Sergeant Ryker (1968) Poster

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Overlooked
sba7117 August 2001
In this legal drama -- not unlike Anatomy of a Murder, A Few Good Men, and Compulsion -- ambiguity permeates the courtroom like humidity in August -- in Florida. Who's right? Who's wrong? No one can tell, yet decisions have to be made. Peppering the proceedings with plot twists and flashbacks that recall film noir and Sergio Leone, the story maintains a quick pace that overcomes its clearly low cost shooting budget. Lee Marvin burns brightest in the film's constellation of great character actors (like Peter Graves, Murray Hamilton, and Norman Fell), largely because of The Big Gray One's tendency to switch from calm menace to scary violence, on a dime. Jaded critics bang and hack at Sgt. Ryker, calling it trite and stale. The film doesn't warrant this sort of hostility. It is simple, direct, and powerful. Who cares if it isn't a re-invention of a very old sort of wheel?
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6/10
Did He Go Over To The Commies?
bkoganbing13 April 2007
After Lee Marvin won his Oscar for Cat Ballou and had great critical and popular success also with Ship of Fools and The Dirty Dozen, this former two part television episode from the Kraft Suspense Theater was edited together for release as a feature film. Sergeant Ryker casts Lee Marvin in the role of a soldier who was convicted of treason during the Korean War and sentenced to hang.

Sergeant Ryker could have been a whole lot better though. It has the look and feel of a made for television film, but more important than that, the editing probably left a lot out.

We come into the story with Bradford Dillman who has just successfully prosecuted Marvin now having doubts about what he did. The military more than most organizations does not like to admit mistakes and Dillman's doubts are raising all kinds of problems for him and for the United States Army.

Dillman has other problems as well, he's falling for Marvin's wife Vera Miles and she him. Still he persists in the quest and does get Marvin a new trial, courtesy of General Lloyd Nolan.

Marvin says he was given a confidential assignment to defect and gather intelligence. Problem is that the officer who allegedly gave him that assignment was killed and no record of it was found.

The trial takes an interesting turn and Dillman does a skillful job for his client. Yet the end of the movie will leave the viewer with a lot of unanswered questions.

Look also for good performances from Norman Fell as the sergeant who gives Dillman some key evidence, Murray Hamilton as Dillman's good drinking buddy and prosecutor Peter Graves.
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8/10
Gripping Coutroom Mystery
Chase_Witherspoon11 August 2006
Engaging, riveting tale of captured US army turncoat who has to prove his innocence to avoid the hangman. Paul Ryker dodges friendly fire in a seemingly doomed attempt to convince a military court that he was actually a US spy on a secret mission in Korea. In the vein of classic courtroom dramas, "Sergeant Ryker" is an extremely well crafted mystery, ably guided by an outstanding cast, director Kulik's constant momentum, and effective plot twists and turns.

This film was originally made as a television movie in 1964, and subsequently beefed up for this revision with the presence of many "name" actors, and some action sequences. Dillman, reprising his role, is spot-on as the doubting defence attorney, whose attentions sometimes stray to the personal plight of Ryker's supportive, yet somewhat distant wife, played with aplomb by Vera Miles. Rounding out the frontline is Peter Graves for the prosecution, and Norman Fell and Murray Hamilton in key supporting roles.

Marvin's interpretation of the Paul Ryker character is a balanced depiction of a simple but dedicated man whose normally laid back demeanour is challenged by the desperate circumstances in which he's placed. Marvin switches perfectly from resigned indifference, to impassioned denial of the charges, giving a convincing, often intense performance that is the highlight of this otherwise small-scale drama. It's this performance that should elevate the film to a platform where it occupies a place on the best-ever lists of courtroom dramas.

