A quintessential male … four examples II

I was in the process of writing about those who come as close as possible to the idea of a quintessential male, as is possible in this imperfect world of ours. The idea was borne out of a spitited difference of opinion with a colleague of mine as we were returning home one night….. you can find an account of this in the first post and I do not want to repeat it here.

It will suffice to say that since the disagreement centred around a certain character in a well-known film my colleague touted as a model, a most prepostorous and worthless choice, I chose to bring my examples from the same field – four actors ably qualified by their looks, their demeanour, the roles they did to serve as models of the quintessential male. It is indisputable that three of these four…or at a pinch, all of them were considered the archtype “tough guy” and accordingly cast, but then that is the point… These men practicised what they portrayed, and three of them saw combat in the Sector World War, which may account for the realism they displayed when doing war films… and the fourth also played his part in the war, though more indirectly but no less significantly. There is a small twist here, but that will be dealt in its proper place.

I have already acqauinted you with Yul Brynner and Lee Marvin. Funnily, the next two both happen to be Scorpios which proves something though I am not sure what. The third is…

Appearing with Marvin in The Dirty Dozen and with Brynner in The Magnificent Seven, was another actor best known for his “tough guy” image. Also starring in such classic films as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Great Escape, Mr. Majestyk, The Mechanic, and the popular Death Wish series, Charles Bronson with his rugged features was often cast in the role of a police officer or gunfighter, often in revenge-oriented plot lines.

But it was his role as Mexican-Irish gunman Bernardo O’Reilly in The Magnificent Seven that is memorable. Down and out on his luck, when recruited for the mission, O’Reilly has the best dialogues (I haven’t included them here but I assure you I will feature them soon), creates a special bonding with the children of the village (but admonishes them when they show disrespect to their parentsand in the process,  teaches them a few truths too) and in the end, loses his life while trying to save them.

His role as Joseph Wladislaw in The Dirty Dozen is understated but leaves a big impact and he happens to be the only of the dozen to survive…..  

Finally, I come to Robert Ryan, again known for often playing hardened cops, ruthless villains or the senior, stern soldier…. the role I have seen him most in. But there is a twist in the tail…. (which I know I am saying for the third time but it will be finally revealed here).

Making a breakthrough in his role as an anti-Semitic killer in Crossfire, Ryan’s specialty was tough/tender roles. In On Dangerous Ground, he portrayed a burnt-out city cop finding redemption while solving a rural murder, while in The Set-Up, he played an over-the-hill boxer who is brutally punished for refusing to throw a match.

He also appeared in several all-star epic war films, including The Longest Day The Dirty Dozen and especially, Battle of the Bulge, which I will return to soon.

And now the twist I was talking about…..

Ryan’s film work often ran counter to the political causes he embraced. He was a pacifist who starred in war movies, westerns, and violent thrillers, and in films which ultimately promoted racial tolerance, he played bigoted bad guys, while in real life, he was at the forefront of efforts to  fight racial discrimination.

Ryan was often vocal about this dichotomy. At a screening of Odds Against Tomorrow, he appeared before black and foreign press representatives to discuss “the problems of an actor like me playing the kind of character that in real life he finds totally despicable.”

And now back to the war films of Ryan.. 

In The Longest Day, Ryan is cast as (then) Maj. Gen. James ‘Jumping Jim’ Gavin and does full justice to his role. In The Dirty Dozen, he plays Col. Everett Dasher Breed – a highly suggestive name, an opionated, by the book officer, to serve as foil to the maverick figure portrayed by Marvin. But it is the Battle of the Bulge, an otherwise forgettable movie and also full of errors that Ryan shines. He is cast as the fictitious Gen. Grey.

I just recall a small scene, when the Gen and his staff are evacuating HQ after a sudden German breakthrough and he happens to stop a panic-stricken fleeing GI. As he listens to his terror-filled ramblings, we can see Grey’s jaw tighten and a look of fierce resolve come up as he announces they will not go anywhere but stay and fight there itself. That is a depiction oi a male that should be standard and one to emulate…. not those I have been told about.


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