Friday, September 13, 2019

Chart Song Cinema: Ryan's Daughter (1970)

Robert Mitchum's facial expression on the movie poster, a bit more puzzlement than dismay, sums up the critical reaction to Ryan's Daughter and probably those of most viewers. The otherwise celebrated British director David Lean asked for over three hours of audiences' time to tell this generally unhappy tale set in a nationalist village on the Irish coast circa 1917, where idle, slow-evolving citizens dwell. More spirited than any of them is a publican's daughter named Rosy (Sarah Miles), who marries the low-key teacher, a widower who is oddly cast but played admirably by Mitchum.

Rosy's bubbling youth finds more age-appropriate physical release in a shell-shocked British soldier played by Christopher Jones (Wild in the Streets), who is an eerie, android-like character that makes maybe twenty short utterances. Word about the affair gets out, local outrage simmers, and when an effort by the villagers to aid a band of Irish gunrunners goes awry, Rosy becomes their scapegoat and they mob her, shaving her head and tearing off her clothes. After this, Mitchum nonetheless finds it in his heart to forgive his humiliated wife. His goodness serves, ostensibly, as the film's moral center. Or maybe it's the common-sense humanity of Father Collins (Trevor Howard), or the impressionable classroom children, or the ever-beautiful Irish landscape.

Much legendry exists about Jones's unpleasant experiences shooting this film (getting drugged by Lean and Miles; a resulting auto accident; impatience and friction with Lean; having his voice dubbed; and grieving over news of Sharon Tate's murder) which prompted him to quit show business entirely. Director Lean almost did too, waiting fourteen more years before directing another feature film (A Passage to India in 1984).

Among the themes locating Ryan's Daughter at the turn of the decade were political complexity and frustration, sexual liberation and frustration, andperhaps a bit more below the surfacethe innocence of children and their subjection to the dramas of adults. The classroom scenes with Mitchum and his pupils are few, but they linger because they lift your spirits, however moderately, the way few other scenes in the production do. They also give insight into the character of Rosy, who had fallen for Mitchum's character as one of his former students.

The music in Ryan's Daughter is what makes me, especially, pull Mitchum's poster face. David Lean had apparently requested that composer Maurice Jarre, who'd also done the scores for Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965), bring forth no overtly Irish musical signifiers. (Was this an effort to distance the project emotionally from the real-life tensions simmering in Northern Ireland at the time?) The theme Jarre delivered, then, feels like continental schlager, in the vein of "Mack the Knife" or "Those Were the Days," lending a musical incongruence that discourages any melancholic sympathy.

A 1971 album by the Mike Curb Congregation called Burning Bridges and Other Great Motion Picture Themes included two selections from Ryan's Daughter with a fresh set of lyrics written by Curb and Mack David. The film's main title appeared as "It Was a Good Time (Rosy's Theme)" along with "Where Was I When the Parade Went By? (The Major)." The former played well as a new popular vocal standard. Although Eydie Gorme, a Billboard chart regular since 1953, had the only Billboard charting version (Easy Listening #23 in 1971), Liza Minnelli gave it prominent airtime in her 1972 TV special Liza with a Z. 

"It Was a Good Time (Rosy's Theme)" (1970) - Eydie Gormé

Written by Maurice Jarre (music), Mike Curb (lyrics), and Mack David (lyrics) * Produced by Don Costa * LP: It Was a Good Time * 45: "It Was a Good Time (Rosy's Theme)" / "Rosy's Theme" (Don Costa) * Label: MGM * Charts: Billboard Easy Listening (#23)

"It Was a Good Time" made an easy argument for its suitability in any cabaret with its Italian musica leggera vibe and can-can cadence. (The seagulls and tide during the intro are the only elements acknowledging Ryan's Daughter's Irish coastal setting.) Gormé stayed in the spirit for her follow-up single, a non-charting version of Danyel Gerard's popular schlager singalong "Butterfly." The 45 flipside for "It Was a Good Time" contained a rare, vinyl-only instrumental version, titled "Rosy's Theme" and credited to producer Don Costa.

Gormé would reprise the song in a different version with her husband Steve Lawrence for their World of Steve and Eydie album in 1972. Here they would sing songwriter Hubert Ithier's French lyrics as "Rose D'Irlande" before singing it through as "It Was a Good Time" in English.

"It Was a Good Time (Rosy's Theme)"

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