Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Mother Nature triumphs over "Ryan's Daughter"

Cleveland Press March 19, 1971

Director David Lean makes big movies out of big stories -- "Doctor Zhivago," "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai." He also makes big movies out of small stories -"Ryan's Daughter."

"Ryan's Daughter" is a rather fragile romantic tale scripted by Robert Bolt who also did the screenplays for "Zhivago" and "Lawrence" as well as writing "A Man For All Seasons."

Lean gives it the epic treatment however and the picture bears his trademarks- a film that is almost purely visual, scenes of great beauty and the use of nature to underline his story as well as provide a feast for the eyes.

What he did with sand in "Lawrence" and snow in "Zhivago" he does with the ocean in "Ryan's Daughter."

VIRTUES THESE may be, but they do not prevent his tiny story from being weighted down with more than it can carry: "Ryan's Daughter" is a movie that is always pretty, often engrossing but at other moments extraordinarily ridiculous.

One thing about Lean's less-than-lean treatment -- it smacks less of padding than it does of leisurely development. Living in another time he would have been a 19th Century novelist rather than a maker of films.

The movie is set in World War I in the tiny Irish village of Kirrary, a one-street community on the rugged western coast.

ROSY RYAN (Sarah Miles) is the daughter of the pub keeper (Leo McKern). She is a young romantic, taking long walks on the beach and thinking that she is in love with the older, widowed school teacher (Robert Mitchum).

She's in love with the idea of being in love and after virtually throwing herself at the teacher they marry in spite of his warnings that she should look elsewhere for a husband.

The marriage leaves her physically unfulfilled and she tells the village priest (Trevor Howard) that "I don't even know what more there is."

"Don't nurse your wishes," he warns her, "or you might get what you wish for."

THEN ENTERS the man of her dreams-the young, handsome, wounded British major (Christopher Jones) sent to command the hated troops billeted outside the village.

Before you know it they're bedding down in the woods and while Rosy is now physically fulfilled she is in a domestic, social and moral mess.

Lean and Bolt fit this plot into the bigger revolutionary background and the climax comes with the villagers' attempt to retrieve guns from a German shipwreck in the midst of a wild and violent storm.

THE MOVIE RESTS pretty much on the talented Miss Miles who does everything possible with the headstrong Rosy. Robert Mitchum, cast against type as the quiet teacher, offers one of his better performances.

Trevor Howard is grand as the gritty priest. John Mills is all but lost in the getup of the village idiot who not only is retarded but physically grotesque.

Christopher Jones cannot act, and Bolt and Lean seem to have recognized that fact in handling him. He has few lines of dialog and the camera acts for him, shooting up for a low angle to make him imposing, dwelling and circling him to make him brooding.

NATURE IS THE REAL star of the picture-scudding clouds against a darkening sky, sun glinting on the water, waves crashing. The violent storm is one of the most exciting bits ever put on film.

Lean tends to strain at some of the other effects. The first appearance of Jones is over-done. The villagers marching to the beach to help the rebels is something out of grand opera. Use of the village idiot as a catalyst is heavy handed.

"Ryan's Daughter" is a super-romantic movie that may well find a market in an audience longing for romance. In that respect its length may turn into a virtue. Finding sentiment in short supply elsewhere you can fairly wallow in it here.