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Robert Mitchum: Sons of Mitchum

In homage to their favorite actor, Lee Marvin, a clutch of male celebrities--including director Jim Jarmusch and singers Tom Waits and Nick Cave--took to calling themselves "The Sons of Lee Marvin." One day in a bar, a stranger confronted Tom Waits. "Are you one of The Sons of Lee Marvin?" "Yes, I am," Waits replied. "Well, you can't be," the stranger said, "because I'm Lee Marvin's son!"

Well, considering how many actors Mitchum's influenced, and that he heads a Fonda-esque acting clan that includes two sons (Christopher and Jim) a brother (John), a grandson (Bentley), and a granddaughter (Carrie), we can imagine a similar scene playing in another bar somewhere.

Jeff Bridges | Robert De Niro |Michael Madsen | Javier Bardem |Johnny Depp | Russell Crowe |Mickey Rourke | Sean Penn

Played the Mitchum role in the remake of Out of the Past, Against All Odds, and very nicely too. This second-generation actor was Oscar-nominated for The Last Picture Show, Starman, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, The Contender. Handpicked by finicky critic David Thomson as the heir to Mitchum's underrated naturalness as an actor. "As close as the modern era has come to Robert Mitchum," says Thomson, citing such films as Cutter's Way, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and Fearless. Hear, hear.

Besides sharing the same first name and astrological sign as Mitchum (Leo), De Niro reinvented Max Cady in Cape Fear, drawing heavily on Mitchum's stogie-smoking original baddie, and mixing in plenty of the crazed preacher of Night of the Hunter while he was at it. Generally acknowledged as the best actor of his generation, De Niro's so into The Method that the phrase "to pull a DeNiro" is understood by all. What would have it meant to "pull a Mitchum" if the first Bob had surfaced during the Method's heydey?

Madsen first rose to prominence as the ear-slicing psycho Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. His deep voice, large frame, casual stance and easy violence all evoke Mitchum. No one else working today is so carelessly sinister, not even DeNiro or Ray Liotta. Of course, Madsen's mostly stuck in today's equivalent of B movies — straight-to-video pics. The actor has said that Mitchum — along with Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart — was a major influence on him.

Before he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Before Night Falls in 2001, few people outside of Spain had heard of this compelling actor. Perhaps it's unfair to designate him Mitchum's beefcake heir-apparent, but then, he did play the stud-for-hire in the Spanish romp, Jamon, Jamon. And, he has the closest thing to a Mitchum profile I've ever seen. Go rent Mouth to Mouth, Between Your Legs, and of course, Before Night Falls.

Long before Mr. "Donkey Penis" (Depp's favorite name to put on a hotel register) began trashing hotels, Mitchum had wrecked dressing rooms and sets, sometimes by himself, sometimes with the help of such other bad-boys such as Sinatra and Lee Marvin. Mitchum was also a notorious womanizer, but at least he stayed married to one woman for 57 years. Johnny, after getting engaged to every starlet in Hollywood, including Winona Ryder, finally settled down with French actress Vanessa Paradis. Depp is the only "Son of Mitchum" (besides DeNiro) to have worked with Big Bob, in the moody neo-western Dead Man. When faced with cigar-smoking mogul Mitchum, he looked properly intimidated. One rumor had Mitchum's widow giving Depp the thumbs up to play Mitchum in a yet-to-be determined biopic! Almost any other son of Mitchum would have been a better choice: Johnny's a looker but he's just too tiny to fill Bob's shoes.

Let's run through Mr. Crowe's "son of Mitchum" qualifications, shall we? Talented actor? Check. Womanizer? Oh, my yes. Ever been in a barroom brawl? Why, yes. Sings on the side? Yessir. Good with accents? Aye! Dislikes Hollywood? Right again. Unambitious about his careeer? Well ... no, but in many other respects, this Oscar-winning Aussie-bred star is the modern day's answer to Mitchum. He's a welcome dose of confident masculinity in a sea of tepid, pretty boy actors. And if he's downright surly to the press, well, so was Mitchum. To recap: fans' dream, interviewers' nightmare.

This certified bad boy has had a career almost opposite of Mitchum's: Rourke arrived on the film scene to great acclaim in Diner and The Pope of Greenwich Village. As his stock rose, his acting, and films grew worse. Finally, Rourke chucked in his film career for a bout of pugilism. Mitchum, of course, began to little acclaim, only to have appreciation for his craft grow, and he did his boxing before his acting. (Although sometimes before, during and after...) Mitchum also never hit his wife. Perhaps Rourke will end by making routine westerns, the way Mitchum began. At least they're both admired in France.

A brawling, hard-drinking Irish-American actor? Wow, there's more than one? We'll wager that Penn's bad-boy antics topped Mitchum's, but then the paparazzi has grown exponentially more aggressive since Mitchum's day. Now that Penn's pranks seem a thing of the past, critics and audiences are settling into something like respect for the man and his talents. Oh, and he's another Leo, if you keep track of those things.


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