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DVD Review: The Robert Mitchum Film Collection

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Robert Mitchum (1917-1997) was one of Hollywood’s most iconic leading men. He had the amazing capability of being the “tough guy” you did not want to mess with, or the romantic lead, or even a shady “preacher.“ His career spanned over 50 years, and like any actor with such a long time in the business, he had his share of peaks and valleys. Taken as a whole though, the peaks far outweigh the valleys, which is one reason we remember him so fondly. The films that make up the new Robert Mitchum Film Collection span the years 1954-1967. As a cursory glance at the titles confirms, these were indeed golden years for him.

The collection is a budget-priced package containing ten films on ten DVDs. It is a two-volume set, each of which are designed in a gate-fold format, with three panels. The DVDs are housed in them, and unfortunately are not very well protected. In fact, a couple of mine slipped out during shipping, and got scratched. They still play, but I think this could be a problem for other customers. I think a tighter way of holding the discs in place should have been considered.

That caveat aside though, there are some great movies here. It is hard for me to choose a favorite, mainly because he covered such a wide range of styles. It really depends on my mood as to what I want to watch. But to make it easy, I started with the first movie of the set, River of No Return (1954). One memorable aspect of this one is the appearance of a very young Marilyn Monroe. This Otto Preminger-directed flick has a lot of action, and is set in the Pacific Northwest in 1857. Robert and Marilyn have a tough go of it on the river, and the situation gets pretty rough, but they valiantly try to survive in the rugged territory.

At the complete opposite of the spectrum comes the farcical What a Way to Go! (1964). This features a pretty great cast, including Paul Newman, Dick Van Dyke, Gene Kelley, and (of course) our hero Robert Mitchum. They are all “dying” to meet the woman of their dreams, the young and quite vivacious Shirley MacLaine. It’s a goof, and sometimes that is all I am looking for on a rainy weekend afternoon.

My next choice was The Way West (1967). I am a big fan of Westerns, and The Way West is something of a classic. Mitchum plays Dick Summers, a hired guide who takes Missouri Senator William J. Tadlock (Kirk Douglas) on a wagon train following the Oregon Trail. There are plenty of things that can and do go wrong on the way, and this one is an excellent choice when you are in the mood for a good old-fashioned, action packed Western.

Since the Robert Mitchum Film Collection is set up to easily pick out whatever movie strikes your fancy, my next one was one of my all-time favorites, The Longest Day (1962). I have probably seen it a dozen or more times, but I never get tired of it. The Longest Day is certainly one of the best war movies ever made. It requires an investment in time, running three hours, but it is worth it. Besides Mitchum, the all-star cast includes John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Peter Lawford, and many, many others. It focuses on the events leading up to and culminating with the landing at Normandy, and is brilliant.

Probably due to the fact that Robert Mitchum was very prominently featured in so many film noir flicks, I never really realized how many war films he starred in. Besides The Longest Day, this collection includes four more war movies.  As is the case with so many of his roles, each of these films have unique qualities. In Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957), our hero stars as the title character, who falls in love with a nun (!) played by Deborah Kerr. The two are stranded on an island in the South Pacific during World War II.

A much more straight-forward effort is The Hunters (1958), which takes place during the Korean War. Mitchum is an Air Force Major leading his young co-pilots into battle. Next up in my “Mitchum War Festival” series came Man in the Middle (1964). This is a very unusual war film , as most ot of it takes place in a courtroom. Mitchum stars as Lieutenant Colonel Barney Adams, a career military attorney, who must defend Lt. Winston (Keenan Wynn) for murdering a British soldier in India.

The Enemy Below (1957) is a fascinating, and very taut story. It is sort of a chess game played out on the high seas, with Mitchum as the captain of an American destroyer, and Curt Jurgens as the commander of a German U-Boat. The two are stalking each other, and the situation is fraught with tension. Anyone who has seen Das Boot (1982) will understand, and The Enemy Below is a very memorable film.

In a way, the high-stakes game that is played out in The Enemy Below has some similarities to The Night of the Hunter (1955). Both films are filled with tension, and I found myself at the edge of my seat through much of them. In Night of the Hunter though, there is no question as to who the bad guy is. Mitchum plays a traveling “preacher” who sets his sights on a young (and very attractive) Shelly Winters, who plays a widow. This is another Mitchum film that stays with you long after it is over.

Nine down, and one to go. To be honest, I sort of loaded the dice here. I love The Longest Day, no question about it, but with such a huge cast it is hard to really call it a  “Mitchum film.” It is so mammoth that it does not really belong to anyone, or maybe I should say that it belongs to everyone.

Be that as it may, there is no question about who owns Thunder Road (1954). This features Robert Mitchum at his anti-hero finest, and it is definitely my favorite out of his. I will put it simply, and ask you to pardon my French, but Thunder Road just kicks ass. Mitchum stars as a Kentucky bootlegger who lives to outrun the cops. It’s a thrill-packed ride, and a movie I never tire of.

Robert Mitchum was an actor in the truest sense of the word. He could inhabit just about any role offered to him, no matter how against type it might seem. For what it is worth, he is ranked 23rd on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest male American screen legends. That is certainly an honor, but as I am sure he would agree, the most important thing to consider are the films themselves.

There is no doubt that the Robert Mitchum Film Collection features some great movies. But add such undeniable classics as Thunder Road, Night of the Hunter, and The Longest Day, and you have a collection that is a must for any film buff.

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