Monday, February 05, 2007
30. British filmmaker David Lean's "Ryan's daughter" (1970): A complex masterpiece that never got its due praise when released
More than 30 years after the movie was made, Ryan's Daughter needs to be compared with his other important works--Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago, Bridge on the River Kwai and A Passage to India. Pauline Kael and many others ripped up the film because it was a loose adapatation of Madame Bovary. But this is Ryan's Daughter, not Madame Bovary.
Visually the three finest are Ryan's Daughter, Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago.
Aurally--in the departments of music and sound--the finest two are Ryan's Daughter and Dr Zhivago.
If performances make a movie, four of the movies were outstanding: Ryan's Daughter, Dr Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia and Bridge on the River Kwai.
Yet why is Ryan's Daughter not considered the finest? There is no hero, there is no heroine--it is a film of anti-heroes. It is a film that focuses on the ugly side of human reality where everyone is a loser--husband, wife, lover, priest, soldier, revolutionary, and even the traitor. It provides a realism that we glimpsed in patches in Dr Zhivago and A passage to India--a realism that almost eluded us in Lawrence of Arabia.
The film's strengths lie in two aspects that were most criticized some thirty years ago--its music and its screenplay.
Hear Maurice Jarre's score today and you will realize the notes hark back to Lean's previous work (mostly Zhivago and little of Lawrence) with the comical allusions to the village fool's gait. Jarre's score in Ryan's daughter may not have the universal appeal of Lara's theme in Zhivago, but a close study of the score will unfold riches to the aural senses when compared to the simplistic Lara's theme.
Bolt's original screenplay is as rewarding to study as Jude the Obscure to a student of Thomas Hardy or Titus Andronicus to a Shakespeare student. Bolt (and Lean, of course) provides food for thought--who is good and who is bad, who is ugly and who is beautiful, who is crippled and who is whole...
It is easier to make lovely, heroic epics such as Lawrence or Zhivago than to make a film on losers and moral and physical cripples such as Ryan's Daughter. I think this is Lean's and Bolt's finest work. It is also Robert Mitchum's finest work as it was in the case of Christopher Jones, Leo McKern and Trevor Howard. John Mills stood out among the fine performers because his character was spectacular.
I am a great admirer of most of Lean's films and having seen the film thrice, I rate it as his best and perhaps his most complex yet mature work.