best film: For Robert Mitchum it is a three horse race at the top for his best film. From those he plays a significant role in, it is either the 1947 noir classic Out of the Past or Charles Laughton’s only film as director, the 1955 sort of southern gothic horror fable Night of the Hunter. Taking in all of Mitchum’s filmography though, it is Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 postmodern western Dead Man that would take the top slot overall. This is Jarmusch’s most beautiful film from a photographic standpoint (back to his trademark black and white after two straight color films in his career). This is Mitchum’s final archiveable film, and he gets a couple of very funny scenes alongside lead Johnny Depp. Still, sticking to films with Mitchum as sort of the main course, Out of the Past is a finely tuned narrative machine and Mitchum is perfect as the fatalistic hero. Mitchum does the heavy lifting in front of the camera (though Kirk Douglas steals a few scenes) and that sublime script does not sound as sweet as it does with any other actor, besides Mitchum, doing the voice-over.
best performance: When Robert Mitchum is on screen for Night of the Hunter the film takes off to another level. One could say that about most of Robert Mitchum’s films, but it is especially true with his Harry Powell character. Powell is an all-time hypocrite and charlatan. This is a haunting portrayal and the love vs. hate monologue is justifiably legendary at this point. Mitchum also has that booming baritone voice that is perfect for the hymns and sort of sing-song dialogue delivery.
stylistic innovations/traits: Mitchum is a bit of an anomaly as he largely succeeded, artistically, in his career without the backing of a singular collaborative auteur. He does not have a John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock or Sergio Leone to help him get there. This is both sort of a compliment, and what probably keeps him from going higher on this list. Mitchum was largely ignored by the Oscars. His one nomination, a non-win, is in a film that is not in the archives (The Story of G.I. Joe). Mitchum excelled in noirs and as villains. Two of his best three turns are as villains (Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear). A short list of the best screen villains (Heath Ledger The Dark Knight, Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds) has to include Mitchum. Out of the Past is mandatory watch in any film noir study and Mitchum is the greatest male lead in any film noir – no small feat. It also does not hurt Mitchum’s case that he outduels Robert De Niro (the best actor of all-time) in Cape Fear playing Max Cady. De Niro plays the Mitchum role in the 1991 Martin Scorsese remake. Mitchum’s on-screen persona (his style is closer to the classic Hollywood Humphrey Bogart type than the Marlon Brando/Montgomery Clift/James Dean type) is an existential longer, an outsider who does not give a rip. Mitchum called the dialogue “lyrics” and there is most definitely a rhythm to his way of delivery – very musical. If someone believes in the actor as auteur theory – Mitchum is a poster child. His character is always in the know, brooding, with his destiny set (usually against him). Mitchum’s twenty-five (25) films in the archives is a strength. And as no small footnote, he may be the single actor most at home in both an urban setting noir and a western. Bogart could not do the wild west really. John Wayne would struggle as a bit city detective or private investigator.
directors worked with: Vincent Minnelli (2), Otto Preminger (2), Jacques Tourneur (1), Raoul Walsh (1), Robert Wise (1), Don Siegel (1), Josef von Sternberg (1), Nicholas Ray (1), Howard Hawks (1), David Lean (1), Sydney Pollack (1), Elia Kazan (1), Martin Scorsese (1), Jim Jarmusch (1). Many of these collaborations are in minor works or late in Mitchum’s career past his prime (or both). It is not a stretch to say that when thinking about any of these directors – and then thinking about their acting collaborators – Robert Mitchum does not come to mind for a single one. Mitchum’s best and/or most memorable roles, were directed by Jacques Tourneur, Charles Laughton, J. Lee Thompson, and William Wellman. Only Tourneur is in the top 250 directors of all-time, and he is not in the top 100.
top five performances:
- Night of the Hunter
- Out of the Past
- Cape Fear
- Track of the Cat
- The Friends of Eddie Coyle
|1944- Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo|
|1947- Out of the Past|
|1948- Blood on the Moon|
|1949- The Big Steal|
|1951- His Kind of Woman|
|1952- Angel Face|
|1952- The Lusty Men|
|1954- The River of No Return|
|1954- Track of the Cat|
|1955- Night of the Hunter|
|1958- Thunder Road|
|1960- Home from the Hill|
|1962- Cape Fear|
|1962- The Longest Day|
|1966- El Dorado|
|1970- Ryan’s Daughter|
|1973- The Friends of Eddie Coyle|
|1974- The Yakuza|
|1976- The Last Tycoon|
|1991- Cape Fear|
|1995- Dead Man|
Mitchum is probably my favorite actor of all time.
Can you picture Mitchum in a lot of Kirk Douglas roles? I certainly can do. He has the masculinity, voice and intensity to do so. He played villains but I’m sure he can play righteous heros as well as villains. What do you think?
Also do you you think he can play JJ Hunsecker ? I think he can.
@M*A*S*H- Hmmm- Kirk Douglas. I don’t see it in Out of the Past. I don’t see J.J. Hunsecker
I get it. I also get James’ point about dialogue dilevery as well. I was confusing masculine portrayals with the overall performance I guess.
What about Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda? I see it happening a few times. Well not in The Grapes of Wrath Or The Lady Eve or but in My Darling Clementine and 12 Angry Men. Idk maybe Once Upon a Time in the West is also possible. What do you think.
