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Robert Mitchum: Not Starring …

"Mitchum has [sometimes] worked as if he had a fruit machine for an agent."
— writer David Thomson

Once Robert Mitchum become an established star, he claimed he sized up a role by the number of days he had off — which didn't always lead to the best films. Early in his career, he also took on movies indiscriminately, like any other actor under contract. As his contract at RKO was about to expire, he became more selective, refusing to play roles in such movies as a musical with Debbie Reynolds! No one can doubt his instincts on that call, but his judgment on subsequent offers was not so circumspect. In the 1970s, when Mitchum had a shot at several high-profile movies, such as Patton, he was thinking of retiring instead. Here's a list of roles Mitchum could have appeared in, for better or worse.

Vote on which movie Mitchum you would have liked to see Mitchum do:

  1. Dillinger (1945) After getting his first leading role in the western Nevada, Mitchum's star was rising in Hollywood. Signed to RKO Studios, he was anxious to do something besides the westerns that had given him his start and lobbied for the title role in Dillinger, according to biographer Lee Server. RKO decided that the film didn't suit their new star and the iconic role went to Lawrence Tierney instead.

  2. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) Mitchum was just one of several actors Frank Capra was considering for the role of Bert the cop. Who immortalized the role? Ward Bond, who was penciled in just below Bob's name on the list. (Capra's casting list is reproduced in the It's a Wonderful Life Book by Jeanine Basinger.) If Mitchum had gotten the role, he would have tussled with Jimmy Stewart in the nightmare sequence, and been in the classic "Zuzu's petals" scenes near the end of the film. Mitchum did get to act opposite Ernie the taxi driver (Frank Faylen) in Blood on the Moon, and Stewart in The Big Sleep.

  3. Streetcar Named Desire (1951) Supposedly, Mitchum was offered the role of Stanley, but RKO refused to let him do it. Since Brando had burned up Broadway in the play, it seems doubtful that anyone else would have had a chance at it. But then again, on Broadway, the role of Blanche du Bois was played by Jessica Tandy. Vivien Leigh got the film role -- and the Oscar.

  4. From Here to Eternity (1953) If Mitchum had had his way, he would have been rolling on the beach with Deborah Kerr in one of the most famous love scenes of all time. Howard Hughes, who owned RKO Studios, wouldn't hear of it, so Burt Lancaster got to get sand in his trunks instead. Mitchum had his chance to work with Kerr later, in Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, The Grass is Greener, and The Sundowners.

  5. The Robe (1953) One of the reasons Mitchum's remained an icon of cool all these years is that he never traipsed around in a toga and sandals in a cheesy Biblical epic like this one. As early as 1944, this film was kicking around Hollywood, and this might have been his first film under his contract to RKO. (That small distinction went to the little known Girl Rush comedy.) This film was eventually made with that other ultimate beefcake, Victor Mature

  6. Susan Slept Here (1954) Mitchum went on suspension from RKO--giving up $5,000 a week-- rather than appear in this singing and dancing role with Debbie Reynolds. The role went to Dick Powell instead.

  7. Untamed (1954) Mitchum was often loaned out by RKO to other studios, but when he signed on for Track of the Cat for 20th-Century Fox his agent knew nothing about it! He was ordered to report for Untamed, opposite Susan Hayward, for which location shooting had already begun. Tyrone Power eventually took over for Mitchum.

  8. Cattle Queen of Montana (1954) Mitchum's agents took offense that Mitchum should be forced to play the supporting role of Colorados, an Indian, in this Ronald Reagan vehicle, and wrote a letter to RKO saying "assigning Mr. Mitchum to this role ... is done to embarrass and harass him." Mitchum himself said, "I'd rather go fishing, and that's what I'm going to do." His contract expired with RKO and that was that. Unknown Lance Fuller took over the maligned role.

  9. Blood Alley (1955) Director William Wellman, who gave Mitchum his first big role in The Story of G.I. Joe, fired his former protege from the set of Blood Alley. One version of events has Mitchum, always given to pulling pranks, throwing the film company's transportation manager into San Francisco Bay. John Wayne stepped in to complete the film, although it was also offered to Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck.

