Hollywood has had no shortage of man’s men, but perhaps no actor advanced so complex and alluring a model as Robert Mitchum. Mitchum’s incomparable career stretched across five decades and saw him blossom from a bit player in war films and westerns in the 1940s into a bona fide star working with some of Hollywood’s most towering figures in nearly every genre imaginable. Collaborating with pantheon auteurs such as Howard Hawks, Otto Preminger, Jacques Tourneur, Vincente Minnelli, and Nicholas Ray, the handsome and endlessly charismatic Mitchum always had the aura of a man in control of both himself and his situation, yet who was nevertheless besieged—a kind of walking metaphor for modern man’s limitations amid a universe of antagonism and uncertainty. The magnetic figure he cut into the screen has endured as a paragon of timeless cool (see his late-career appearances in films by Martin Scorsese and Jim Jarmusch), and his spot on the Mount Rushmore of American actors is undeniable. This year marks Mitchum’s centenary, and there is no better excuse to spend time with some of the greatest performances in his staggeringly rich career.
Co-programmed by Kent Jones and Dan Sullivan, FSLC Assistant Programmer.
Acknowledgments: Academy Film Archive; British Film Institute; UCLA Film & Television Archive; George Eastman Museum; Sikelia NY; Ned Hinkle, Brattle Theatre.
In Preminger’s seminal noir, Mitchum plays an ambulance driver caught up in the machinations of a femme fatale (Jean Simmons); after becoming her chauffeur and lover, can he extricate himself from her devious schemes before it’s too late?
Wise’s synthesis of western and film noir was a breakthrough for the director and further solidified Robert Mitchum as one of Hollywood’s most intriguing leading men, here playing a conflicted cowboy caught up in a plot against an aging cattle owner.
Mitchum channeled the menace and malice of his Night of the Hunter villain as unhinged ex-con Max Cady, fresh out of jail and seeking revenge against lawyer Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) and his family, in J. Lee Thompson’s influential, Bernard Herrmann-scored thriller.
Mitchum cameos as the local police lieutenant in Scorsese’s brute force update of J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 Southern thriller, which starred Mitchum as the iconic, original antagonist Max Cady.
This adaptation of Richard Brooks’s novel The Brick Foxhole, about a group of vets, led by Mitchum’s Sergeant Keeley, searching postwar Washington for their amnesiac friend so they can clear him of a murder charge, embodies the essence of what has come to be known as “film noir.”
Jim Jarmusch's hypnotic, parable-like, revisionist Western follows the spiritual rebirth of a dying 19th-century accountant (Johnny Depp) named William Blake, and also features Mitchum in one of his final film roles, as a gun-toting, cigar-smoking factory owner.
The first of Howard Hawks’s two variations on his own Rio Bravo finds Mitchum playing a hard-drinking sheriff who teams up with an old friend (hired gun John Wayne) to protect a wealthy rancher (Ed Asner) and his family from the threatening advances of another rancher’s fearsome gang.
In the first half of the 1970s, Robert Mitchum reached a new peak, the end of which came with this sepulchrally nostalgic, neon-lit adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s second Philip Marlowe novel.
Peter Yates’s adaptation of George V. Higgins’s novel about the tribulations of an aging gunrunner in working-class Boston arguably finds Mitchum at his career-best, conjuring a pitch-perfect blend of melancholy, spiritual exhaustion, and cloaked malevolence.
In one of his best films, Mitchum plays a down-on-his-luck gambler who takes a mysterious gig that brings him to an exclusive Baja resort, where he meets up with a colorful crew of characters, including a beautiful woman (Jane Russell) and her movie star boyfriend (Vincent Price).
Vincente Minnelli’s widescreen color melodramas for MGM are all very special, and this adaptation of William Humphrey’s sprawling 1958 saga of an overpowering Texas landowner (Mitchum) and his family is one of the finest.
“The kind of love I have for the film,” said Nicholas Ray of The Lusty Men, “is not as a filmmaker adoring a child, it’s as a part of the literature of America.” Set in the punishing, rootless world of the rodeo circuit, this is one of Ray’s very best films, and Robert Mitchum’s Jeff McCloud is its sad, busted, but still beating heart.
Mitchum stars as an American runaway tasked with capturing a crime lord as he woos a singer played by Jane Russell in this atmospheric crime yarn known for its unpleasant, tumultuous production.
An expressionist, southern gothic noir, The Night of the Hunter tracks the devious exploits of self-styled reverend and serial killer Harry Powell (Mitchum) as he gets out of jail and sets out to wed the widow of his deceased cellmate and murder her for her hidden fortune.
Tourneur’s landmark noir boasts one of Mitchum’s most iconic roles as a gas station proprietor in small-town California whose past life comes calling (in the form of Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas), setting off a riveting chain of twists and turns.
Walsh’s powerful, very dark and Freudian film noir/western hybrid—a favorite of Martin Scorsese—stars Mitchum as Jeb, the only survivor of a brutal massacre that wiped out the rest of his family when he was a boy. Now an adult, Jeb yearns to untangle the messy, suppressed memories of his childhood trauma.
In this CinemaScope western adventure, Mitchum is an ex-con farmer who, along with his young son and a gambler’s abandoned fiancée (Marilyn Monroe), must make a perilous trip downriver with hostile Indians in hot pursuit.
Mitchum’s extraordinary performance as the stoic, exhausted, and quietly beleaguered Lieutenant Walker in this adaptation of correspondent Ernie Pyle’s dispatches from World War II made him a star.
This lovely, eloquently simple film about returning WWII vets (Robert Mitchum and Guy Madison) and their difficulties adjusting to the homefront was made and released by RKO to get the jump on The Best Years of Our Lives.
This tale of moonshine runners in the hills of Tennessee and Kentucky was the most personal project of Robert Mitchum’s entire career—in addition to starring, he produced and co-wrote it.
Mitchum reunited with Story of G.I. Joe director William Wellman for a movie about a homesteading family in snow country whose livestock is being destroyed by a roaming mountain lion. Shot on location at Mt. Rainier, where 30-foot snowdrifts made for the most arduous and exhausting shoot of Mitchum’s career.
In this haunting, noirish, paranoiac thriller, Katharine Hepburn grows increasingly obsessed with learning the dark truth about what really happened to the brother (Robert Mitchum) of her handsome and wealthy husband (Robert Taylor).
In this elegiac and exquisitely shot Technicolor western, Mitchum richly incarnates an expat mercenary hired by a Mexican governor to carry out an arms deal that takes him to Texas, where he soon finds himself in conflict with a U.S. Army major—and at a moral crossroads.
East meets West in the form of two iconic stars in Sydney Pollack’s Americanized take on the Yakuza movie, teaming Japanese gangster film star Ken Takakura with Mitchum in a thriller set in Tokyo. Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.