When Robert Mitchum received, in 1993, the Donostia award at the San Sebastián Film Festival was defined with a burst of dry data, a statement typical of the immutable man who embodied on and off the screen: “I am 6 feet tall [1,82 metros], weight 184 pounds [83 kilos]I’ve done 40 or 50 movies and four or five plays, and I’ve survived ”. Years before, faced with an unsuspecting question about his acting method, the laconic Mitchum fired this other famous shot: “I only have two acting styles: with or without a horse.”
Indeed, horse or not, Mitchum has survived. A century after his birth, on August 6, 1917, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and 20 after his death, from lung cancer, on July 1, 1997, at his home in Santa Barbara, California, the gesture Mitchum’s ironic remains at the Olympus of film history. Among those fifty films that the actor put in the cold bag of numbers are some as unforgettable as Return to the past (1947) by Jacques Tourneur, Angel Face (1952) and River of no return (1954), ambassador de Otto Preminger, o Hunter’s night (1955), British actor Charles Laughton’s masterpiece that made his tattooed knuckles immortal. A single genre film that made him an icon of the baddie seducer. If the devil was ever a ravishing guy, it was in the shoes of the preacher he plays in this film surrounded by legend: a failure that buried the career as a director of the great and tormented Laughton, who was disowned and misunderstood, banished to the basements of the studies by its producers, until decades later it was resurrected with full poetic justice.
Mitchum, needless to say, embroidered the role with his mocking gaze, that of one of the most impenetrable actors Hollywood ever knew. One star for attitude and for presence. An actor with a sleepy look (his love of marijuana was worth more than one dislike) capable of solving on his own the true meaning of the word cool. Who never won an Oscar? Does that matter? In his book on Humphrey Bogart, the Spanish critic Manolo Marinero wrote this wonderful portrait: “Bogie had advised Mitchum: ‘It doesn’t matter what the matter is. Just object. ‘ With his lazy abandon, his ironic drowsiness, his calm presence, Mitchum has done as much for non-collaboration as Bogart had done before with his skinny and nervous energy. Both represent different modalities of the right to insolence and different bets for being in the secret of things. Mitchum is heavyweight wisdom and Bogie is lightweight wisdom. “
Mitchum grew up with his mother, a Norwegian immigrant. His father had died in a train accident. Scottish, Irish and Indian blood ran through his blood. It was his mother who became fond of poetry. He was a sensitive but troubled boy. At 16 he was already in California looking for life. He worked as a miner, stevedore, doorman, grocer, boxer … but it was his cowboy bearing that earned him the first opportunity as an actor. Married for 57 years to Dorothy Mitchum, mother of his three children, he was pursued by fame as a party animal and a womanizer. With him came the scandal in 1948, when he was arrested for possession of marijuana along with a friend of hers, Lidia Leeds, and had to spend three months in prison. Photos from both the trial and his release from prison demonstrate the hard marble from which it was made. The event did not seem to affect him. When it came out, its popularity had even grown. Howard Hughes bought David O. Selznick his contract, and his career was propelled.
Addicts to the handsome actor’s face have long awaited the release of the documentary about his figure that American photographer Bruce Weber is preparing, whose Let’s Get Lost, about musician Chet Baker, just makes you foresee another bite of black and white beauty. Title, Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast (Good girls don’t stay for breakfast) pick up a Julie London ballad. Mitchum, versatile, also bet on a musical career. On the cover of his album Calpyso is Like So (1957) the actor / singer appeared, against a background of Afro-tropical reminiscences, seated at a table with a glass in his hand and flanked by a brunette in a red suit and a bottle. His greatest musical success, however, came a year later, in 1958, with the theme The ballad of Thunder road, about a boy from the mountains who smuggled alcohol.
Weber’s unpublished film brings together hours of talks, songs and tobacco with an actor who always showed a certain reluctance to interpret, for whose justification he had a battery of memorable phrases: (“I only have three expressions, look to the left, to the right and in front ”). That flirtatious and elegant way of standing in life, fearless, effortless, capable of restraining each and every one of his feelings is not quite clear how or where. In his memoirs, actress Shirley MacLaine described him like this: “He saw himself as a tough guy, born to be alone, one of those who only hope in life that the roof does not fall on them.” In its centenary, the figure of Mitchum survives with the aroma of that old Hollywood of round phrases, rogue and vibrant.
“I am capable of anything”
In the 1970s, Robert Mitchum played the famous Raymond Chandler detective, Philip Marlowe, in two films. On Bye doll (1975) and in a new remake from The eternal dream (1978), which in Spain was titled Private detective. In both cases, and despite having Charlotte Rampling as a partner in the first, Mitchum was above the film. Forged in film noir and accustomed to the role of antihero, he also brought age to the character.
The actor, who was then around 60 years old, already had that tired and twilight air of his last years. Tired of being pigeonholed into always similar roles, he once stated: “I don’t care what role they offer me. I can interpret from Polish homosexuals to women, passing through circus dwarfs. I am capable of anything ”.
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