Robert Ryan: A Film Retrospective

In 2013, acclaimed film director Martin Scorsese described Robert Ryan as, “one of the greatest actors in the history of American film.” With a career spanning over thirty years, Ryan portrayed what were arguably some of Hollywood’s most complicated characters. Bigoted, misogynist, and often violent, Ryan brought to these roles an element of intelligence and keen insight which made them unique in comparison to other Hollywood bad guys of the era. In so doing, he helped audiences to understand what makes such characters “tick.” Equally interesting is the fact that these roles completely belied the individual Robert Ryan was. A Marine vet committed to peace and an outspoken advocate for Civil Rights, Ryan saw an opportunity to expose societal challenges by portraying these marginal characters with depth and honesty. Although he would become typecast by the studio system, Ryan also actively sought out such roles in pursuit of his own social and artistic goals. This class will screen a range of films spanning Ryan’s career, in which he co-starred opposite such Hollywood luminaries as Robert Mitchum, Ida Lupino, Barbara Stanwyck, and Spencer Tracy. Using historical and biographical information to inform our discussion, we will investigate what makes Robert Ryan such a truly captivating Hollywood figure.

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