About Robert Ryan

Robert Ryan

6 Degrees can’t let the month pass without a word on Robert Ryan. One of my favorite actors has been featured all month on Turner Classic Movies. Robert Ryan was a workhorse, a character actor, a film noir star, and at times a B movie actor with a ruggedly handsome profile that rivaled his co-star and friend, John Wayne. John Wayne was an icon, but Ryan was the stalwart trooper who worked in so many genres and cut through generations of rapidly changing film audiences with differing tastes and mores.

He was the down and out boxer in the film noir classic The Set Up, directed by The Sound of Music director Robert Wise. He was the love interest in one of Marilyn Monroe’s early hits, Clash by Night. He starred with John Wayne in. The Flying Leathernecks, a bad-B, and with Pat O’Brien in Marine Raiders, which is highlighted with the singing of the venerable Marine fight song, Bless Them All.

Ryan was a Marine in real life and he used that tough-guy persona in his performances. Moving from the film noir period, he went on to star in movies like Lonelyhearts, with Montgomery Clift, and the unique version of Erskine Caldwell’s novel, God’s Little Acre. He was the heavy in many films, most notably with Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock and Robert Mitchum in Crossfire.

In the sixties, he was in the classic The Wild Bunch, as well as the war films, The Longest Day and The Battle of the Bulge. Ryan was friends with John Wayne, but his politics came down on the other side of the fence. He was an ardent liberal who fought for Civil Rights.

One of the lighter stories surrounding Ryan’s and John Wayne’s friendship was regarding the time Robert Ryan went on a radio program and condemned the John Birch Society. When he returned home, there was a man with a shotgun standing in his driveway. As he pulled in, he realized it was his old friend, Duke Wayne, who had dropped by just to insure that there would be no trouble for Ryan!

6 Degrees Summer Film Newsletter

6 Degrees of Film
6 Degrees of Film

Where does the time go? It’s already Summer and the list of summer films has been rolled out for the past month. Are there any good ones out there? Here are a few that caught my eye…

Last Days in the Desert: Ewan McGregor is Jesus & the Devil in this version of Christ’s 40 days in the Desert.

The Lobster made some noise at Film festivals: An absurdist comedy about single people given 45 days to find a mate-or else they will be turned into an animal.

Coming In June:

Genius 2016

Genius: Jude Law plays Thomas Wolfe, with Colin Firth as his editor.

Free state of jones

Free State of Jones: Matthew McConaughey stars in the true story of the Mississippi farmer, and ardent abolitionist who leads an uprising against the Confederacy during the Civil War.

Coming in July:

Tarzan 2016

The Legend of Tarzan: Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) has married Jane and moved to England to take up the duties and entitlements due him as Lord Greystoke. But he’s lured back to the jungle and the plot thickens.

Star Trek Beyond is released on July 22nd, with Idris Elba as the villain Krall, and Chris Pine back as the durable James T Kirk.


FLo jenkins streep

Florence Foster Jenkins: Meryl Streep returns to the screen in the very intriguing (at least on paper) true tale of Florence Foster Jenkins, a New York socialite who wanted desperately to be an opera singer, minus small details such as talent and pitch.

Cafe soc 2016

Café Society: Woody Allen directs Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in a romantic comedy set in 1930’s Hollywood.

The Founder: Michael Keaton stars as the McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc in this story about the early years in the fifties where he began to amass his empire.

Ben Hur 2016

Ben-Hur returns to the screen with Jack Huston in the title role of the Jewish prince who is condemned to slavery and culminates in a deadly chariot race.

War Dogs is the true story of two amateur arms-dealers who talk their way into a deal to equip the Afghan military with weapons. Starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller as the two intrepid war dogs.

6degreesLogogif (2)

I have written many times about the lamentations of critics with endless remakes. However, just as in theatre where the play’s the thing, so it is with film, where the story, a good story, is the thing that matters. So if there is an interesting story, there just may be a good film lurking underneath.

It depends on the director, the cast, the screenwriter, the film editor, and sometimes more obscure things such as timing and marketing and distribution, but of late, it’s been hit or miss when I see big screen summer movies premiere. There really is no there there.

This batch looks rather promising. Woody Allen directs a comedy, Meryl Streep and Michael Keaton and Matthew McConaughey all headline interesting stories. And we haven’t seen as many Ben-Hur’s as Batman’s in the past few decades. Tarzan has had a slight rest.

It’s nice to see some films without CGI leading the way with flying costumed men and an apocalyptic background with huge monsters or truck monsters looming large against a sea of flying saucers. You get the drift. There really isn’t too much that is new under the sun, so if you have a half-way decent story and a great cast and crew, then you might have a little gem of a movie hit. That’s the only reason to keep me, or any of us, going back to the movies.

