Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Homicidal Handyman

The other night I joined approximately 25 other classic film buffs in the auditorium of a local library to see Beware, My Lovely, a rather obscure 1952 thriller starring Robert Ryan as a deranged handyman who has killed one employer and now terrorizes another, played by Ida Lupino.

The movie probably played better when it opened at New York’s Palace Theater on September 12, 1952 where, according to Bosley Crowther’s review in The New York Times, it shared the bill with “eight acts of vaudeville.” There was some potential for vaudeville in the audience due to the presence of several teenagers who shifted uncomfortably in their seats before the movie started (10 minutes late since the movie was introduced by an old woman who provided more biographical information about Robert Ryan than I needed), but they seemed to relax once the lights went down.

Ryan was the whole show. With those narrow eyes, he always looks like he’s just taken a bite from a foul-tasting fruit. He was a perfect villain, a role he mastered throughout his film career. Even when he played good guys, he was usually the wrong kind of good guy. In the late 1960s, he was in both The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch, but since he wasn’t a part of either the dozen or the bunch, what did that make him? He was the authority figure – by-the-rules Colonel Breed in the former and a bounty hunter on the trail of the outlaws in Sam Peckinpah’s acclaimed western – but it was the age of the anti-hero, making Ryan the bad guy by default.

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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