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Starring Robert Mitchum
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Robert Mitchum Profile

Robert Mitchum's air of sleepy-eyed indifference belied the fact that he was a dedicated actor in command of a great variety of characters and moods, ranging from American and English to Irish and Australian; and from stalwart and heroic to depraved and evil. And yet no one ever caught Mitchum acting. Deborah Kerr, his costar in The Sundowners (1960) and other films, declared him "a natural, with perfect timing." The Night of the Hunter (1955) contains what is perhaps Mitchum's most powerful performance, as a psychopathic preacher pursuing two children who hold the key to a hidden cache of money. Charles Laughton, the director of that film, claimed that Mitchum's offscreen tough-guy act was just that. "In fact he's a very tender man, and a great gentleman," Laughton said.

Mitchum (1917-1997) was born in Bridgeport, Conn., and had a knockabout youth before entering films in bit roles in 1943. His breakthrough role was that of Lt. Bill Walker in The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), which brought his only Oscar® nomination (as Best Supporting Actor). His other war movies range from Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) to Midway (1976).

Mitchum's laconic presence also made him perfect for such film noir classics as Out of the Past and Crossfire (both 1947), and for Westerns including Track of the Cat (1954) and Tombstone (1993).

Though Mitchum has played his share of unsentimental heroes, it's his villainous roles that really stand out. In addition to his chilling performance as the Reverand Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter (1955), who can forget his homicidal convict Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962)? Martin Scorsese remade the later film in 1991 giving bit parts to original actors Gregory Peck and Mitchum. While the new lead players, Robert DeNiro as Cady and Nick Nolte, got the job done with white-knuckled effectiveness, they lacked the subtlety and psychological tension that Mitchum and Peck brought to the classic original.

One side of Mitchum moviegoers rarely saw was the romantic one; take a look at Desire Me (1947), co-starring Greer Garson, or Two for the Seesaw (1962) with Shirley MacLaine to see Mitchum seduce his female co-stars with his low-key masculine charm. And he certainly appeared opposite some of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses - Loretta Young (Rachel and the Stranger, 1948), Janet Leigh (Holiday Affair, 1949), Susan Hayward (The Lusty Men, 1952) and Jean Simmons (Angel Face, 1953). In the mid-50s, Mitchum recorded a record of Calypso-Lounge music that also incorporated his four loves - alcohol, cigarettes, women and song. The songs are a bacchanalian celebration, proof that the subdued Mitch knew how to have some fun.

by Roger Fristoe & Jeremy Geltzer

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