  10. Battle Hymn (1957) Mitchum, who rarely sought out roles, went after this one: Colonel Dean E. Hess, a former clergyman who was a hero of World War II and the Korean War, and who saved the lives of thousands of Korean orphans. Hess wouldn't hear of a former jailbird portraying him, however, and personally approved Rock Hudson instead.

    Mitchum as Big Daddy and Brick?

  11. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) It's not clear why Mitchum passed on this film, but we're so sorry he never got to be called "Big Daddy" onscreen. At least, we think he was up for Big Daddy. He could have played Brick just as well. It's a little hard to confirm forty plus years after the fact.

  12. The Misfits (1961) Mitchum turned down the chance to work again with the demanding John Huston, and to be reteamed with Marilyn Monroe so the role went to Clark Gable. The Misfits was Gable's last movie, who did his own stunts out his frustration over Monroe's absences from the set. It was also Monroe's last completed film, and one of the last of ravaged star Montgomery Clift. The pathos is palpable, lending another layer to this elegy to a dying breed of cowboys. Who knows if Gable would have lived longer if he hadn't done this picture? Mitchum later took over a role intended for Gable, that of the patriarch in Home from the Hill.

  13. Patton (1971) Mitchum turned down this role, as did Lee Marvin and Rod Steiger. It went to George C. Scott, and Mitchum took on Ryan's Daughter. Buzz for an Oscar for Bob's performance as an aging Irish schoolteacher was high, but Mitchum wasn't even nominated. Who won the Oscar that year? George C. Scott, as Patton. (Although he didn't show up to accept it).

  14. Dirty Harry (1971) Mitchum dismissed this totemic role as "a piece of junk." His loss was Eastwood's gain. It's ironic that Mitchum later played a Dirty Harry-type character in The Yakuza, a role many were sure would spawn a series of "Harry Kilmer" films.

  15. Network (1976) In Faye Dunaway's biography, Waiting for Gatsby, she reveals that she wanted Mitchum to play the role that eventually went to William Holden. "I thought Mitchum was a wonderful actor, a swaggering sort of sexy, dangerous guy. And Mitchum definitely had the irascibilty so needed in the role. But [Sidney] Lumet said no. He told me he didn't want any one actor to imbalance the movie. Mitchum is an idiosyncratic kind of guy and he very likely would have been making waves through the production. In the end, the casting was so right. William Holden was perfect for his part." If you recall, Holden plays Max Schumacher as a man almost completely emasculated by his young, aggressive network executive lover, Diana (Dunaway). While Mitchum certainly can change his spots for a role (as in Ryan's Daughter), it would be hard to picture him in this role.

  16. Atlantic City (1980) Playwright John Guare tells biographer Lee Server that he and director Louis Malle both thought of Mitchum for the role that earned Burt Lancaster an Academy Award nomination. "We both said, 'Of course!' We thought he would be terrific," Guare recalls thinking of Mitchum. "His age, his aura, the whole connection to film noir. It seemed perfect." Then Malle went to visit Mitchum and found that the 60-plus actor had had a face lift and said he "was only playing forty-five (year olds)" now.

  17. Blade Runner (1982) Believe it or not, Blade Runner co-screenwriter Hampton Fancher originally envisioned none other than Mitchum in the lead as world-weary cop Rick Deckard in this cult sci-fi noir. Says Fancher in Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, "Way back in 1975 ... I'd already decided that Robert Mitchum was perfect for the role of Deckard. The last thing I'd seen him do was Farewell, My Lovely, where Mitchum played Philip Marlowe. He had a certain vulnerability in that film I really liked. I also liked the fact that Mitchum played Marlowe as a guy with insomnia and a constant hangover. The age issue was there, of course, but at that time, Mitchum still looked like he was only fifty. A tough fifty. Mitchum could wrestle and kiss with the best of them." Amen! Of course, the man who went on to do the wrestling and kissing in the film was of course, Harrison Ford, who gamely lent his voice to a much-maligned but classic '40s-style voiceover, which was later eliminated from the director's cut.

Which of these films do you wish Mitchum had been in?
Dillinger
It's a Wonderful Life
Streetcar Named Desire
From Here to Eternity
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
The Misfits
Patton
Dirty Harry
Atlantic City
Blade Runner
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