Some of Mitchum's best performances are in uniform: the gruff but gallant Marine of Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, his knowing, cagey sergeant of Crossfire, and of course, his Oscar-nominated role as the weary Captain Bill Walker in The Story of G.I. Joe. I, myself, was introduced to him via The Winds of War miniseries in 1985, and the public at large might know him best from his role as the beach-storming general in the epic ensemble war film, The Longest Day.
Mitchum in The Longest Day
Even in films that aren't about the war itself, his characters often have a military background, reflecting the 1940s and 1950s reality of World War II and Korean War vets. In Till the End of Time -- out at the same time as The Best Years of Our Lives -- he's one of three GIs adjusting to civilian life after World War II. The Big Steal is only nominally a "military" movie: Mitchum's character is an Army officer chasing through Mexico after stolen government money. And in The Yakuza, Mitchum's an ex-GI on a mission to rescue the daughter of an old army buddy.
As for Mitchum himself, he claimed he tried to run away to sea at 14, but was kicked off the ship when they discovered his true age. Later, he was drafted into the Army, but hated it. He refused to be promoted, and left the Army a mere Private, First Class. (Much like the Burt Lancaster military-man in From Here to Eternity, a role Mitchum didn't get). He was released in 1945 on a family-hardship claim after eight month's service.
Mitchum petitioned for the role of Colonel Hess, a hero of the Korean War, but was rejected by the real Hess. Mitchum did the rejecting for Patton, a move he might have regretted when George C. Scott walked off with the role and the Oscar.
In 1965, Mitchum visited Vietnam as an official observer of the war, downing as many as 14-15 beers in the name of camaraderie as he visited soldiers. Then he headed for a phone and called several of the soldiers' parents to let them know their sons were okay, a move which surely didn't hurt his fan base.
Mitchum was the best thing in both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance miniseries. Many critics noted that Mitchum looked a bit on in years, but that Mitchum as Pug Henry certainly had the right note of authority. The Winds of War surpassed Roots by 5 million viewers. (Roots had previously held the most-watched TV event record at 135 million viewers.) Later, War and Remembrance won a best miniseries emmy, beating out Lonesome Dove.
- We've Never Been Licked (1943)
- Corvette K-225 (1943)
- Aerial Gunner (1943)
- Doughboys in Ireland (1943)
- Minesweeper (1943)
- Cry Havoc (1943)
- Gung Ho! (1943)
- Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944)
- Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944)
- Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
- The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)*
- Till the End of Time (1946)
- Crossfire (1947)*
- The Big Steal (1949)*
- One Minute to Zero (1952)
- Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)*
- The Enemy Below (1957)
- The Hunters (1958)
- The Night Fighters (1960)
- The Last Time I Saw Archie (1961)
- The Longest Day (1962)
- Man in the Middle (1964)
- Anzio (1968)
- Midway (1976)
- Breakthrough (1979)
- The Winds of War (1983)
- War and Remembrance (1988-89)