Noir, westerns, action...cool. It's the comedy that got to Judge Dylan Charles.
"The only difference between me and my fellow actors is that I've spent more time in jail."—Robert Mitchum
When Robert Mitchum was very young, he was arrested and spent time in a prison chain gang, from which he subsequently escaped. After he started working in pictures, he was tossed into prison for smoking pot, a habit he never gave up. He's a laid back, cool, and unflappable tough guy onscreen and off. Point of fact: one of the commentary tracks let's us know he slapped director Otto Premenger. So he's a badass…are his movies any good?
Facts of the Case
Angel Face: A near fatal "accident" brings together ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) and high society girl Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons). Frank realizes not all is on the level with Diane, but she slowly succeeds in her constant attempts to pull him into her world. Her lies and deceptions drag them both further and further down—and there's only one possible way this can all end.
Macao: On a boat to the small island/city of Macao, just off the coast of China, three strangers bump into each other: fast-talking salesman Lawrence Trumble (William Bendix), nightclub singer Julia Benson (Jane Russel), and man-of-the-world Nick Cochrane (Robert Mitchum). Once they reach port, it's only a matter of time before all three end up entangled with the local soft-spoken crime boss, Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter).
Is Nick who he claims to be? Who will Julia end up with? Will Vincent ever speak louder than a mumble? Find out in…Macao!
Home from the Hill: Captain Wade Hunnicut (Robert Mitchum) drinks too much and sleeps with every woman that he happens to catch sight of. His wife, Hannah (Eleanor Parker) doesn't take too kindly to this. As a result of his adulterous ways they've remained married but estranged.
The only thing they have in common is their son, Theron (George Hamilton). Their battles over Theron's affections, his father's constant womanizing, and his mother's manipulations are driving a wedge between all of them. Theron must try to overcome his father's past shameful deeds or risk sinking into that same empty cycle of violence and drink.
The Sundowners: It's Australia in the 1920's, and Paddy Carmody (Robert Mitchum) just wants to keep on living his life the way he always has: moving from town to town herding sheep with no one home tying him down. But after 16 years his wife, Ida (Deborah Kerr) and son, Sean (Michael Anderson Jr.) are tired of this nomadic life and are ready to settle down.
They battle firestorms, loose sheep, rival shearers and each other to try and carve out a home for themselves.
The Good Guys and the Bad Guys: Aging town marshal James Flagg (Robert Mitchum) is finally and forcibly put out to pasture by the ambitious Mayor Wilker (Martin Balsam). Unfortunately for all, Big John McKay (George Kennedy) is back to cause trouble after a 20 year hiatus. Wacky hijinks ensue…sort of.
The Yakuza: Syndey Pollack (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) directs this 1970's action-y noir-esque movie. Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) is called back to Japan to help out an old army buddy, George Tanner (Brian Keith). A Yakuza crime boss has kidnapped Tanner's daughter and it's up to Kilmer and Ken Tanaka (Takakura Ken) to bring her back. Severed limbs and bullets go flying in this bloody bit of business.
A film noir is only as strong as its femme fatale—and Angel Face's Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) is one hell of a woman. From the moment that we meet her, we know she's not going to be the good girl of the picture. When Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) slaps her to put a stop to her hysterics, she returns the favor. Her mental accumen equals her reflexes. In an early scene, she plays a quiet game of cat and mouse with Frank's current special lady Mary (Mona Freeman). They size each other up over lunch and it's clear that both are very aware of the game that they're playing. Diane is smart and capable, and she's willing to do what it takes to get what she wants. So when she breaks down with remorse over the things she's done, it's all the more powerful.
Robert Mitchum is the hapless fool who falls in with her. He's cool and unflappable, hardly ever fazed by her tears or her manipulations. But, in spite of his best effort, he continually gets dragged further and further into her machinations.
The movie is akin to watching a slow-motion train wreck. Throughout Angel Face the grimness only continues to intensify, with a long slow build toward the conclusion. But you have to keep watching. As Diane falls further and further downward, you have to watch.
Otto Preminger's direction is understated and he has a subtle touch. There is a lot packed into 90 minutes, a lot of story and a lot of character. Angel Face succeeds in large part because of its tight focus on Diane and Frank. Preminger has wound up these two characters and then just let them go. After all is said and done, Angel Face is my favorite of the pack.
There ain't much in the way of extras here: You've get the one commentary track by Eddie Muller, a film historian. He's got plenty to say and it's often insightful and entertaining. He's where I found out about Mitchum giving Preminger a love tap.
After the dark and gloomy Angel Face, the light-hearted Macao is a welcome bit of sunlight.This caper flick is of the same brand as, say, Charade with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Our heroes are loose in a den of thieves and we are left in the dark about who's on whose side. Those familiar with the genre, however, probably won't be too surprised with the twists.
