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Robert Mitchum: Noirs

"Mitchum is noir." — Martin Scorsese

   Jane Greer smoking up the screen with Mitchum in Out of the Past

After establishing himself in westerns, Mitchum went to work for RKO Studios in the mid 1940s. Each studio had its own flavor: Warner Brothers was the social message studio, MGM was the home of glossy A-list productions, and RKO was B-movie all the way. Mitchum was RKO's leading man, portraying the kind of working-class joes, from detectives to boxers to gamblers, who populated the noir world. His characters were often down on their luck, like his broke gambler in His Kind of Woman, His regular-guy status and rootless past made him perfect for film noir. His falls from grace weren't tragedy, because his worldly characters didn't have far to fall, but he had loyalty, guts, and testosterone enough to succumb to the snares of femme fatales and gangsters.

   Mitchum fills Virginia Huston in
   on his Past

Take for instance, the classic noir Out of the Past. Mitchum is chump enough to double-cross gangster Kirk Douglas, and trust Jane Greer not once but over and over. Yet he never comes across as weak but as a bull on a collision course with a train. Self-destructive, yes, but with his eyes wide open. He embodied the noir fatality: he was smart enough to see a frameup, but reckless enough to try to break it from the inside. Still, he was tough enough to give more lumps than he got. And no one had a better way with a line. Out of the Past has to be one of the best-written noirs of all time. Greer to Mitchum: "I don't want to die." Mitchum to Greer: "Neither do I baby, but if I do, I'm going to be last."

He was hilariously miscast as painter Norman (!) Clyde in the triple flashback film The Locket, in a plot that requires him to throw himself out of a building after losing perky Laraine Day.

He was teamed with Jane Russell in His Kind of Woman and Macao,a match Louella Parsons breathlessly called "the hottest combination that ever hit the screen!" The plots were mostly putting bystander Mitchum in harm's way, tangling with various heavies--memorably Raymond Burr in His Kind of Woman--and getting the girl at the end, with two great closing lines. Mitchum grabs Russell and says "You'd be a handy thing to have around the house," in one, and dripping wet in the other, "You're going to have to get used to me soaking wet from the shower." Rrrawr!

     Farewell, My Lovely

Mitchum is the passive pawn of two femme fatales in Where Danger Lives and Angel Face. In the first film, he plays a doctor who gets to analyze his escalating deterioration from a concussion, as well as a climax which involves him negotiating a staircase while half paralyzed!

Mitchum's return to the detective genre in Farewell, My Lovely was well received, and branded an instant classic. His next Chandler interpretation, The Big Sleep, could not match the success or style of his previous outing as Philip Marlowe, although it marked his only chance to act with Jimmy Stewart.

Noir Filmography

  1. When Strangers Marry (1944)
  2. The Locket (1946)
  3. Undercurrent (1946)
  4. Pursued (1947)*
  5. Crossfire (1947)*
  6. Out of the Past (1947)*
  7. The Big Steal (1949)*
  8. Where Danger Lives (1950)
  9. His Kind of Woman (1951)*
  10. The Racket (1951)
  11. Macao (1952)
  12. Angel Face (1952)
  13. Second Chance (1953)
  14. The Night of the Hunter (1955)*
  15. Cape Fear (1962)*
  16. The List of Adrian Messenger (1963)*
    (cameo only)
  17. Farewell, My Lovely (1975)*
  18. The Big Sleep (1978)

Noir links

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