Monday, April 28, 2014

Robert Ryan vs. Robert Mitchum

TCM is showing The Racket overnight tonight at 12:15 AM as part of a night of Robert Mitchum movies. Now, I recommended The Racket a month ago, but that was the 1928 silent version. This is a remake, in which Robert Mitchum plays the McQuigg role and Robert Ryan takes on the Louis Wolheim role, renamed to a less ethnic Nick Scanlon. The Racket wasn't even the first time that Mitchum and Ryan had appeared together; four years earlier the two had starred together in Crossfire, which also had Mitchum playing the good guy and Ryan playing the bad guy.

I would tend to think that Ryan got cast in the bad-guy role in part because he didn't have the looks that Robert Mitchum had. Crossfire was early in his career. He had been in several smaller roles before and during the war, but there was a three-year gap before Ryan's career really took off in 1947. However, Ryan proved to be quite good at playing unreservedly bad guys, while Mitchum was playing a lot more characters who were supposed to be sympathetic, but had really screwed up their lives, from Out of the Past on. Ryan's bad-guy roles include such excellent movies as Bad Day at Black Rock, Odds Against Tomorrow, and Billy Budd.

But I wonder which movie would contain Ryan's most sympathetic, this is obviously a good guy role, where it's not even a case of making some really stupid decisions like the aforementioned Mitchum's character in Out of the Past. One good suggestion would be The Set-Up, even if by design the movie doesn't give us too much background on any of the characters. There's also Inferno, which still doesn't seem to be on DVD. Even in Inferno, though, he's not the easiest person to be around at the beginning.

Or perhaps it was Ryan's portrayal of John the Baptist in King of Kings. I don't think that character is supposed to be a bad guy.

What's your favorite Robert Ryan good-guy performance?

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