6 Degrees: The four basic plots

6 Degrees of Film
6 Degrees of Film


There is much talk of the remakes in Hollywood, and the fact that nothing is new under the sun. Well, there’s a lot of truth to that, but then again, Shakespeare used mostly re-hashed material to fashion together some of the greatest works of literature.

So, there’s a lot of “meat on the bone” when you talk of the simple nature of the most basic of storylines. Here are four of the most widely known:



  1. Man vs Man: Here we find many variations on a theme, as the plots may tend to run together. But some of the greatest stories deal with adversity between two people or two countries. Spartucus is the story of one man’s rebellion against the Roman Empire. Exodus deals with men and women fighting to establish a home for the Jewish people in the Middle East. Shakespeare’s Henry V deals with men battling to establish who will be the rightful King of England.The Poseidon Adven
  2. Man vs Nature: Jack London was a writer who often dealt with this subject. The Call of the Wild and White Fang are two of his works. But in dealing with the basic elements of nature, we find so many great stories. In Hollywood, there was a whole industry around the “disaster” films such as The Poseidon Adventure, where a huge storm overturned a ship. And The Towering Inferno where man had to face the elements to survive.

The Shining3. Man vs Himself; One of the most complex and intriguing storylines deals with the psychological nature of man. In The Shining, the horror of the story turned inward as we saw the main character slowly go mad. In The Lost Weekend and Leaving Las Vegas, we witness the ways that men can slowly “burn out” with alcoholic binges and start to implode. In Shakespeare’s great works, Hamlet and King Lear, the soliloquies provide a passage into the internal workings of the minds of his most famous characters.

Adams Rib

4. Man vs Woman or The Battle of the Sexes: In this, we spot so many things we can identify with in our own lives. This proves true even in past decades where women were not accorded equal rights under the law, but still were able to hold their own against men based on their intelligence and logic. In Adam’s Rib, we see two lawyers, played by Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn, arguing cases on opposite sides and struggling to maintain their marriage.In Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shrew , the comedy deals with the battle of the sexes. In Elizabethan England, women were not afforded many rights, however, there was one strong example of leadership seen in Queen Elizabeth I. Good Queen Bess was a strong ruler for many years, and Shakespeare would have had this example before him as he was marketing and tailoring much of his work to please her! There are other examples of stories and plot lines, but it seems the most basic plots are at times the best ones to use when delving into the psyche of a human being, or looking at the quiet desperation and isolation of our lives in the 21st Century. The next time you read a good book or watch a movie, take a moment to reflect on whether it follows one of the basic plots used by the masters. Chances are, if it’s a really good work of art, the story will break it down to the basics.


The Jungle Book Capsule Review: Bill as Baloo is Boffo

THe Jungle book

The one outstanding reason to see this film is just to hear the voice of Bill Murray in the classic role of Baloo the Bear. The voice-over’s are remarkable. For  film insiders, the cinematography and graphic capture of the jungle setting is worth the trip. CGI comes to the jungle in this tale, and there’s a nice moment for Women Power when Mowgli’s adopted Mom Raksha (Voice of Lupita Nyong’o) asserts herself to save the pack.

This is basically a children’s story. It’s one of the most simple of tales, with man facing off against nature. Lately, we’ve had a slew of these, culminating in DiCaprio’s Oscar-worthy performance in The Revenant.

There’s not much there there, in this re-telling of the Disney classic. The songs and the upgrades are impressive for Hollywood insiders, but the core of the story remains the same. A child is raised by wolves in the jungle and is protected from the evil tiger by his jungle friends, including Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) the Leopard and Baloo the Bear.

Small children may be intimidated by some of the scenes, but frankly, I doubt it in today’s television and small screen climate. This is a children’s movie that has received a lot of hype.  And there are some impressive elements to it. The cinematography and the casting of stars in the lead roles give this film “legs”.

The other stand-outs in leading voice-overs include Christopher Walken as Louie, the Ape-King, Scarlett Johansson in a brief role as the seductive python Kaa, and the talented Idris Elba as the voice of the malevolent tiger Shere Khan. But it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that this is, in the end, a children’s classic with the most basic of plots.

If you are a huge Bill Murray fan (as I am), then you won’t be disappointed. But some of the hype and spin may lead one to believe this is an updated version of The Jungle Book that leads down a road similar to Apocalypse Now. And it just ain’t so. There’s not enough there there. As the song says, “Look for the Bare Necessities.”