Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Ryan’s Daughter


David Lean was best known for masterful versions of the Dickens novels Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, and Brief Encounter. Small-scale, black and white pictures. Then he made five large Technicolor films, beginning with The Bridge on the River Kwai, and three of them are masterpieces. This is not one of them. It’s not a bad film, but it’s almost an hour longer than it needed to be. The story of a small Irish village in 1916 didn’t need the Super Panavision camera, either, though it’s true the vistas of the Irish coast (actually, mostly South Africa) are stunning. It suffers from miscasting. Sarah Miles is good, and so is Trevor Howard as the priest. But Christopher Jones has only a resemblance to James Dean going for him. He broods a lot, has very little to say, and that was apparently because he simply couldn’t act. After this, he vanished without a trace. And Robert Mitchum is a great actor, but playing a mild-mannered schoolteacher with an Irish accent was not within his range. John Mills won an Oscar for his portrayal of the village idiot (and gave the shortest acceptance speech in history: a simple nod), but the performance hasn’t really stood the test of time. His make-up certainly should have won an Oscar. The portrait of the isolated town, its heroism and sickening intolerance, is powerful. The centerpiece of the film, a massive storm battering the rocks as tiny people scramble along the beach, is stunning. It’s not something you can fake in a studio. Some of those actors were in real danger of being swept away.