Posts Tagged ‘Robert Mitchum’

One of my favorite actors is the late Charles Laughton, the portly Englishman who is perhaps most famous for his portrayal of Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty from 1935.  His looks were not like those of a typical leading man but he was able to overcome this with his sheer acting abilities and a screen presence that enhanced everything in which he was cast.  He could pay both despicable villain or the comic hero with ease.  But one of his most amazing performances for me was that of  the director of the movie The Night of the Hunter from 1955.

His first attempt at directing for the big screen, the film  was a flop at the box office and was panned by critics causing Laughton to forever give up directing.  But over the years the film has grown in stature and Laughton’s beautiful treatment of the creepy tale has garnered accolades, making me wonder what other great films he might have made if he has found greater initial success with The Night of the Hunter.

I am really drawn to his use of stark black and white imagery, using the contrasts to really accentuate the struggle within the tale between good and evil.  Robert Mitchum’s evil preacher, Harry Powell, with tattoos reading LOVE and HATE on his knuckles is contrasted with the delicate strength of Lillian Gish’s character.  It seems as though every scene is composed like a beautiful black and white painting. with imagery that reinforces the tension of the tale.    Just a wonderful film to look at.

TCM is showing The Night of the Hunter on July 5 at 10 PM.

Here’s a great scene with Mitchum and Gish.

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You come across some goofy stuff when you’re looking up things.  I was looking up some info on screen icon Robert Mitchum, for instance, and ran into some really interesting nuggets that surprised me.  I’ve always been a fan of Mitchum and his distinct brand of movie masculinity, the sort of which is absent in today’s cinema.  He looked like a man, not a movie star.  Moral ambiguity was not present in his screen portrayals.  The good guys he played were good guys and the bad guys bad.  Really bad. 

He was the first Max Cady, the evil ex-con intent on destroying his prosecutor ,  in Cape Fear and brought new meaning to the word menace without the embellishments that Robert DeNiro needed in his portrayal.  Then there was his lead in the beautifully creepy The Night of the Hunter as Reverend Harry Powell, the serial killing minister with the words “love” and “hate” tattooed on his knuckles.  He brought a realism to these parts that took away all implausibility.  I saw both of these films as a kid and they scared the hell out of me because, unlike horror films where you could rationalize away the fear, the evil in these films could be right outside your door with a smile on his face.

Okay, he was a great actor.  But it was some of the other details of his life that caught my eye.  I discovered he was one of the “wild boys of the road” during the Great Depression, young men and women, often no more than 15 or 16 years old, who were cut loose from their families during those dire times, told that they were a burden on the family and that they must go out on their own.  It was estimated that during the peak years of the Depression, when unemployment was over 25%, that there were over 250, 000 of these wild boys riding the railroad boxcars and hitchhiking around the US seeking work and a better life.  It was a life of violence, depravation and hardship, one that is a little known footnote to the history of that time. 

After leaving this life as a hobo (the term is supposedly derived from hoe boy when migrant workers followed the crops by riding the boxcars) Mitchum found himself in the world of movies and never looked back.  He was a star of the highest magnitude for many decades until his death in 1997.  Part of his legacy are a few albums he recorded of  songs from his films,  including the title song from  Thunder Road, which was a country hit for him in the 50’s.  And no, it’s not the same song as the Springsteen song.  But my favorite album of his has to be Calypso- Is Like So…

Mitchum came to know and love the music of the Caribbean  while filming there in the 50’s.  Whether this love required him to make such an album is questionable but the fact remains, he did.  It may not be your taste but credit the guy for not giving a damn what you might  think and just doing it.

Give a listen…

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