter, even though a superb film, was outdated by the time it was made. The 'Epic' genre was out of favour in Hollywood as the 'blockbuster' had taken over. I don't think Lean was out of date, or wrong to make this film, he was just a victim of the studios and their ever widening quest for more money. The cinema landscape had changed. 

 I liked Ryan's Daughter, and I liked it alot. I think it is criminally under rated due to the savaging it got on it's release. It is good to see that modern critics are re-examining the film and its place in cinematic history. Many are calling it an understated, over looked masterpiece. I agree, and believe the word masterpiece is the only word for it. It has all of David Lean's hall marks from his previous successes, and I can't figure how, with such pedigree, why Ryan's Daughter isn't more highly regarded.

 In short I really this film....alot. Everything about it is brilliant, except maybe the bland score. The performances are true David Lean in perfection, and if for any reason alone you must see this for the storm scene. It is incredible, and I don't believe we will ever see anything like it put onto celluloid again in its natural state. A masterpiece from the master of the 'Epic' genre, and I believe a film that is grossly, and unfairly overlooked, as it is far superior than it is percieved to be. A must view as are all David Lean's epics.

Next up: A Passage to India.

 Click here for a synopsis and more:

 And as usual I highly recommend a vist to wikipedia's page on this film as it goes into great deal about the film, it's reception, critisims, and story behind its making.


  1. This looks extremely interesting, though I had never heard of it until this review. Nice work!

  2. I have seen David Leans five back to back epics about 5 or 6 times each and to tell you the truth...I thought and still do think that Ryans Daughter is "visually" his best film...

    And how and why was so much creedence put into what Pauline kael had to say about this movie? Her opinion is the opinion of one person and that is all...

    We will never again have another David Lean...

  3. What amazes me about David Leans five consecutive epic films,is the hardly ever mentioned fact that there is no use of rear-screen projection,during a time when just about every other epic film,if not every other one,used it throughout...

    And this "on location" way of filming,adds a truly magnificent sense of visual realism and epic wonder,like you are really there in the desert,the snow,the jungle and the sand...

    The music score for each of these five films are truly beautiful as well...

    The only other epic film that compares to David Leans epics is the Russian version of War And Peace-1967,directed by Sergei Bondarchuk.I think it is the single greatest achievement in the history of world cinema and is vastly under-rated...

  4. I agree totally! Ryan's Daughter is a masterpiece of film making and it is just incredible that it has been neglected for so long. I know many ' film aficianados ' who have never even heard of it!
    Absolutely agree again there was only one David Lean and we will never see the likes of him again.

  5. David Lean's consecutive run of 5 back to back epic films is un-paralleled and un-equaled by any other director...

    Why? and How? did The Sound Of Music win best picture and best director over Doctor Zhivago? That has to be the academy awards greatest travesty...David Lean would have had 3 back to back wins for best picture and best director,he already had 2...

    I think only one other director has ever had back to back wins for best picture and best director,which was William Wyler for Mrs Miniver and The Best Years Of Our Lives...But i could be wrong...

    Although wether or not a film wins an academy award is no way to judge how great a movie is.Ryans Daughter should have won 4 at least,instead of 2...

    Everyone should see Ryans Daughter in wide screen of course,i have a restored version and it is flawless...The opening scene which shows the sun slowly rising among the clouds is hard to put into words...

    Leans cinematographer Freddis Young,who won 3 oscars for leans films Lawrence Of Arabia,Doctor Zhivago and Ryans Daughter was to me the most visually stunning story teller of all...

    Some of the desert scenes in Lawrence Of Arabia look like they were filmed on another planet...

    And i'll say it again...Theres no rear screen projection in any of David Leans epics,during a time when every other epic film and film maker was using it...

  6. Screen projection was a technique that was used much in the way CGI is today. It is a sign of lazy film making. For instance the storm scene in Ryan's Daughter saw Lean wait almost 12 months for a suitably impressive storm. That is dedication to getting it right.
    I recently read a Katerine Hepburn biography and she stated that no one understood film making like David Lean. Great praise indeed from one great to another.
    Agreed that Dr. Zhivago is a far, far superior film to The Sound of Music ( a film I can't stand! ). Of the 4 that I saw on the big screen this year it is the one I liked the most.

  7. I had a chance to see Lawrence Of Arabia on the big screen at a theater in Boston and all i can really say is WOW...No adjective would properly describe "the visuals" of that film up on the big screen combined with the music...i sat about 10 rows back,the first few rows i think are too close and i was in a trance for three and a half hours...

    Who can ever forget that "cut" from lawrence blowing out his match,into the rising sun bathed in red and orange light?

    Has anyone ever seen War And Peace-1967 the Russian version? It happens to be the greatest epic film ever made...It is sooo under-rated that i have never seen it in a list of great films anywhere...I think it is because of left over cold war paranoia and jealousy from Hollywood

    I think that every movie theater should take one day a week and show nothing but older classics.So they can be seen,the way they were meant to be seen...

  8. I've never seen the War and Peace adaptation you mention, but I do know of it. I believe it cost literally milions and milions of Roubles to make and is regarded as the best W & P adaptation ever.
    I sat at he back at L o A but it was a small theatre of only 6 rows. I've written a review somewhere on my blog gushing about it and the other three I saw. I have been fortunate over the years to have seen a reasonable number of classics on the big screen. They are what I'd rather watch!

  9. I just watched Ryans Daughter again and i am convinced that it is true...This is visually the most beautiful film David Lean ever made and because he never uses rear screen projection in his epic films,they seem eternally alive and very real,like documentaries of sight and sound,of love and hate,of life and death...

    And i have read a lot of critical comments about the music in Ryans Daughter...I did not hear why.I think the music is haunting and at times surreal...

    And if that great artist of visual story telling,of motion pictures,David Lean,can read these words,i would like to say..."You were the most talented of all and as time goes by more and more people will realize this"...

    Too bad we dont know what we have until its gone...

    Please people!...Start showing these epic films on the big screen,so we can see them the way they were meant to be seen!

  10. The reason the author does not recognise this film as propaganda is that he lacks the perspective to perceive it in those terms. This may in fact be due to his own Kiwi sensibility which is coloured by an over inflated view of England as the mother of what was previously part of the British Empire. I regard the author as a stock British loyalist who is anti-Irish and has cloaked this in a dressed up review of the film's superficial features and arty potential, avoiding in the process any deeper drilling down into its evil racist heart.

    It entirely relates to the growing movement for civil rights in Northern Ireland and the wider debate and struggle for Irish unification.

    You can not extract the cultural works of the time from the conditions or the historical class struggle in which they were created.

    Suppose a film like this had been made in New Zealand depicting the Maori in this way - would he be happy with that, whatever the film's other attributes? Or would he be incapable of seeing any racism in that too?

    Pretty poor stuff here I think.