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THE ENORMITY of it. Thirteen million Super Panavision dollars-it's like trying to describe a million-dollar tinted postcard.
The stories about David Lean's painstaking efforts to make his postcard flawless are true: he did keep his crew waiting three days on a beach until an angry-enough looking wave rolled in. They reveal his incompetence, however, more than his megalomania. Lean redid a month's shooting at $28,000 a day because Robert Mitchum's costume was "too little Lord Fauntleroy"-a point Mitchum had made before shooting began. And consider the product of all Lean's care. Its romanticism is so retarded as to give the heroine a white mare and her lover a black stallion, and then cut from the stallion neighing in the night to the mare listening.
Those who prefer their sexual metaphor less blatant will do well to invest their three dollars in some good hard-core pornography. For if you think you can get some fun out of Ryan's Daughter you should forget it. Outrage is the dominant emotion you will feel on leaving the theatre, straight or stoned-outrage at having let four hours of your precious inalienable life be filched away by doddering sentimentalists. It's scarcely believable that Irish scenery so gorgeously lit could be rendered so sickening by the likes of Robert Bolt, who collaborated (for once the right word) very closely with Lean on the screenplay. But it's true: even for its own corrupt purposes Ryan's Daughter, besides being badly cast and directed, is constructed worse than almost any picture you could name.
THERE IS, however, a way in which Ryan's Daughter is integrated. It consistently depicts people's experience in a way that makes it hopelessly confusing. Not only on a personal plane, although the characters alternate between vapidity and impossibility, but on the historical plane to which Lean pretends. Lean, that is, declared he would only make pictures (Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago) which dealt with revolution. So let's take Bolt-Lean's treatment of the Irish Revolution, which follows the shambles of Ryan's Daughter's first two hours.
The stage is set by a German freighter that dumps arms into the stormy ocean. Enter handsome Tim O'Leary, the Commandant, with nine fine young men in oilslieks. O'Leary goes straight to the pub of Mr. Ryan, a trusted revolutionary, to ask for a dozen men to help collect cast-up munitions from the beach at daybreak. Trouble is, Mr. Ryan is an informer on the payroll of the aristocratic British major who is fucking around with Ryan's daughter.
At daybreak the entire town of Kilgarry, priest included, turns up on the beach to help the gallant militants gather guns and dynamite. It is the very picture of a spontaneous uprising-capped, when O'Leary's truck sticks in the sand, by the masses putting their shoulder to the wheel and impelling the Leninist vanguard onward. One must, after all, come from the people as well as go to them. This vanguard, unluckily, makes it only as far as the top of the hill, where it is met by the major with a full complement of rifles and mortars.
Who spilled the beans? (Not that the film moves this quickly; first we see some extraordinary shenanigans in which the major shoots O'Leary and the townspeople nearly lynch the sensitive, suffering, shell-shocked major.) The town, in secret convention which we are mercifully spared, puts the finger on Rosy Ryan, whose every aspiration apes the upper classes, and who moreover has been sleeping with the enemy. So they go to her home, strip her naked, cut off her hair, and slash her face (though not permanently, since she is played by Robert Bolt's wife). The film's next-to-last sequence has Rosy, husband Mitchum, and priest walk down a deserted street to the hisses and jeers of the safely invisible inhabitants of Kilgarry. This is the deliberate climax to Lean's treatment of revolution and class war, and it is the same mawkish appeal for the liberation of the upper classes' sensibilities from common boors that motivates the most reactionary Romantic fiction.
It would be childish, though, to insist that Lean's purpose was to blow smokescreens into the eyes of the masses by misrepresenting revolution. Bolt and Lean wrote it that way because they see it that way. It does seem odd to let a film about a popular Irish revolution be made by two rich upper-class English show-business entrepreneurs. But as long as people like them are the ones making movies, it's their view of things that movies will reflect, to the almost complete exclusion of other consciousnesses and realities.
Besides, Bolt and Lean wrote Ryan's Daughter as they did because that's how to make it pay its way. If, in spite of its maladresse, Ryan's Daughter does make money, it will be because of its forebears in film and fiction. They taught its audience that the aristocratic sensibilities and wealthy surroundings which Ryan's Daughter's characters flaunt are the best things life has to offer. Here even something so apparently neutral as the film's spectacular cinematography shows its true reactionary colors.
The Incas, whose sudden appearance here may well amaze you, had a just punishment for the Spaniards who were torturing them to find where Inca gold was hidden. When they captured a Spaniard they melted gold and poured it down his throat. David Lean should, I think, be stuffed with the filthiest of dollar bills received at the box-offices of theatres running Ryan's Daughter. Until such a plan can be put into effect. I think all production and exhibition should be stopped. I honestly do. TV especially. Then in about ten years, or however long it takes for the American public to vomit up the last trace of the nonsensical sentimental myths Hollywood keeps pushing down its throat, Ryan's Daughter can reopen to audiences which will laugh it off the screen. Mass laughter is the only fit answer to such a retrograde monstrosity.
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