By Raquel Stecher
Robert Mitchum is my favorite actor. There is something about his on-screen charisma that keeps me coming back for more. He brightens up even a dull movie. August 6th marks the 100th anniversary of Robert Mitchum’s birth. To celebrate, I encourage all of you to marathon some of his best films. New to Mitchum? I highly recommend starting with Out of the Past (1947), the classic film noir that put him on the map. Once you’ve watched that, follow it up with these 10 films available on DVD Netflix to rent. Even if you’re familiar with Robert Mitchum, it’s still fun to revisit the legendary actor’s body of work.
Crossfire is a classic film noir with a triumvirate of Roberts: Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Robert Young. In this post-WWII drama, Mitchum plays an army sergeant who suspects his friend of murder. Released during the height of the House of Unamerican Activities’ blacklist, this movie deals with themes of anti-semitism and the controversy surrounding the film boosted its appeal. Mitchum’s great in this but you’ll find yourself both mesmerized and terrified by Robert Ryan who plays the psychotic Montgomery.
This is one of the best, and perhaps most confusing, films from Howard Hughes’ studio RKO. It stars Robert Mitchum as a professional gambler who meets the sultry Jane Russell on his way to a Mexican resort. Once they arrive, things are not always as they seem. Russell and Mitchum are perfectly matched on-screen and they became lifelong friends off-screen, too. His Kind of Woman has a great cast including familiar faces like Jim Backus, Vincent Price, and Raymond Burr.
If you loved Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell together in His Kind of Woman then you must watch Macao. It’s not a sequel, but it does match Mitchum and Russell in a similar scenario and in an exotic locale. Mitchum plays Nick, an American on the run for a crime he didn’t commit. He meets Russell when he saves her from a precarious situation and she thanks him by stealing his wallet. They get mixed up in the seedy gambling world of the China Seas.
Jean Simmons stars as the title Angel Face character Diane, a wealthy heiress who will remove anyone who gets in her way. Mitchum plays an ambulance driver and chauffeur who falls into Diane’s trap. In one memorable scene, Robert Mitchum slaps Jean Simmons across the face. As legend has it, the sometimes tyrannical director Otto Preminger kept shooting take after take of the same shot. When Preminger asked for one more, a frustrated Mitchum replied “one more?” and then slapped the director. It’s one of my favorite Mitchum anecdotes!
This was supposed to a small film, a B-movie Western, in fact. But Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox had other plans. He bumped up the quality by ordering that River of No Return be filmed in Cinemascope, a new technology at the time. Then, he added megawatt star Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum as her romantic lead. It’s a fantastic Western set in the Yukon and filmed in Jasper and Banff, Alberta. There’s action, romance, and a tender-hearted story of a man reuniting with his young son. I don’t usually care for Westerns, but this one is a big exception for me.
Robert Mitchum played some decent guys up until now. With Track of the Cat, his career starts to shift to more menacing roles. The movie stars Robert Mitchum as Curt, the middle son who controls the goings-on at his family’s mountain ranch. The threat of a panther stirs up family animosity. Director William A. Wellman shot the movie in color; however, everyone wears black, white, and gray, except for Mitchum, who wears a bright red coat. It makes him stand out for sure.
By far the best known of Robert Mitchum’s roles, The Night of the Hunter stars Mitchum as evil preacher Harry Powell. When his prison cellmate Ben Harper (Peter Graves) reveals he’s hiding some stolen money, Powell sets out to find to find his family. The famous scene when Powell tells the story of L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E with his tattooed knuckles is one of the most iconic in cinema history. The movie also includes two excellent performances by Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish and is the only film that Charles Laughton, best known for his acting roles, ever directed. It’s a haunting movie and simply one of the best ever made.
Set in the South Pacific during World War II, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison follows the story of a Marine, Mr. Allison (Robert Mitchum), who washes ashore on a remote island. What seems like a deserted island is really inhabited by one person, a nun named Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr). Stuck on the island, the two form a bond.
This is one of my favorite John Huston movies and Mitchum and Kerr were such dynamite actors that they carry the film despite being the only actors in it. It was during the making of this film that Mitchum caught the Calypso bug and shortly afterwards released an album of Calypso music.
Robert Mitchum’s role in Cape Fear ties with The Night of the Hunter’s Harry Powell as one of the most evil characters on film. Mitchum plays Max Cady, an ex-convict seeking revenge on attorney Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), the man who put him in prison. It’s a terrifying film and Mitchum plays pure evil so brilliantly. Mitchum and Peck both had small roles in the 1991 remake.
As a Boston gal born and raised, it’s hard for me not to love The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Based on the novel by George V. Higgins and directed by Peter Yates, the film stars Mitchum as Eddie Coyle, a Boston gangster-turned-snitch. Needless to say, his gangster friends are none too happy with him. Robert Mitchum spent time with locals perfecting his Boston accent and it shows. It’s one of the most realistic Boston accents performed by a non-native on screen. This movie was also the inspiration for the Ben Affleck’s Boston heist movie The Town (2010).
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @Quellelove and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.