Ralph Richardson, film actor

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JackFavell
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Ralph Richardson, film actor

Post by JackFavell »

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When considering the "big three" British stage actors - Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson - I have always found Ralph Richardson to be the most interesting on screen. Perhaps because he tended toward character roles anyway, I think he had arguably the most successful career in movies. Maybe it was that he was not competing with anyone - he tends to get quieter, subtler in his big moments. He turns inward, whereas Olivier seems to be trying to command the screen as he did the stage, and Gielgud gets sentimental and choky (don't get me wrong, I like sentimental and choky).

Some of my favorite performances by Richardson, and ones that show his range are:

The Fallen Idol

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You can literally see Richardson's heart sink into his boots in this film, as he watches himself become the main suspect in his shrewish wife's murder. He cannot explain his secretive actions without incriminating the woman he loves, nor can he explain how his wife died, because he doesn't know. This is my favorite of his films and my favorite of his performances. It is, I think, his only romantic lead, and he actually is quite romantic, which is a great surprise. There is a weakness in his character that is strangely winsome. He and Michele Morgan are extremely well matched in this film, and their situation is heartbreaking. Richardson is so innocent, so understated, that the smallest flicker across his face can speak volumes. The camera eye picks up every detail of his nervousness, just as the policemen sent to investigate seem to. Every move he makes registers "GUILTY". It doesn't hurt that this film is directed by Carol Reed, another of my favorites. The actor/director combination is perfect, with Reed making us see Richardson through the eyes of a worshipful, lonely little boy. No wonder we love the quiet, gentle hearted "Baines" so much.

The Heiress

WOW. I think the only thing I can say is that he plays a man so in love with his dead wife that looking at his own unaccomplished daughter makes him ill. I watched this one the other night, with the intent to discover what really made Richardson's performance so brilliant, and I still haven't any answers. I simply don't know what his mechanics are - how he got to this performance. I do know that his scenes with Monty are wonderful and awful at the same time - his genuine pleasure at catching out Clift as a bounder is kind of horrible. He is brutal and ruthless, and so very smart. Clift doesn't even know he has been checkmated. You want to look away, but you can't.

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His little remarks and double entendres go over everyone's head but ours....we know exactly what Richardson is thinking when he says to Catherine, "I shall be as fair and honest with him as he is with you." He is so tight in himself, and yet, it is a sad, sad performance. One could almost feel sorry for Dr. Sloper, but he wouldn't allow it, and neither does Richardson. He never slides into mawkishness, trying to make us like his character. This is why he continued to play these types for the rest of his life, specializing in characters like Judge Brack in Hedda Gabler and Dr. Rank in A Doll's House. He was so very good at them.

Anna Karenina

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I am amazed that he played in The Fallen Idol, The Heiress, and Anna Karenina, all within a year and a half. Though his role as Dr. Sloper and his role as Karenin are close, they are certainly not the same character. Anna's husband has no humor, and he IS hurt, no matter what we think of him. The two men are alike in thinking more of their standing than of their family's happiness. I think Karenin is a bit more sympathetic.

Four Feathers

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This is the first film where Richardson caught my eye. I realized while watching the film for the first time, that Richardson was unafraid, creative. He had no fear of the offbeat. This helped him enormously in his screen career.

The scene in the desert encampment when he realizes that he has gone blind is very powerful. His actions as commander to save his men while never letting them know he is blind never fail to move me. I really believe Richardson's blindness - his stumblings are almost comical (in the same way that Brando can be comical at the most serious of moments), and those actions ring true because of it. He makes you feel terrible for this man, who is going through hell, looks such a fool bumping into things, but he thinks only of his men and how he will get them out of danger. He is the epitome of the stiff upper lip British soldier, and you want him to make it, against all odds.

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The Citadel

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Richardson is just what's needed in this ultra serious movie. He plays Robert Donat's slightly batty but politically savvy friend, and he lends excitement to the proceedings, especially in the bomb sequence. This is Richardson at his most charming, oddball best, comedically. His humor and relaxed sarcasm are like a shot in the arm.... Oooh. Sorry.

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There are many films of his that I haven't seen. I saw an intense scene from Long Day's Journey into Night, but haven't seen the whole film. There are also a lot of films that I have seen, but don't remember, mostly later in his career. I think maybe it's time to revisit him, and maybe time to find some of his television performances, like Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, 1969.

