Tag Archives: Out of the Past

T.G.I.F. – Happy Birthday, Robert Mitchum

Boy, talk about a rebel.

Robert Mitchum just didn’t give a shit about authority or rules. Didn’t care that in Hollywood, people were supposed to act a certain way. Didn’t care that he might rub directors or producers the wrong way and it might impact his career. I doubt he even let the word career linger in his head. Basically, you go around once,  and baby, if you want to climb aboard the Good Ship Mitchum, things are gonna work out just fine.

Of course, by the time this reputation was clearly established, I was but a young film buff learning to appreciate the wonders of The Sundowners, Cape Fear, El Dorado and Story of G.I. Joe (amazingly, his only Academy Award nomination). It wasn’t until years later that I finally saw Out Of The Past, which is easily in the top five list of the greatest film noir ever made.

I was not a big Winds of War or War And Remembrance fan despite the accolades; I prefer Mitchum young and rebellious and demonic. But even in his seventies, his narration in Tombstone was outstanding (the last line is an absolute classic) and his small role in Robert DeNiro’s remake of Cape Fear put a big smile on my face. Pretty amazing that he lasted within a month of his 80th birthday after the life he had, but his majestic film performances are preserved forever in all their glory. As are those record albums and mug shots.

So as I celebrate Robert Mitchum’s birthday by having a cocktail, listening to a calypso song and just not giving a shit for a little while; here are Ten Memorable Mitchums for you to recall and/or discover…

(No slight to fellow birthday buddy Lucille Ball, a comedic legend and genius, but it’s all about Bob today. Maybe next year?)

01)  The Night of The Hunter. Oh. My. God. As (cough) preacher Harry Powell, with fingers tattooed L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E, Mitchum created one of the most frighteningly sinister characters in film history.

02)  River Of No Return. Mitchum in a western with Marilyn Monroe, a raging river and a real-life pot bust during filming. Not a classic, but a side of Mitchum not often seen.

03)  The List of Adrian Messenger. Okay, Mitchum only plays a small part in this movie, much like Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis . The stars are really George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas, but this who-done-it is really more of a who-is-it. Trust me – watch this film.

04)  Crossfire. Three Roberts – Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Robert Young – in a wartime thriller directed by Edward Dmytryk. Available in a film noir collection although technically not really in the genre.

05)  The Longest Day. Still one of the best WWII movies ever made, this film told the story of D-Day from the perspective of four different countries and featured forty-two Hollywood stars in the cast.

06)  The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Mitchum as a Boston small-timer with his back against the wall trying to survive between the Feds and the mob. Incredible cast (Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Alex Rocco) and finally out on DVD. A must-see movie.

07)  Thunder Road. Moonshine, hot rods and rum-running as Lucas Doolin. Mitchum wrote the script and even had a hit song with the title theme (take that, Bruce Springsteen!) as he played an Appalachian James Dean

08)  The Racket. Another film with Robert  Ryan (perhaps even more underrated than Mitchum these days) where Mitchum plays the righteous guy trying to stem the corruption of the mob.

09)  The Enemy Below. A taut duel between submarine commander Curd Jurgens and Mitchum’s destroyer. To say this is claustrophobic is an understatement, but the game of cat-and-mouse is spellbinding and tense, and the display of respect for one’s enemy was an unusual tone for a war film.

10)  Out Of The Past. An absolute stone-cold classic loaded with killer quotes. “Build my gallows high, baby”…”Baby, I don’t care”…”It was the bottom of the barrel, and I was scraping it“. And when the femme fatale says she doesn’t want to die, he replies “Neither do I, baby, but if I do I want to die last“.  Also featuring one of Kirk Douglas‘ best roles; loosely remade as Against All Odds in the 80s (a decent film,  but it pales in comparison to the original).

Robert Mitchum’s filmography at IMDB.

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I Know Noir, But What Am I?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

I was thinking about how it’s been a year since we lost Jules Dassin and Richard Widmark, both of whom lived into their nineties and died within a week of each other. Dassin, of course, was blacklisted in the famous McCarthy-influenced purge in Hollywood but moved to France and had a tremendous career. Widmark is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen, from his debut as psychotic killer Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death through a litany of westerns, war films and crime movies. In 1950, they collaborated on Night and The City, about a street hustler who tries to gain control of the wrestling racket in London, but of course is way over his head. It was a brilliant film, and like most noir features less-than-savory characters trying to make a move, and getting tantalizingly close before everything starts to fall apart. In a way, these are twisted morality plays, but I was first attracted to the genre because the stories seemed to be far more realistic than the typical Hollywood happy ending.

The noir era was before my time, but as an avid reader I devoured books by Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, and when lucky enough to catch them on pre-cable TV I would be mesmerized by Double Indemnity and D.O.A. and Out Of The Past. Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a masterpiece, and one of the first instances of retelling of the plot from each character’s perspective. Now, thanks to cable channels like TCM and AMC, many of these films found a whole new audience, and the advent of DVD made most available for fans like me. With few exceptions, these aren’t going to be at Blockbuster, but I’m thrilled to be able to buy and enjoy them in my own home. Recently both Fox and Warner Brothers issued film noir series, and apparently sales are good, because more surface every day. The Criterion Collection also releases many noir titles and they’re meticulous about print quality, bonus features and whatever extras (booklets, interviews, etc.) they can assemble to present as complete an experience as possible. Their releases can be a bit pricey, but you can find many of them at decent used rates, and better library systems will probably carry quite a few.

One of my favorites, and a steal even at the retail price, is The Killers, with both the 1946 film starring Burt Lancaster and the 1964 TV movie directed by Don Siegel and starring John Cassavetes and Lee Marvin, the latter having one of the greatest closing lines in movie history. Oh yeah, and there was this Ronald Reagan guy playing a bad man, which some Americans swear he did again years later in real life. And today – the event that led up to all those thoughts about noir and Widmark and Dassin – Criterion announced the April release of one of the best post-noir classics, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. I am geeked!

I could list dozens of great films and probably fill a book about my love of film noir…and perhaps I will someday. But I wanted to use today’s blog feature to pay tribute to some of my film heroes like Widmark, Mitchum, Marvin, Lancaster and Cassavetes, as well as directors like Dassin, Sam Fuller, Don Siegel and Jean-Pierre Melville. I am so thankful that they were inspired to create such wonderfully vivid stories that are as thrilling to watch today as they must have been at the time. So if you are one who can appreciate that a great film is a transcendent journey, I encourage you to make the time to immerse yourself on the dark side of the street.

A series of noir and neo-noir films are being featured by Criterion  right now.

FOX studios has a noir series.

Warner Brothers does too.

***

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