Robert Mitchum: The Last True Hollywood Star

You'd might remember Robert Mitchum from his frightening turn in the original (and best) Cape Fear, but two re-released 50s film noir flicks show that, despite his self-deprecation, he was much more than a one-trick pony...
Publish date:
Updated on




The last true Hollywood star...

The Locket and The Racket both hail from the golden age of film noir. Directed by John Brahm, a German-born filmmaker who made a mint shooting episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Locket's the cracking tale of a husband-to-be who uncovers the less than flattering truth about his intended, excellently essayed by the Mormon actress Laraine Day.

The Racket, meanwhile, is another ripping yarn leant considerable cult credibility by Robert Ryan. The star of ace westerns like The Wild Bunch and The Professionals, Ryan was that rarest of things, a modest movie star. Happy to dismiss 70 of the 80 films he made as "utter rubbish", Ryan's list of important movies was actually very long. And while he never won any major acting awards, few would swap a gong for a CV featuring the likes of The Dirty Dozen, Hour Of The Gun, Billy Budd and Bad Day At Black Rock.

Besides being compelling crime dramas, The Locket and The Racket have something else in common - one Robert Charles Durman Mitchum. Described by no lesser a light than Christopher Lee as "the last true Hollywood star", Mitchum came to movies after a stint spent bootlegging whiskey across the Canadian border. Singularly unimpressed with stardom, Mitchum's days in the limelight included a spell in jail for marijuana possession. While being processed by the booking clerk, the Out Of The Past star described his current employment status as "former actor".

"The only difference between me and my fellow actors is that I've spent more time in jail."

Although he made countless cracking pictures - Cape Fear, The Night Of The Hunter, Thunder Road, The Lusty Men and Farewell, My Lovely to name but five - Mitchum's indifference and ready wit means that his fame hinges as much on what he said as the movies he made. In Lee Server's Baby I Don't Care - the finest movie biography ever written - the time Mitchum spent on set is considerably less interesting than the scrapes he got into and his bevy of bon mots. For example, when asked what made him stand-out from the crowd, Old Rumple Eyes replied:

"The only difference between me and my fellow actors is that I've spent more time in jail."

He also denied that he brought anything special to movie acting:

"Listen. I got three expressions: looking left, looking right and looking straight ahead. And I have two acting styles: with and without a horse."

And if he was a dab hand at self-deprecation, Mitchum was more than happy to pour scorn on his peers:

"Sure, I was glad to see John Wayne win the Oscar ... I'm always glad to see the fat lady win the Cadillac on TV, too."

"I gave up being serious about making pictures around the time I made a film with Greer Garson and she took a 125 takes to say 'no'."

"Steve McQueen sure don't bring much brains to the party."

And when everyone else was singing the praises of new talents like Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, Mitch cut them down to size with four short words:

"They are all small."

Robert Mitchum - great actor, even better movie star.

Click here to buy The Racket and The Locket from Odeon Entertainment