SUNDAY, AUG. 13 – SUNDAY, SEPT. 3
“He is a master of stillness. Other actors act. Mitchum is. He has true delicacy and expressiveness, but his forte is his indelible identity. Simply by being there, Mitchum can make almost any other actor look like a hole in the screen.”
– David Lean
Robert Mitchum (1917-1997) would have turned 100 this month. Was any screen actor cooler than he was? When he was still a freshly minted star, a 1948 conviction for marijua- na possession—a scandal that would have destroyed many a Hollywood career—seemed only to enhance his outlaw image. Approached by a reporter after a stretch in county jail, he described it as “like Palm Springs, but without the riff-raff.”
That sense of irony informed a screen presence that made him ideal for film noir, but his laconic manner also led many to undervalue his skill as an actor. Calling him “one of the best actors in the movies,” critic David Thomson cites the “intriguing ambiguity in Mitchum’s work, the idea of a man thinking and feeling beneath a calm exterior that there is no need to put ‘acting’ on the surface. And for a big man, he is immensely agile, capable of unsmiling humor, menace, stoicism and, above all, of watching other people as though he were waiting to make up his mind.”
Early circumstances sent him on the road in his teens, and he began in Hollywood in bit parts and B-westerns. After a Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Story of G.I. Joe (1945), his career took off and rarely slowed down. As a side- bar, he also had a recording career, and his graceful, melodic singing voice was occasionally featured in his films.