Macao is fluff. There's no real depth to the story and you shouldn't expect to come away from it with a deeper understanding of the life, the universe, and everything. Instead you should expect to have yourself a good old time. While it is only fluff, it's well made fluff.
Robert Mitchum is cool, no matter what movie and what role he's playing. Add Jane Russel to the mix as a nightclub singer and you've got yourself an enjoyable way to kill 80 minutes. Their relationship is defined early on in the movie with a kiss that only ends after she's lifted his wallet and gotten away scot-free with his cash. William Bendix rounds out the trio with a salesman whose patter is nonstop. Oftentimes Mitchum acts as his straight man as Bendix goes through his spiel. He's as slick as oil and amusing to boot. Brad Dexter provides a quiet but threatening presence as Vincent Halloran. His smile as he watches the dead body of one of his enemies sink beneath the waves tells volumes.
Jane Russell, Eddie Muller, and screenwriter Stanley Rubin do the commentary track this time around. Muller acts as interviewer and guide, prompting Rubin at times. They react well against each other and come up with interesting tidbits about the movie and the industry itself at the time it was made. Russell's track was recorded separately and she doesn't speak as often, but she does have her own stories to tell.There's also an interview with Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum made in the 1990s. Again, they have some stories to tell, but not very much time to tell them.
On the heels of Macao comes Home from the Hill, which can be best described as a gothic western. With Texan scenery and Texan ideals laced with high melodrama and a depressingly grim air, it's about the Hunnicut family, the idea of legacy, and what it is to be a man.
Wade Hunnicut (Robert Mitchum) is a tough man to love. He's stubborn, he drinks too much, and he cheats on his wife with any woman that looks his way. He's also an extremely powerful man. This is a different role than the ones seen before in this set. He's not a likable person and he loses his temper more often. There is a definite mean streak that runs through him. Not that I'm complaining; it's nice to see Mitchum stretching his legs. The man can act and this here flick has got proof of it. When he finally gets around to trying to reconcile with his wife Hannah (Eleanor Parker), the audience is finally able to sympathise with a man they've perhaps grown to loathe.
George Peppard plays Raif, a man who works for Wade. His character and his acting could be watered down versions of Wade though. Easy-going and carefree, while at the same time crude and rugged, he's a nice version of Wade that is more than capable of taking of himself. George Hamilton is Theron Hunnicut, Wade's son. He's naïve and a bit on the whiny side. He can be grating at times, as he spends a great deal of time acting right cowardly. He even has Raif ask out a girl for him, a lengthy scene that had me wanting slap Theron heartily, like what Simmons gave Mitchum.
The main flaw here is the tendency toward melodrama and the length of the film itself. There are certain scenes where the scenery is chewed and ham is served. Eleanor Parker is especially guilty of this. There are times where she looks so wild-eyed that her eyes are almost in danger of rolling back into her head.
And then there's the length. It can drag at times and it clocks in at almost two and a half hours. I'm divided about this movie in all honesty. It has some strong points (Mitchum's performance, the story), but I'm not really a fan of the melodramatic aspects of this western.
There are no special features to be found here, save the trailer. Which, considering some of the features for the other movies in the set, might be considered a blessing.
The Sundowners, like Home from the Hill, is a lengthy western that deals more with the issue of family than with who can draw their gun the fastest. However, where it differs from Home from the Hill is in the nature of the family dynamic.
Where Home from the Hill depicts a loveless family, this film shows the Carmodys as steadfast and loyal to one another. They're trying to scratch out a living the best way they know how.
The one kink in their plans is the father Paddy Carmody (Robert Mitchum), a rover who chooses to move from place to place. Mitchum is not a dominating patriarch and his family unit is much more democratic in nature. Nonetheless, there is one matter where he is more or less resolute. He does not want to set down roots.
Mitchum took a lot of flak early on for more or less playing the same role: Easy going and capable of throwing a punch with the best of them. Here, Mitchum goes beyond that and shows he's capable of a far greater range. His scene where he sits on the back porch and confesses to his wife a terrible thing shows a broken man. Gone is the laidback Mitchum. In his place is the devestated Paddy Carmondy.
As his long suffering wife, Deborah Kerr is just as strong as her husband, just as brave and committed to the family. It's often her plans that pull the family through their hard patches. Last in the family unit is their son Sean (Michael Anderson Jr.). All three members must work together for the family to work on any kind of level. Peter Ustinov finishes off our cast of main characters as the drily funny Rupert Venneker. The four combined create a team that it is worth rooting for as they are tried and tried again.
