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Robert Mitchum was a popular actor in the 1940s and 50s, mainly known for his
film noir film roles. Mitchum is listed #23 on the greatest male legends of all time
by the American Film Institute. He often seemed almost half awake with his laid-
back acting, but you couldnt keep our eyes off him on the big screen. For his
nonchalant presence was deceiving. Other actors would try to overact with grand
gestures, but Mitchum somehow held our interest with the even the smallest
ones. He was able to express the emotion buried just below the surface of a
character. And he was ahead of his time, taking on the roles of what would later
be called anti-heroes.
Women loved this strong, silent quality in his portrayals and men wished they
could be more like him. He often played tough, manly characters, which could
throw someone around the room, but at the same time, ones that werent afraid
to reveal their sensitive sides too.
In 1947s western-noir, Pursued, he plays a man whod been adopted by a
woman who tries to raise him as her own, but he never quite fits in, always
wondering where he came from. His half-brother hates him and his half-sister
played by Teresa Wright (Hitchcocks Shadow of a Doubt), cant help falling in love
with him and he with her, even though its forbidden. After hes reluctantly forced
to kill his half-brother and another innocent suitor for her, she finally agrees to
marry him, but initially only planning to do so to kill him for the mistaken hurt.
Its almost Shakespearian in scope and its characters, for a western, but
Mitchums able to capture it.
He would also appear in several more similar roles in this period, including the
classic film noir, Out Of the Past, the same year, in which hes up against a sleazy
Kirk Douglas (only Douglas 2
film) and Femme Fatale, Jane Greer. Again
Mitchum had to play a wronged man, haunted by his past. And there was always
a Fatale to match wits with him.
But just as he was becoming popular with these and other roles, his reputation as
a bad boy in real life threatened to catch up with him. He was arrested in 1948,
for possession of marijuana, considered a dangerous drug at the time. He spent
43 days on a prison farm. Later it was overturned because it was revealed that he
had been set up. This could have ended his career, but it only seemed to add to
his screen persona and popularity. A lot of Hollywood wouldnt work with him
after that, but his co-star from Out of the Past, Jane Greer, still did in The Big Steal
in49. Hed had a rough childhood and had hitched around the country before
hed drifted into acting. Like the roles he often played, he didnt fit in. He was a
colorful personality in a black and white era.
He went on to make several other film noirs and other well-respected movies,
throughout the 50s and 60s, such as River of No Return with Marilyn Monroe
and Night of the Hunter directed by Charles Laughton, in which he plays a creepy
criminal posing as a preacher. In the original Cape Fear in 1962, hes the vengeful
ex-con who stalks lawyer, Gregory Pecks family (he would have a reverse role as
the detective in the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991). He appeared also in several
classic war films, such as The Enemy Below (1956) and the epic, The Longest Day
(62). Then almost against type he made softer-character films with British
actress, Deborah Kerr, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (57) and The Sundowners (60)
about Australia. And he played a gentle schoolmaster in David Leans Ryans
Daughter (1970).
Besides being an excellent actor, he also was an accomplished singer and
songwriter and often sang himself in his films. He even had a top 10 country hit,
Ballad of Thunder Road, which he co-wrote for his Southern moonshine film
and now cult favorite of the same name in 1957.
But it was really his noir films for which he is most remembered. And in the 70s,
he made a remake of Raymond Chandlers Farewell My Lovely in England and
followed up with a re-doing of the classic, The Big Sleep, even playing an older
version of the detective, and manages to pull it off. He would go into the 80s in
a couple of popular TV miniseries, The Winds of War (83) and War and
Remembrance (88).
He had a reputation on film sets of not taking any guff from anyone, from the
directors on down. Supposedly, he threw a crew member into the ocean (after
Mitchum had been drinking the night before on one of his early films). His
attitude towards Hollywood and acting, was to not take it all too seriously. One
of his famous quotes was, I only made two kinds of pictures, one with a horse
and one without. And that acting consisted of (quoting another great actor,
Spencer Tracy, who didnt take it too seriously either) know your lines and show
up on time, thats it. Of course, Mitchum took his craft for much more than that,
but his attitude and skill made it seem almost effortless. It often felt as if it wasnt
acting at all, but real people up on the screen, which is of course, the greatest
compliment to an actor. Lee Server wrote a biography of him in 2001 aptly titled,
Baby, I Dont Care. Mitchum was one of a kind- film noir cool!
See excerpt of Mitchum in classic film noir, Out of the Past:
See Robert Mitchum,The Legend, about his life:

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