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Robert Mitchum: Westerns

"I have two acting styles — with or without a horse."
— Robert Mitchum

The "with a horse" would be the many westerns Mitchum made. If you only know Mitchum as an alternate Bogart, then by all means check out his cowboy roles. Mitchum's image as permanent outsider, drifter, and man of action are often best revealed in westerns. Take Pursued, in which Mitchum must maintain dignity in a town in which everyone, including the woman he loves, believes he murdered his brother. Or, Blood on the Moon, in which Mitch must take sides in a rancher/homesteader dispute. In Rachel and the Stranger, he's a backwoods trapper who comes and goes with the seasons, usually wearing a buckskin suit. He's not too rough, however, to stop and woo Loretta Young.

Mitchum's first work in Hollywood was as an extra in a series of westerns. He quickly became a regular in Hopalong Cassidy series, usually as the villain. "I was big, and looked like I could handle myself," he said, and so was born a bit player and future leading man.

His first lead in a western was in Nevada, and he returned to the genre again and again. What better way to showcase Mitchum's rugged individuality, manly physique, and his (usually) deep-seated integrity than to put him on a horse, give him a gun, and seat him in the great outdoors?

His best oaters were made for the auteur-directors, Raoul Walsh (Pursued), Nicholas Ray (The Lusty Men) and William Wellman (Track of the Cat). These men made brilliant use of psychology, as well as fantastic locations. The naturalness of Mitchum's acting was only enhanced by the veracity of locale. On a snowy mountaintop, or on a windswept prarie, Mitchum looked right as rain. His born arrogance was always larger than life, and his sureness that he would get the girl was only tempered by his weariness. His best work stands well beside that of Gary Cooper or John Wayne, but you won't catch Bob making speeches, or settling down to till the soil. Now, that just wouldn't be fittin'.

El Dorado

Mitchum was memorably paired with John Wayne in El Dorado, with the Duke playing a gun for hire who comes to the aid of broken-down sheriff Mitchum. Seems Mitchum, once a handy man with a gun, is now the laughingstock of the town because he's taken to drink over a woman who left him. Of course, you never see the woman in question. At film's end, Wayne is on his way to the local madam and Mitchum is left on his own, but it's the friendship between the two men which matters. How else could it be in a Howard Hawks film? Newcomer James Caan plays the knife-throwing Mississippi, capably filling the need for a sexy younger man. Don't miss the bath scene with Mitchum finally cleaning up, and everyone in town dropping by to bring him a bar of soap.

In one of Mitchum's last films, the disappointing Dead Man by Jim Jarmusch, he plays a frontier mogul with a giant stuffed bear in the office. It's hard to tell which one scares city slicker Johnny Depp more. It's only a cameo, but you've got to hand it to Jarmusch for excellent taste in casting.

Western Filmography

  1. Hoppy Serves a Writ (1943)
  2. Border Patrol (1943)
  3. The Leather Burners (1943)
  4. Colt Comrades (1943)
  5. Beyond the Last Frontier (1943)
  6. Bar 20 (1943)
  7. The Lone Star Trail (1943)
  8. False Colors (1943)
  9. Riders of the Deadline (1943)
  10. The Girl Rush (1944)
  11. Nevada (1944)
  12. West of the Pecos (1945)
  13. Pursued (1947)*
  14. Rachel and the Stranger (1948)
  15. Blood on the Moon (1948)*
  16. The Red Pony (1949)*
  17. The Lusty Men (1952)*
  18. River of No Return (1954)*
  19. Track of the Cat (1954)*
  20. Man with the Gun (1955)
  21. Bandido (1956)
  22. The Way West (1967)
  23. El Dorado (1967)*
  24. Villa Rides (1968)
  25. Five Card Stud (1968)
  26. Young Billy Young (1969)
  27. The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969)
  28. The Wrath of God (1972)
  29. Dead Man (1996)


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