Robert Ryan

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

Odds Against Tomorrow 1959

David Burke (Ed Begley) is a former police detective who was forced to leave his job who has a plan to rob a bank, but needs some help to pull it off. First is Earl Slater (Robert Ryan), a real tough guy and former criminal, and then there’s Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte), a nightclub performer with a fondness for gambling. Earl isn’t interested in it at first, but David has promised him $50,000 for his assistance and Earl could really use the extra money because he feels guilty for letting his girlfriend Lorry (Shelley Winters) support him. Johnny doesn’t want to be involved at first, either, but he has a fondness for gambling and owes some money to a gangster who has threatened to harm his ex-wife and daughter if he doesn’t get his money. Both Earl and Johnny reluctant agree to help David with the heist, but there’s one major problem — Johnny is a black man and Earl is deeply racist. Earl wants to back out when he finds out who his partner in crime will be, but ultimately can’t stand being a kept man.

David has planned the heist out in detail, but Earl’s intolerance of Johnny puts the heist in jeopardy. When the time comes to rob the bank, they start to carry out their plan, but it all goes awry because Earl refuses to trust Johnny.

Three words for Odds Against Tomorrow: first-rate noir! It’s an incredibly gritty movie with a gripping story, a great score, excellent performances, and fascinating characters. And when I say it’s gritty, I mean this is a movie that absolutely revels in grit and grime. It’s a movie that didn’t hit any wrong notes with me and that almost makes it hard for me to write about, because there’s nothing negative for me to say; I liked it all. This was a B-picture, so it’s a an excellent example of how you don’t need a huge budget to make a real knock-out of a movie.

God’s Little Acre (1958)

God's Little Acre 1958Ty Ty Walden (Robert Ryan) owns a cotton farm that once belonged to his grandfather. Or, at least, it used to be a cotton farm. Ty Ty believes his grandfather buried gold on the farm and has spent the last 15 years digging holes all over the property with two of his sons, Buck (Jack Lord) and Shaw (Vic Morrow). They haven’t found any gold, but Ty Ty refuses to stop trying, even though with all his digging, they haven’t been able to grow anything on the farm in years. The one place he hasn’t tried digging yet is an acre of land he calls God’s little acre, a plot of land Ty Ty has promised that anything that grows — or is found there — goes to the church. But he’s pretty willing to change his mind about where exactly God’s little acre ought to be if he suspects the gold might be buried there.

The quest for gold has taken a major toll on the family. The family is completely destitute and many of his family members are fed up with his ridiculous quest for gold. Meanwhile, Buck is upset that his wife Griselda (Tina Louise) is still in love with her former lover Will (Aldo Ray), but Will is married to Buck’s sister Rosamund (Helen Westcott). Will used to work in a cotton mill, but ever since the mill closed down, he refuses to do any other kind of work and spends much of his time getting drunk. The only one who has anything promising happening is Ty Ty’s daughter Darlin’ Jill (Fay Spain), who has just been proposed to by Pluto Swint (Buddy Hackett), who is running for Sheriff, although she wants to wait and see the results of the election before she says yes.

Ty Ty is so desperate to find the gold, he and Uncle Felix (Rex Ingram) kidnap a Dave Dawson (Michael Landon), a local albino, because they’ve heard they have magical powers for divining gold. When Dave leads them to an area close to the house, they get to work digging yet another hole. But when it becomes clear there’s no gold to be found there, Uncle Felix suggests that Ty Ty either asks his other son Jim Leslie (Lance Fuller) for money or give it up and go back to farming so the family can have some money again. Meanwhile, Will, in a drunken stupor, tries to re-open the cotton mill, with tragic results.

I’ve been wanting to see God’s Little Acre for a while now and I was hoping it would be the sort of movie I’d love, but it somehow missed the mark with me. It’s not a bad movie, but I can’t help but feel like something must have been lost in the transition from novel to film here. I’ve never read the novel, but it’s just a hunch I have that the book did the story more justice. There’s a lot of interesting things going on, but somehow, they just didn’t seem to gel right with me. I didn’t hate anything about it, but I didn’t love anything about it, either; it just fell smack in the middle of the road for me. It pretty much just made me want to check out the original book, instead.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

In 1945, not too many people are coming to the small western town of Black Rock anymore.  In fact, when John Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) comes to town, it’s the first time the train has stopped in Black Rock in four years.  Although he doesn’t exactly expect a warm welcome, he sure wasn’t expecting hostility from every resident of Black Rock.  When he says he stopped in Black Rock so he could drive out to Adobe Flat and see a man named Komoko, everybody gives him the third degree.  He tries to check into the hotel, but Pete Wirth (John Ericson) doesn’t want to give him a room.  When he does get a room, Hector David (Lee Marvin) threatens him for no reason.  Even some of the locals don’t understand why everyone is so on edge about Macreedy being in town.  Macreedy tries talking to sheriff Tim Horn about Komoko (Dean Jagger), but he’s too drunk to be much help.  Even though Tim is the sheriff, Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) appears to be the one running things in Black Rock and tells Macreedy that since Komoko was Japanese, he had been sent to an internment camp during World War II.

Regardless of what Reno had told him about Komoko, Macreedy is determined to make the trip to Adobe Flat anyway, so he rents Liz Wirth’s (Anne Francis) Jeep and drives out there.  The only things he finds in Adobe Flat are a burned down house, a very deep well, and some wildflowers.  When he sees the wildflowers, he begins to suspect that someone is buried beneath them.  On the way back to Black Rock, Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine) gets behind Macreedy and runs him off the road.  Unharmed, Macreedy gets back to Black Rock and decides to get out of there as soon as he can.  Unfortunately, the train won’t be back until the next day and he can’t get a ride to the next town.  Reno comes to talk to Macreedy again, and he finds out that Reno is horribly racist toward the Japanese.  After this little chat, Macreedy begins to suspect that Komoko is buried under those wildflowers and Reno is the one who put him there.