Now when I think about it Stewart had that boyish look in 1940 but do you think that he can play a Tom Joad? I find Stewart and Fonda have same strengths. They can fit in both a John Ford western and a screwball comedy. I find their acting style similar as well. It’s like Gena Rowlands and Ellen Burstyn. What do you think?
@Drake- what are your thoughts on my James Stewart/ Henry Fonda comparison? Both excelled at playing everyday men earlier in their career and then more worn out characters later. Both played righteous men of virtue.
@M*A*S*H Thanks for the comment/question. I’ll let others chime in here if they’d like to. I do not have any specific thoughts current beyond what is up on the pages for Fonda and Stewart- I’m trying to keep up with the post a day pace so focusing on that for the time being. But I hope I’ll have time later to dig into more of the comments, read and catch up.
@Malith- Appreciate the catch on the error – thank you
@M*A*S*H – Mitchum has a more laid back style and delivery than Kirk Douglas who could chew up scenes with the best of them. I think they are both perfectly casted in Out of the Past (1947) which is just outside my Top 5 Noirs
2. Double Indemnity
3. Touch of Evil
4. In a Lonley Place
5. Maltese Falcon
6. Out of the Past or The Long Goodbye
However, Mitchum’s performance is top 5 Film Noir Performances
1. Bogart – In a Lonley Place
2. Bogart – Maltese Falcon
3. Nicholson – JJ Gittes
4. Mitchum – Out of the Past
5. Edward G Robinson – Scarlet Street
@James Trapp- Touch of Evil third is tough
@Drake – Its worth noting that my top 3 are all in my top 30 films of all time. When I did my top 100 list
I had the following:
# 9 Chinatown
# 21 Double Indemnity
# 28 Touch of Evil
When I update I admit that Double Indemnity will go down a bit even though its one of my 5 or 6 favorite films of all time. Its an amazing film but I will admit to favoritism tipping the scales a little. However, I think it is the most quintessential of all noirs, the true epitome of noir. But yes Orson Welles is obviously in a league above Wilder as a director as great as Wilder is.
All 3 are amongst my favorites though. Touch of Evil will probably go up a little when I update and Chinatown for now I think is about right. I know some of the arguments against it being in the top 10 but am willing to defend its place. Maybe I am just being stubborn lol.
@James Trapp- All good- I mean don’t get me wrong, those are three brilliant films. But similar to @Harry with his take on The Searchers, I’m confident the more sort of cinematic option will rise to the top of your list over the years and repeat viewings.
@Drake – you may well be correct, I think I’m getting better at making objective assessments of films and differentiating between those and my personal favorites but at times it can be tricky. As far as @Harry’s take on The Searchers, he said without all of the scenes he did not care for he would rank around like 20th or something like that but instead has it around 70 or so. I am not arguing against Touch of Evil so much as I just think more highly of the other 2 though Double Indemnity may fall to number 3 .
@James Trapp- Clearly both you and @Harry know what you’re talking about- and I always look forward to reading the comments from both of you. It just struck me that the Double Indemnity over Touch of Evil placement sort of reminded me of @Harry’s journey with The Searchers. Sort of looking for the perfect film with lower artistic ambitions (Double Indemnity and probably 50 films ahead of The Searchers on Harry’s list) vs. those films that are just going for more artistically (Touch of Evil, The Searchers)
@Drake – I hear you, I have The Searchers (1956) as John Fords’ best film even though I actually think My Darling Clementine (1946) is his most perfect film as well as my personal favorite of his though it’s very close between that and The Searchers. I love them both
Amazing list of films and performances.
To be honest for me Barbara Stanwyck is the ultimate performance in a film noir.
@M*A*S*H – thank you, and I was strictly doing male performances. For female performances:
1. Barbara Stanwyck – Double Indemnity, this is the greatest performance in any noir male or female
2. Kathleen Turner – Body Heat
3. Jane Greer – Out of the Past
4. Ava Gardner – The Killers
5. Rita Hayworth – The Lady from Shanghai
@James – no The Third Man?
@Harry – So I ranked The Third Man (1949) at # 15 when I did my top 100 films which would have placed it at # 2 on the list trailing only Chinatown (1974). But this is where some of the Genre Classifications get tricky. There are certain films that have noir aspects like The Third Man or Vertigo that I don’t consider full on Noirs. Perhaps I am wrong but interestingly enough I don’t know if I would label any of Hitchcock’s films as straight up noirs.
I’m not a big fan of Mitchum. I appreciate him, a great actor but i put many actors above him. I do prefer DeNiro and the Cape Fear version from Scorsese.
@KidCharlemagne – I’m a big admirer of Mitchum but agree on your take on Cape Fear; the Scorsese verison is vastly superior to the orginal in my opinion, however Mitchum is not the main reason for that. Scorsese’s version has far superior direction, more complex characters, in particular the lead character played by Nick Nolte in the remake vs the less interesting Greg Peck performance. I think De Niro and Mitchum give pretty much equally great performances.
I would warmly recommend Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison from 1957. It is John Huston`s own remake of The African Queen (both are in my opinion HR), with some of the best work from Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum, Mitchum plays Bogart`s role and in my opinion he surpasses him. One of his 5 best performances for me.
1. Night of the Hunter
2. Out of the Past
3. Cape Fear
4. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
5. Track of the Cat
6. The Friends of Eddie Coyle
@RujK- Appreciate it- I’ll keep an eye out for it