Big bad Bob Mitchum: Seriously, is there anybody you'd rather watch in a movie? Mitchum had the cool looks, a dancer's sense of balance, and a thoroughly modern amusement about his own stardom. Somehow he made you invest in a movie, while simultaneously communicating his own smirky suspicions that the whole thing was a joke. Mitchum gets boxed in Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection
, a six-disc batch of random but rewarding Mitchum vehicles. Highlights are two noirish outings, and two prestigious auteur pictures that allowed Mitchum to play outside his usual job description. The one authentic noir is Otto Preminger's Angel Face
(1952), with Mitchum as an incredibly passive hero bewitched by Jean Simmons' spoiled rich girl. True to its title, the film is utterly deadpan in tracking the downfall of Mitchum's easily-seduced male.
The quasi-noir is Macao (1952), a compulsively enjoyable piece of nonsense produced by the ever-meddling Howard Hughes. It's credited to director Josef von Sternberg, but it was largely reshot by Nicholas Ray (according to a Mitchum-Russell interview included on the disc, Mitchum wrote some of the new scenes). Doesn't matter; the combo of Mitchum and Jane Russell (re-teamed from the even kookier His Kind of Woman) is enough to carry this slice of backlot exotica. Both actors look skeptical about the material and amused by each other, and Russell gets to sing "One for My Baby."
Home from the Hill (1959) is an underappreciated change of pace for both Mitchum and director Vincente Minnelli. Mitchum, all authority as the super-manly patriarch of an East Texas family, supplies the brawn; Minnelli brings the same sensitivity to the emotional effects of color and movement that he brought to his musicals. Biggest surprise here is that two young-cub Georges, Peppard and Hamilton, are both very good in the male-ingénue roles. Another long film, Fred Zinnemann's The Sundowners (1960), is a gentle and wise account of a nomadic family of sheep-herders in Australia. Mitchum and Deborah Kerr bring a beautiful sense of mature romance to their relationship, and Zinnemann catches the beauty of the country. Plus, you learn how to shear a sheep.
The clinker in the set is Burt Kennedy's The Good Guys and the Bad Guys, a 1969 Western that can't decide whether it's sending up High Noon or playing it straight. Mitchum's the aging Marshall eased out of his job, George Kennedy is the equally aging varmint whose gang (led by whippersnapper David Carradine) plans a train robbery. One can imagine John Wayne as the Marshall and Mitchum as the rogue, but the movie would still fall flat. Finally, The Yakuza (1975) finds Mitchum in his weathered seventies form, and easily the best thing about Sydney Pollack's stately film. The Paul Schrader-Robert Towne script heads to Japan for some cultural lessons and much finger-severing. All in all, the set shows the range of a perpetually underestimated actor who never stopped being cool. --Robert Horton