Mondays: Robert Mitchum

Straight out of the movies

Robert Mitchum's early life sounds like something straight out of the movies: he left home at thirteen, rode the rails through the United States, and got himself into more than a few scrapes (including a stint on a chain gang). The experiences of his teen years left him with a healthy distrust for authority, and his rebellious nature¿combined with his imposing appearance, unforgettable deep voice, and world-weary eyes¿helped make him one of the most distinctive figures in Hollywood history.

In his earliest years in Hollywood, Mitchum bounced from genre to genre, lending his talents to war films (1945¿s THE STORY OF GI JOE, his breakout role and, unforgivably, his only Oscar nomination) and westerns (1947¿s PURSUED, one of the most psychologically sophisticated films in that field) with equal skill. However, it was in OUT OF THE PAST (1947) that Mitchum really came into his own: his acting style meshed perfectly with the thriving genre of film noir, and his doomed, world-weary heroism left its mark on movie-lovers everywhere.

As he grew older, Mitchum lost none of his talent; that strange sense of tired resignation ensured that his persona would transfer well into old age. In films such as THE YAKUZA (1974), he may be older, but he¿s lost none of his toughness; that particular movie also benefits from the screenwriting of Paul Schrader and Robert Towne as well as Sydney Pollack¿s direction. An even more talented team of collaborators can be found in EL DORADO (1966), with the teaming of Mitchum and John Wayne under the direction of Howard Hawks. The film is a semi-remake of Hawks¿ earlier RIO BRAVO, with Mitchum standing in for Dean Martin as the ruined sheriff.

Mitchum could create frightening villains just as well as flawed heroes, and we¿ve got a number of his most sinister performances on display as well. SECRET CEREMONY (1968) pairs him with Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow in a tale of twisted relationships, while CAPE FEAR (1962) features his unforgettable portrayal of ex-convict Max Cady, out for a bloody revenge against the man who helped convict him (Gregory Peck). But the greatest of them all is THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955); Mitchum¿s Rev. Harry Powell, with his religious fanaticism, his crooning of pious hymns, and the two immortal words tattooed on his hands, ranks among the most horrifying villains in film history.

Our Monday night offerings this quarter also feature two non-Mitchum special events: Walter Hill¿s THE DRIVER (1978) and Amy Heckerling¿s FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982, featuring Mitchum¿s spiritual descendant, Jeff Spicoli).

-Jack Hamm

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