I like him immensely for his ability to bring humor into his performances. I like his oddness. He can be extremely silly. I also like his openness about acting in films:
"I've never been one of those stage chaps who scoff at films. I think they're a marvelous medium, and are to the stage what engravings are to paintings."


and
"Acting on the screen is like acting under a microscope. The slightest movement becomes a gesture and therefore the discipline has to be very severe."
I would like to know if he was certifiably mad or not, as Gielgud once said of him. I adore reading stories of him.... that he was once pulled out of a gutter in Oxford Street and when the policeman asked what he was doing he said he was walking his pet mouse. I must admit, I love his almost magical Puckishness in real life. If there were such a thing as time travel, the first thing I would do would be to go back to see Ralph Richardson as Falstaff. Or maybe just help him walk his pet mouse. :D
stuart.uk
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

Post by stuart.uk »

Jack

IMO Richardson is the best film actor of the 3. Gielgud made a remarkable series of films in the 80s The Elephant Man, Arthur [email protected], Charriots of Fire and Ghandi, but he was getting on by then.

Patrick Mcnee has said that he based The Avengers John Steed on a gentleman spy role Richardson played in Q Planes, a film which also starred Olivier as the hero, but I felt as in The Divorce Of Lady X with Merle Oberne Ralph outacted the man regarded as the greatest stage actor of the 20th Century.

Even as a young man Ralph did some great movies like The Four Feathers, South Riding, Q Planes and The Divorce Of Lady X. I'd also recomend one of his lesser films, the outstanding propaganda war movie The silver Fleet.

Later on he did The Wrong Box, Dr.Z, The Battle Of Britain and was terrific as Tarzan's grandfather Lord Greystoke in Greystoke, the one Tarzan film that appears loyal to the original story
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JackFavell
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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Thanks for the information, Stuart! Q Planes is very intriguing - I found some stills from it and it looks really interesting. I will add the other lesser known films to my list and start looking for them.


I've seen The Divorce of Lady X and Greystoke, but it was such a long time ago, I would like to check them out again.

Here is a link to Four Feathers if anyone is interested.
[youtube][/youtube]
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charliechaplinfan
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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You've made me realise how many of his films I haven't seen. The two I have seen are Anna Karenina and The Heiress and I agree, he's outstanding in both, as Karenin he does get sympathy, especially when Vronsky is so pallid, as he is in this version.

The pleasure in watching The Heiress with three outstanding actors cast against one another. Richardson was old school, Clift a method actor, their moments on screen are amongst the best in the film.

From what I've seen it would be difficult to judge who is the best British Screen actor of that time from Larry Olivier, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud. Gielgud leaves me cold and always has done. I've seen more of Larry's work, he's more dashing and I want to see more of ralph's work. My nomination for best British film actor of that time would go to Alec Guinness, John Mills or James Mason but that's another thread. I'll take a keen interest in this one :wink:
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JackFavell
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

Post by JackFavell »

Stuart -

I forgot to say in my last post that I LOVE John Steed and that is what makes Q Planes even more intriguing to me than when I saw those stills. Thanks for telling me this!

CCFan -

You are right, the clash between Richardson's old school and Monty's Method makes The Heiress very exciting - I did notice an extra spice to their scenes together this last time through. Not that Olivia de Havilland and Miriam Hopkins are slouches - by NO means. But i do get the feeling that Richardson and Clift are playing off each other a bit more, competing, but in a workmanlike way. They take time to gauge each other, sizing each other up, waiting for the unexpected reaction to propel them further into the scene. The characters seize on the weakness in the other, and play it for all it's worth, and I think Clift and Richardson liked the volleying. They are both exciting oddballs, you never know what either will do. They seem to enjoy throwing themselves into it, and the one-upsmanship of the actors certainly works for the movie. It kind of makes you realize how superfluous and unneeded Catherine really is... it's not about her at all, just about the two men. I sense a respect between the two actors, but maybe I am reading that into their scenes together.

I have to admit that my favorite British actor of that time is Alec Guinness, who never acts at all, he just is. I do see a direct comparison though between Guinness and Richardson, they have something in common, but I am at a loss to describe it. A way of barely thinking at the camera? I just can't describe it.
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charliechaplinfan
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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Ralph Richardson was a well known scene stealer, here a bit of trivia off the imdb

Olivia de Havilland wisely chose William Wyler as her director, considering that such a meticulous director would be able to coax a strong performance from her. As it turned out, Wyler became a staunch supporter of his leading actress, particularly in regard to the sneering attitude that Montgomery Clift displayed toward her (he didn't value her talents as an actress) and Ralph Richardson taking every opportunity to steal scenes from under her nose with his improvisations.

