A Movie A Day: Quint on BARRY LYNDON (1975) Gentlemen, cock your pistols. One… two… three…
Published at: Aug. 11, 2008, 11:31 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow Ryan O’Neal over from ‘80s gay buddy cop comedy PARTNERS to today’s Stanley Kubrick film, 1975’s BARRY LYNDON.
This is why I love the A Movie A Day column. Those two films are connected. A Stanley Kubrick film and an “aren’t homosexuals cah-ray-zee?” comedy that feature the same lead. And when you watch two very different movies back to back you pick up on other similarities as well, other threads that thematically or visually tie the two radically different films together.
Here we have our hero, Redmond Barry, steal the horse and identity of a higher ranking British officer while he is frolicking with his gay lover in a river. Bam! Ryan O’Neal and gay people. Two connections right there!
Like I mentioned in a previous AMAD, this is the only Kubrick film I had not seen and I’m a little on the sad side that there is nothing else of the great master to watch for the first time. I remember vividly seeing A CLOCKWORK ORANGE for the first time, rented on video as a teenager. I didn’t get why I loved it, but I was enraptured. I can’t recall my first impressions of either THE SHINING or FULL METAL JACKET, but I did go see EYES WIDE SHUT at the first showing opening day.
I’m a Kubrick fan and now there’s a shaky satisfaction, a real sense of closure with the man and his work. I guess I expected to feel fulfilled after finishing his last movie, but I feel a little empty.
That’s not a knock on the flick. BARRY LYNDON was every bit as beautiful and engrossing as it was promised to be. It’s a little on the long side, I will admit. I felt the length of the film, but never lost interest in the characters or story.
I’m tempted to say that Ryan O’Neal is a bad actor, but the more I see of his work the more I think he’s a good actor with a very, very short range. I dig his work in LOVE STORY, but he seems to have two or three expressions that he just changes out as the scene calls for.
But in watching Kubrick’s epic tale unfold, I noticed that while O’Neal doesn’t give a better performance than he usually does per se the role really challenges him to give a deeper performance in the range he’s comfortable in.
O’Neal plays Redmon Barry, an Irish lad who gets into a duel in the first reel over the love and affection of his cousin (!) who seems a slutty type. When he wins the duel he is forced to run to avoid murder charges.
And so begins our 3 hour plus journey with O’Neal as he joins up with two different armies and sleeps with many women.
Kubrick relishes in interesting or entertaining secondary characters and there are a lot on display here, my favorite being Patrick Magee as The Chevalier, a gambler who takes Barry under his wing about an hour and some change into the movie.
The Chevalier is a cheat and a swindler, but with a heart of gold as they say. He just kind of disappears after the intermission, unfortunately, but he gets Barry to the point of him taking a new bride, the Lady Lyndon (Maris Berenson).
O’Neal had, up to this point, played the character amicably. He’s a nice guy that you root for, but once he gets his rich bride he turns into a true cock-ass. Seriously. I thought at this point I was going to fall out of interest in the movie. If they’re going to turn the lead into a wife-abusing dickhead for the final hour and a half, then what am I going to connect with as a viewer?
That’s not to say that it’s impossible to watch despicable characters in movies. I love anti-heroes and I love villains, but I still need something to emotionally invest in, especially in a period film like this.
Thankfully he’s only an asshole long enough to see what that’s doing to his family and catch himself… but not in enough time to win over Lady Lyndon’s boy and Barry’s stepson, Lord Bullingdon.
When we first meet this child of maybe 12 years old, he’s played by Dominic Savage (we later see the grown up version) who kind of blew my mind a little bit. One of the first things I did when I finished the movie was look him up on IMDB and found that he didn’t really act much, but is now a writer/director.
Savage was great in this movie, avoiding the child-actor curse of being either too cute or scarily adult. Bullingdon distrusts this man married to his mother only a year after his natural father took a dirt nap. At first the child’s suspicions are justified as Barry openly fucks around on his mother, gambles away some of her fortune and treats her like crap.
But when Barry changes his ways, has another son and tries to win the affection of young Bullingdon the kid doesn’t have any of it and becomes the instigator of Barry’s quick downward spiral to pain and misery.
John Alcott won many awards and accolades for his cinematography work here and he deserves it. The DVD I had, from the first Kubrick box set, isn’t up to par and I’m a little upset that this film didn’t make the jump over to high-def like all the other titles from the box set (minus DR. STRANGELOVE, which also didn’t get a high-def printing for some reason). The candlelit imagery is iconic and gives the film a rich visual identity, but I’d like to point out Alcott’s work in the final duel scene, set in a dirty and abandoned old church.
There’s a blue hue to this scene and a palpable tension as Kubrick slowly sets up the rules of the duel and the suspense of just how far the two men dueling for their lives are willing to go. Wonderful work here.
Also keep a look-out for the shriveling face nazi from RAIDERS (Wolf Kahler) as a Prince who gets into a fencing match with Barry and keep an ear out for the wonderful narration by Michael Hordern, who played the Alchemist Melius in THE PIED PIPER, a few AMAD columns ago. We’ll be seeing a lot of Hordern as this column continues, actually.
Final thoughts: I wouldn’t call this the most entertaining Kubrick film or my favorite, but it is nonetheless a masterpiece of mood, scale and character work. Alcott’s photography is classic and cries out for a high-def disc, the leads are all immensely watchable and Kubrick’s use of classical music is once again used to great effect.