ROBERT RYAN (November 11, 6am)--This month on TCM there's a birthday tribute to one of the greatest actors in the history of American film. At some point in the '40s, in the latter half of the decade, a new kind of male star emerged--moodier, more inwardly-directed, more neurotic than actors of the previous era, and physically stylized in a whole new way that bordered on the expressionistic. I'm thinking of Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Dana Andrews, and the actor who is being celebrated, Robert Ryan. Ryan had an interesting history--he had been a Marine and he had trained as a boxer --and the physicality of his performances was different than that of Lancaster or Douglas. They each felt dangerous, but Ryan felt absolutely menacing, maybe even to himself. He was tall, and the way he moved was interesting--his gestures, his sense of urgency, always seemed private and driven, and there was an electrifying spark of hatred or disgust in a lot of his characters. For instance, in Fred Zinnemann's Act of Violence, one of his greatest roles, he's like a freight train that cannot be stopped until he finds the man who betrayed him in the war, played by Van Heflin. In Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground, he's tormented by all the terrible things and people he has to deal with as a city cop, and he takes it all in, carries it, up until a drive into the snow and the mountains to work on a murder case: he feels all his hatred and anger drift away when he falls in love with the blind woman played by Ida Lupino. In Crossfire, Bad Day at Black Rock and Billy Budd, he is consumed by hatred and envy--you can hear it in the cracks in his voice, you can see it in his smile. Ryan was a truly great actor, and this tribute offers a good cross-section of his work. By the way, I don't want to leave out his incredible performance as a boxer in The Set-Up, a stunning film from the late '40s by Robert Wise.
THE STORY OF FILM (Mondays, 8pm)--There are several great films being shown this month, tied to the ongoing programming of Mark Cousins' The Story of Film. Xala by Ousmane Sembene (commonly referred to as the father of African cinema) and Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen are two formidable pictures. My first viewing of Cissé's film was an overwhelming experience, and I've never seen anything else quite like it. There is also a screening of the great Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman's epic documentary portrait of the overthrow of the Allende presidency, The Battle of Chile.
LOST AND FOUND: AMERICAN TREASURES FROM THE NEW ZEALAND FILM ARCHIVE (November 17 & 24, 12am)--This month, there is also a program of silent American pictures that were discovered in the New Zealand Film Archive. The most exciting of these discoveries is John Ford's wonderful backstage picture, part comedy and part melodrama, Upstream. When Ford was young he worked in the local theater, and you can feel his love for the medium in this funny, surprising picture.
by Martin Scorsese