Robert Mitchum’s ability to go from unrepentant menace in The Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear to attractive protector to Marilyn in River of No Return and Deborah Kerr in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, to husband-lover-father in The Sundowners to imperturbably stoic Pug in “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” represented more than just an actor who admitted that he’d play anything just for the money; the roles denote attitudes of masculinity. In looking him over, it somehow seems right that he was arrested for grass possession, because he typified disdain for obedience; he was a living example of pulp fiction. And it also seems to make perfect sense that he was a rugged solider in war movies, a sleepy-eyed cad or an extremely nonchalant dick in film noir: he was so contemporarily American that he was like a Pabst Blue Ribbon poster boy—a paunchy belter of booze, broads and baddies. (But why, despite what some fans and critics say, he was out of his realm in westerns.) Mitchum always wanted to be a better actor than the slugged icon of contempt he freely admitted to embellishing. John Huston sought out Mitchum’s genuine “air of casualness, his lack of pomposity” for Heaven Knows, in which the actor (and the audience) discovered that his cragginess would find its match in Deborah Kerr’s refinery. Opposites, of course, are sexual magnets, and if Mitchum can only dare to dream about what’s underneath Kerr’s religious habit, he’s given the chance to do much more with her in Fred Zinnemann’s Sundowners. (There’s no doubting that they rocked their tent cots; they do it more demurely in The Grass is Greener.) A short time later Mitchum would exhibit the effectiveness of being a startlingly cool hazard in J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear. When Mitchum says to Gregory Peck about his daughter, “She’s getting to be as juicy as your wife,” you applaud the nuanced benefits of 1962 language constraints; when he’s going after Polly Bergen, you appreciate the dearth of explicit sexual violence, though, as Bergen recounted years later, the scene was so intense that when the director yelled “cut,” she and Mitchum continued and had to be physically separated. Imagine what we’d have lost had he succeeded in dissuading the moviemakers from using him. (For comments on Scorsese’s version, click Cape Fear.)


Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.