Macreedy tries to call the state police for help but can’t get through.  Doc (Walter Brennan), one of the few people in town willing to help him, offers him a vehicle to get out of town, but it’s been tampered with.  In a last ditch effort, he tries sending a telegram to the state police to come help.  Since all he can do now is wait, Macreedy stops in at the local bar and Coley and Reno show up to cause trouble for him.  But by now, he’s had just about enough of them and gets into a fight with Coley and tells Reno that he knows he killed Komoko and he couldn’t even do it alone.  The next day, before he was due to leave, Macreedy finds out that his telegram was given to Reno instead of the state police.  Macreedy, Doc, and Tim all remind Reno that it’s a federal offense to do that, but Reno isn’t scared of them.  Once Reno is gone, though, Macreedy tells Doc and Pete that he had come to Black Rock to find Komoko so he could give him a medal awarded posthumously to his son, who had saved Macreedy’s life during the war.  Finally, Pete cracks and admits what happened to Komoko.  Doc and Pete then plot to get Macreedy to safety and to take back control of their town.

Even if you don’t like Westerns, you really shouldn’t be deterred from Bad Day at Black Rock.  It’s much more of a mystery than it is a Western.  And it is one captivating mystery, at that.  There wasn’t a moment in the movie where I wasn’t glued to the screen, eagerly awaiting to find out what on Earth was going on in Black Rock and what happened to Komoko.  Not only is the story wonderful, but you can’t ask for a much better cast than this!  Everything about it was amazing, it’s a real must-see movie!

Lonelyhearts (1958)

Adam White (Montgomery Clift) is an aspiring news writer looking to get his foot in the door any way he can.  Luckily for him, he befriends Florence Shrike (Myrna Loy), who is married to Bill Shrike (Robert Ryan), editor for The Chronicle.  She introduces Adam to Bill at a restaurant one night and Bill has Adam sort of audition for a job on the spot.  Bill jerks Adam around for a little bit, but in the end, tells Adam to drop by the Chronicle offices because there may be a place for him.  Adam is thrilled and runs off to tell his girlfriend Justy (Dolores Hart)  the good news and of course, she is thrilled for him.  When Adam arrives at the Chronicle offices the next day, the wind gets taken out of his sails a little bit when he finds out the job is writing the Miss Lonelyhearts advice column.  He knows that he’s all wrong for the job, but agrees to take it because he so badly wants to start his career.

Some of the other reporters like to make fun of the letters people send into the Miss Lonelyhearts column, but Adam is much more compassionate.  People keep telling Adam to just give cold, thoughtless answers, but he thinks they deserve better than that.  Justy advises him to do his best, but not to take it too seriously.  He starts spending more and more time at work, trying to help these people the best he can.  This takes him away from Justy, but she wants to be supportive.  Growing frustrated, he sees Bill in a restaurant one night and asks for a new column.  Bill tells him that it’s either Miss Lonelyhearts or nothing.  But their conversation is overheard by Fay Doyle (Maureen Stapleton), who has written into the column.  Bill and Adam frequently get into arguments over the nature of the people who write in, and one day Bill suggests calling up some of the letter writers and finding out what they’re like first hand.  Adam takes Bill up on this suggestion and by pure chance, dials up Fay Doyle.  The two of them arrange to meet up so Fay can tell him more about her problems.  When they meet and Fay tells Adam all about how her husband Pat had lied to her about how he got a major injury and how it’s left her desperate for affection.  Adam is truly moved by her story, but knows that he’s completely unfit to truly help her with her problems.  Fay had also been hoping that he was looking to have an affair with her, but is disappointed when she finds out he isn’t.

The whole incident drives Adam to drink, something he never normally does.  When he stops into a bar, he runs into none other than Pat.  Pat knows Adam works for the Chronicle, but not that he writes the Miss Lonelyhearts column and asks him to get back the letter Fay had sent in.  Adam manages to get away from Pat, but then finds himself at a party for a fellow Chronicle reporter.  The other reporters start mocking the Miss Lonelyhearts column again and Adam gets into a fist fight.  Once he sobers up, he realizes that this job is destroying his life and decides to quit the paper and leave town.  He’d like Justy to come with him and tries to repair their damaged relationship.  After thinking it over, Justy decides to go with him and meets up with him at the Chronicle, where Adam is saying goodbye to the other reporters.  But their happy reunion is interrupted by Pat barging in with a gun, looking for the person Fay has been talking to.  Adam is able to defuse the situation and before he leaves, a softened up Bill even asks him to stay with the Chronicle.  But Adam realizes that it’s time for him to move on with his life.  Not only did Adam learn some valuable lessons from his time at the Chronicle, he unwittingly managed to teach Bill a few things about life, too.

I had a really hard time getting interested in Lonelyhearts.  I feel like this had the potential to be a far more interesting movie than it ended up being.  I know it was based on the play “Miss Lonelyhearts,” but I’ve never seen the play so I don’t know if something was lost in translation here or what.  First of all, I think Montgomery Clift was a little bit old for his part.  Adam was supposed to be a young, aspiring writer, but at the time this was made, Montgomery Clift was 38 years old.  Even though he was slightly miscast, his performance wasn’t bad so I can forgive the age issue a little bit.  Actually, all the performances were pretty decent, it’s just that they didn’t have the greatest material to work with.  Maureen Stapleton gave the most notable performance in the movie, as evidenced by her Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  Other than that, I thought the movie moved along very slowly.  There was a good story at the heart of this, but the movie could have greatly benefited from some rewrites and some tweaking here and there.