When I first found out that The Sundowners took place in Australia, I cringed. I imagined badly done accent after badly done accent. And to be sure, Mitchum's accent does fade in and out at times, but at least he doesn't let out the occasional, oddly inserted "crikey."
The Australian Outback is our backdrop for this film and it's all spledindly captured by the director Fred Zinnemann. While Home from the Hill devolves into melodrama at some points, The Sundowners manages to avoid that and sticks closer to the heart of things. There are no wild-eyed women here, but quiet, steady performances based on a script equally strong and low-key in tone.
There's a vintage featurette included, a small piece made when the movie was released. It's narrated by the author of the novel on which the movie was based and has some interesting footage of the cast and crew on set, but nothing much else to offer.
I don't think too many people will argue with me when I say that The Good Guys and the Bad Guys is the weakest of the bunch. It's a comedy of sorts, all about how Town Marshal James Flagg (Robert Mitchum) is getting old. Real old. So old that no one takes him seriously or listens to his suggestions.
So when Big John McKay (George Kennedy) shows up, they completeLY ignore Flagg's advice and then force him into retirement with a surprise retirement party.
What follows are jokes about how old Flagg and McKay are, followed by jokes about the ambitious and oversexed Mayor (Martin Balsam). None of it is particularly funny. Some of it is just dumb, and it's all too predictable. And then there's the matter of the ballads. At numerous times throughout the movie, there are ballads sung over the action on-screen. To what end, I cannot fathom. They're not very funny, the lyrics are inane, and they get pretty repetitive.
George Kennedy and Mitchum have a good chemistry and Balsam is pretty damn zealous as the mayor. But Mitchum's love interest is almost a nonentity they make so little use of her. David Carradine and John Carradine are also here with David taking on the role of cold hearted villain Waco and John plays a bumbling train conductor who tries to shoot our hero numerous times.
It's not an awful movie, it's just not very good. I don't have anything much else to say about it…I really hated those ballads though.
The "vintage featurette," The Good Guy from Chama, included with the movie is fairly innocuous and tells the story of a little Mexican boy who's all excited because they're shooting The Good Guys and the Bad Guys in his town. It has maybe one or two worthwhile pieces of information and it's only worth seeing if you have some keen desire to see a small boy harassing George Kennedy.
The collection comes full circle with The Yakuza. The set is book-ended with film noir, the genre that Mitchum is perhaps best known for. It's fitting that the last entry should be a noir.
The Yakuza is extremely atmospheric, in part because of the setting in 1970s Japan, but mostly due to Sydney Pollack's direction which is very reminiscent of those early noir films. After Kilmer (Mitchum) has visited with his old girlfriend Eiko (Keiko Kishi) he stands outside under a neon sign while smoking. Heavy shadows on Mitchum's lined face and a feeling of heaviness settling over his features makes this noir of a new decade. It's not in the same league as Chinatown, but they're blood relations, make no mistake.
Mitchum is in top form here; he is weary, wearied under the burden of obligation. His ally is Ken Tanaka (Ken Takakura) and their partnership is one based on an old debt that must be repaid. By the end they have a greater bond than that, and it shows in the way they respect each other—both in battle and during the calm.
And lord, are there ever battles.
Mitchum has his guns and Takakura has his sword and the body count rises steadily upward as the movie progresses. The final fight scene is one of those most tense action sequences I've seen. There is a slow, deliberate pace and it can get skin-crawlingly tense. The sword fighting is more crude than what is shown on screen today and so feels more real. The gunplay is comprised of long moments of quiet that suddenly erupt into gunshots.
Pollack recreates classic noir here. He's changed the setting, changed some of the standards, but he's brought it back and with one of the best actors of the genre as well.
There is yet another vintage featurette, which is the best of all of them, but is still rather disappointing. I would have preffered a full-fledged making-of documentary, rather than what amounts to little more than a 20-minute trailer for the movie.
There is also a commentary by Pollack, which is mediocre as far as commentaries go. There are lengthy pauses at times and it's fairly low key, though he does have a fair amount of insight to offer. Only fans of the film need listen.
Film collections can be tricky things, with the value of the included movies sometimes vacillating wildly. Not so here. The level of quality is high across the board, with only a single exception (I'm looking at you, The Good Guys and the Bad Guys).
They've also treated the films nicely in terms of presentation, with clean and clear audio and video for all the movies. However, the set lacks special features. I could have done with far less vintage featurettes and more along the lines of the interview with Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum.
Still, it's a good showcasing of Mitchum, covering a broad spectrum of his career over two decades, from film noir to westerns to film noir in Japan. While Night of the Hunter or Cape Fear would have been nice to have, Angel Face and The Yakuza are good substitutes that deserve the wider audience this set will bring them.
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