I think the performances of the two men are the most intense in the film, they were both wary of one another but like most professionals they must have respected each other. Richardson had played the role in London with Peggy Ashcroft whereas Basil Rathbone played on Broadway with Wendy Hillier. The original plan was to have the film made with Olivia, Basil And Errol Flynn. I'm glad they chose Ralph Richardson and Montgomery Clift.

Laurence Olivier felt intense rivalry with Ralph Richardson and wasn't a happy bunny when Richardson got knighted at the same time as himself. I don't know if the rivalry flowed both ways.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin
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JackFavell
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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Ah, that's all very interesting! Thank you for the insights....

You know, I love Olivia de Havilland, and I think she is GREAT in this movie, and lots of others. But the only three things I have read about her backstage are all negative. I surely do hope that she was not like that all the time - always feeling slighted, which I can understand, or competitive to a fault. Though I am sure Richardson was no picnic to work with if you were always trying to wrest a scene from him. :D But I am glad that they picked Richardson and Clift - somehow the friction of the cast seems to work for the movie rather than against it.
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charliechaplinfan
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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Yes it does, I imagine the had very little in common away from the cameras. I haven't read very much about Olivia de Havilland, I like her as an actress.

Ralph Richardson played Alexander in Dr Zhivago, it's years since I watched it and probably will watch it again soon, as soon as I get to that part in Lean's book. It's very detailed so hopefully I'll pick up some information about Richardson.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

Post by stuart.uk »

Q Planes is on you tube. Here's part 1

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JackFavell
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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Oooh, I can't wait to hear about Richardson from the perspective of the Lean book. Unfortunately, Dr. Zhivago is my least favorite Lean movie, and I really have a hard time getting through it. I know, I'm sorry! I know everyone loves it, but it doesn't grab me like the other films. I don't know why. I don't even remember Richardson's character.

Stuart- THANK YOU! I am dying to see Q Planes! Thank you thank you!
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charliechaplinfan
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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Your not alone with Dr Zhivago, it hits a wrong note with me too, it's a beautiful movie but it doesn't light up with me. I want to really get involved with the love story of Lara and Yuri but it just doesn't strike my heart cords. Omar Sharif is as different from Ali in Lawrence of Arabia as can be and Zhivago himself is noble and slightly uninspiring. All this will make another thread I'm sure. I have read a bit about Dr Zhivago this afternoon and I will revisit it hoping to pick up some of what Lean wanted to convey and no doubt start a thread on Lean.

Ralph Richardson plays Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin's) father and if I remember correctly, he's very good in it and much more sympathetic than Dr Soper or Karenin.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin
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JackFavell
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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Whew! I'm glad I am not the only one who cannot get through the movie!

I remember now, Richardson is very touching - they have to move away from the family home, is that right? Or am I thinking of the Cherry Orchard? He is moving and sympathetic, a weakish man, I seem to remember, not really ready for such a huge change. In fact, I think I liked him a lot, but I have to watch again, maybe it will grab me more this time.

I'm in the middle of Q Planes, and it's surprising to me - Richardson is so BIG in this film, he is funny, wry and quite energetic - and it's Laurence Olivier who is subdued! I definitely see what Patrick Macnee found so interesting about Richardson in the film.

I also watched Richardson's interview with Russell Harty - I couldn't help sneaking a peek at it. Ralph ran rings around the poor fellow. I know all sorts of things about Russell Harty now, but I still know nothing about Richardson! The only things I learned are: he did not have money when he was growing up, and he did not like his face. It was a great disappointment to him and he never watched his own films because he did not like to look at himself. Still, it's a lot of fun to watch him toy with Harty - he is not cruel at all, he is very nice to Harty, just determined to stay off of the subject of Ralph Richardson. I guess that says a lot about him in itself.
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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Jack

Here's part one of an interview with the late Russell Harty

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JackFavell
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

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Well, I finally got done with Q Planes. What a rip roaring good time! I really enjoyed the movie, Sir Ralph was very funny, hugely animated, but best in his quiet scenes when he had the turnip or carrot stuck on the tip of his cane. :D I think I will pass this film on to others....it was a lot of fun.
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charliechaplinfan
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Re: Ralph Richardson, film actor

Post by charliechaplinfan »

I rewatched Dr Zhivago the other night, it was a lot better this time around although I still think the romance is lacking something, a charming film though.

Ralph Richardson is very good in it, although I don't think he has very much to do as Tonya's father. It's a part in a prestige film which would get a lot of exposure and probably pay very well. As for exercising his acting chops, I think he's done better work.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin
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