Ryan O’Neal, A Crime Retrospective: Fighting The Law And Cancer

Ryan O’Neal is back in the headlines. He’s kicking cancer in its face. Again. O’Neal was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer yesterday. It took the man less than 24 hours to beat that shit down to a “stage 2″ with a “sunny” prognosis.

We shall see. Ryan O’Neal is, despite his boyish Irish looks, a bit of a bad ass. After all, he had the stones to taunt Mr. Toole in Barry Lyndon, something 7 out of 10 sane men would not do. That’s a scientific fact right there.

He’s also got a pretty solid rap sheet when it comes to beating the law, too. In honor of O’Neal winning over prostate cancer, here’s a retrospective on his short but outstanding career in crime film.

First came The Thief Who Came To Dinner. 1973 was to Ryan O’Neal what ’99 was for Jude Law: His acting career engaged the afterburners and soon, you couldn’t look up without seeing his name in lights. In this comedy-crime romp, O’Neal is Webster McGee, a computer hacker turned blackmailer turned jewel thief. Cramming three crime careers into one film, O’Neal didn’t play at breaking the law for another five years.

Then, in 1978, The Driver rolls onto the scene. O’Neal gets behind the wheel as a professional driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. He’s known only as the Driver. As for the plot, The Driver is “notable for its impressive car chases, its no-frills style of filmmaking, and its rarely speaking, unnamed titular character.”

Okay, so, apparently Ryan O’Neal was Ryan Gosling, only 24 years earlier. How many clones of Drive are out there?

A pattern develops: Ryan O’Neal is always down by law. He never plays the cop, only the scumbag or the falsely accused.

That trend really kicks in with Tough Guys Don’t Dance. Robert Towne, Chinatown writer, worked on that one. It shows. Not just because the title is so very true – I know, because I can’t dance a lick – but because of this plot: “Tim Madden, who is prone to blackouts, awakens from a two-week bender to discover a pool of blood in his car, a blond woman’s severed head in his marijuana stash, and the new¬†police chief, Captain Luther Regency, shacked up with his former girlfriend Madeleine.”

Cheery little number, isn’t it? Has Towne all over it. It also has a rep as a box office flop, an artistic disaster and a putrid rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fever Pitch, Ryan O’Neal’s foray into Los Angeles noir, fared little better. This 1985 flick about a sports writer who – yep, you guessed it – gets in over his head in criminal dealings withers in the shadow of a Drew Barrymore romantic comedy about baseball.

But Ryan O’Neal’s final contribution to crime cinema shines. He waited another dozen years before hitting the screen with the sleeper smash, Zero Effect. Bill Pullman plays a deranged detective employed by O’Neal, a wealthy magnate. Don’t be fooled, O’Neal is never the good guy. He is, however, a solid villain, though Pullman truly steals the show.

Here’s hoping O’Neal keeps knocking cancer back into submission so that he can continue to slime up the screen in the years to come.

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