However, despite its apparent obscurity, "Sergeant Ryker" still remains a taut and compelling examination, like a book that you just can't put down. Highly recommended.
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9/10
" They believed I was a traitor and promoted me to Major "
thinker169113 October 2009
The Korean War has been dubbed Americas's forgotten war. So many unanswered questions were buried along with the 50 thousand men who died there. Occasionally, we are treated to a play or movie which deals with that far-off, ghostly frozen graveyard. Here is perhaps one of the finest. It's called " Sergeant Ryker. " The story is of an American soldier named Sgt. Paul Ryker (Lee Marvin) who is selected for a top secret mission by his commanding officer. His task is to defect to the North Koreans and offer his services against United Nations forces. So successful is his cover, he proves invaluable to the enemy and given the rank of Major. However, he is thereafter captured by the Americans, put on trial as a traitor and spy. Stating he was ordered to defect, he sadly learns his commanding officer has been killed and has no evidence or proof of his innocence. He is convicted and sentenced to hang. However, his conviction is doubted by Capt. Young (Bradford Dillman), his prosecutor. Convincing commanding Gen. Amos Baily, (Lloyd Nolan) of his doubts, he is granted a new trial and if found guilty will be executed. The courtroom drama is top notch as is the cast which includes Peter Graves, Murray Hamilton and Norman Fell as Sgt. Max Winkler. Korea was a far off place but the possibility of convicting a Communist and hanging him hit very close to home in the 1950's. Due to its superior script and powerful message, this drama has become a courtroom Classic. Excellent viewing and recommended to all. ****
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8/10
tense court-marshal drama
helpless_dancer25 September 1999
Sergeant Ryker is accused of being a traitor during the Korean War, a hanging offense. A long drawn out court-marshal ensues during which time the Sgt. must remain in a military jail. After much investigation the defense attorney attempts to exonerate the doomed non-com with an eleventh hour ploy. Very good picture.
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6/10
Using up the scraps
sharlyfarley12 August 2006
The release of "Seargant Ryker" on tape was beautifully timed to take advantage of Lee Marvin's 'discovery' after 25 years of character acting. There was a brief shining moment when he won an Oscar, top billing and much better parts. However, this movie is a cobbled-together version of a two-part television drama. This drama originally served as the pilot for the series "Court Martial" which predated "JAG" by a few years. (When 'Court Martial hit the air, it was moved to WWII England, as opposed to the Korean War locale of "Ryker.") A few combat sequences were tacked on to "Ryker" make it look like an action film, which it isn't. It's a talky courtroom drama - but some of the talk is first-rate, as is BradfordDillman's performance as the reluctant defender. He's the one that's on screen most of the time, holding the plot together with the strength of baling wire. Vera Miles was always a competent actress, but never a star; she exuded a likable prettiness. If I sound mild about Miles, it's because she never moved me much. Dillman, on the other hand, did - he labored under a terrible handicap in the movies:he couldn't hide the fact that he had been to school, knew which fork to use, and was obviously bright. He was a better-than-good actor (see the underrated "Circle of Deception") and is definitely worth watching here.
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7/10
A classic
ctomvelu12 April 2013
Superior courtroom drama set near the end of the Korean War. An Army sergeant named Ryker (Marvin) is sent by his commanding officer behind enemy lines, posing as a defector. The sergeant is eventually captured by Allied forces and jailed as a traitor. He is to be executed. His one possible alibi, that commanding officer, is now dead. A captain (Dillman) is convinced of Ryker's story, and convinces a general (Nolan) to let the Army retry Ryker, with the captain serving as his defense attorney. Great cast, including Peter Graves as a major itching to see Ryker hanged, and Murray Hamilton as a cynical officer who is convinced nothing can save Ryker. The courtroom scenes are suspenseful, and this two-part Kraft Suspense Theatre show was wisely turned into a theatrical release several years later.
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6/10
Digital Ambiguity
rmax30482317 June 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Whatever this movie's origins, it has Lee Marvin. What an actor. He brings something unexpected to every role, almost to every scene.

Here he is in a military prison in Korea. He's just been condemned to death as a traitor. His wife, Vera Miles, has flown six thousand miles to visit him in his cell. He loves her desperately. And how does he show it? He walks up to her, puts his nose against hers for a moment or two, and then quickly ENGULFS her in these long enwinding arms. A brief declaration of need, and he spins away from her abruptly and gets back to his case. The whole scene takes about one minute, and Marvin shows he can do a toe dance around anyone else in the film if the material allowed him to. In boot camp we were shown a training film illustrating the mechanics of courts martial. Lee Marvin, before he was famous, played a sailor who lies on the stand. He nailed the shifty tell perfectly.

Not that the other performers are slouchers. They're all seasoned professionals. Vera Miles is pretty and her questions carry an English inflection. The terminal contours drop instead of rising in pitch. I don't mean that to seem complicated. If you hear her ask a question you'll know what I'm getting at. She's very appealing. Peter Graves is tall and sonorous. Murray Hamilton is always a treat, even when he's shallow and leering, as he is here. He's given one of the better lines, roughly: "Imagine how Don Quixote would have felt if the windmills tilted back." Much of the movie depends on Bradford Dillman who gives the role everything he has, but he doesn't bring much to the party. I don't know why. His lines here sound as if they're being recited in an acting class, but he was chillingly good as the homosexual child murderer in "Compulsion". The dependable and always likable Lloyd Nolan is the commanding general.

Despite the difference in their ages, both Nolan and Dillman were born in San Francisco, attended prep schools, and went to exclusive universities -- Stanford and Yale respectively. (I wonder if they ever discussed the city; might they both have had dinner at Jack's Restaurant, as Sam Spade did?) Dillman and Marvin were both in the Marine Corps; Dillman narrowly missed the Korean war and Marvin had part of his buttocks shot off in the Pacific. I wish someone would stop me from carrying on with these irrelevancies.

The script, lamentably, doesn't match the cast. It's hurried and confused. Fifteen minutes into the movie and Marvin is given an angry speech about (somehow) being set up by a dead officer or something. It's reaches the audience as gibberish because there has been no forewarning. We don't know what he's talking about. A guess is that the editing is so screwed up because this was cobbled together from a two-part TV movie. What's left certainly looks like a TV movie. There are few sets, the lighting is flat, and the dialog could have come from "The Twilight Zone" or "Combat" or "Gunsmoke." The musical score also smacks of TV.

Buzz Kulik is an efficient and uninspired director. He was my director on the art house classic, "Too Young the Hero." Despite his inadequacies I managed to give a compelling performance as a drunken hobo, the result of long practice. In this film he allows or encourages almost everyone to overact. "How DARE you bring your ASSUMPTIONS into my COURTROOM!" Something like that.

The plot is full of holes, some no doubt due to clumsy editing, but the fact is that the climax lacks logic. Dillman exposes a security leak that has nothing to do with the case against Marvin -- and it gets Marvin off. Problems should always be solved for the rest of us as easily as they are for Lee Marvin in this turbid drama.
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