House of Ryan
How fitting that Robert Ryan (1909-1973) was born on this day, which would later come to be known as Veteran’s Day. He had been a Dartmouth-educated boxer before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, where he served as a drill instructor. That no-nonsense toughness infused his 30+-year movie career and though his work included the occasional stage foray into comedy (The Front Page), a Broadway musical (Mr. President) and the troubled souls of Eugene O’Neill, he mostly played characters that were formidable, often mean, slightly mad or sinister – but always multidimensional, with nuance and vulnerability. Within his deep well of obsessed cops, preening gangsters, misguided romantics, striving underachievers, world-weary cowboys, military hard-cases and megalomaniacs that always captured the camera’s eye no matter what cinematic luminaries shared the frame is his single Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray release to date: Samuel Fuller’s one-of-a-kind Japan-set crime thriller House of Bamboo (1955). Ryan’s ex-military policeman gangster boss Sandy Dawson is a vivid package: suavely attractive, brutally merciless, ramrod efficient, chilly as ice. The nervy and daring kingpin of a combination smuggling ring and protection racket staffed by fellow ex-soldiers who stayed behind in Japan after the U.S. occupation following World War II, Sandy never allows an occasional “kimono girl” romance to distract him or personal loyalties to color his decision to eliminate a gang member who becomes a liability. But when undercover cop Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack) infiltrates and tilts the dynamics of his operation, Sandy lets his guard down. Director Fuller and star Ryan collaborate on making Sandy a charismatic badman whom the audience knows must be stopped – but whose sheer coolness compels us to secretly admire. Ryan experienced quite a variety his share of cinematic downfalls but few can compare to House of Bamboo’s final shootout on a circling amusement park ride on a department store roof. Then again, few screen actors could compare to the magnificent Ryan, whom John Houseman called “a disturbing mixture of anger and tenderness who had reached stardom by playing mostly brutal, neurotic roles that were at complete variance with his true nature.” Because he impacts us so deeply, we can sense – if not fully know – that true nature, whatever face Ryan shows us. House of Bamboo is now available on a beautifully rendered Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray – and more Ryan faces coming down the TT pike.