Saturday, December 25, 2010

Man Called Mitchum

When Robert Mitchum died on July 1, 1997, our profound pity party here at T-vania Gent central was only part of a double whammy: the great Jimmy Stewart died just several hours later into the next day, July 2. The resulting media coverage tended to angst exclusively over Stewart. It's always bothered me how the media neglected the proper tribute that Mitchum equally deserved and would have presumably gotten, had it been a slow news day. (And curiously, another of my absolute top five film heroes also died on July 1st: Marlon Brando exited stage left on July 1, 2007.)

And to this very day, I don't think the flame of Mitchum memory is kept burning nearly bright enough. Mitchum, like Stewart and Brando, is an iconic hero of mine whose voice I often find myself involuntarily channeling. There are some days when I wake up and it's just one of those days where I talk like Robert Mitchum all damn day, despite pleas from girlfriends and cohorts to give it a rest already.

The Mitchum oeuvre is extensive, ranging from Westerns (The Sundowners) to War (The Story of G.I. Joe) to Noir (Macao) to Horror (Secret Ceremony) to indie art films (Dead Man). He did everything from early serials (Hopalong Cassidy) to television (The Winds of War).

His film Pursued apparently had quite an impact on Jim Morrison of the Doors - just hours after watching it in a Paris theatre, he was found dead in his bathtub on July 3, 1971. (What is it with these early July deaths??)

And if all of these achievements in film weren't enough, Mitchum was also a great singer - with tunes like "That Little Old Wine Drinker Me", "My Honey's Lovin' Arms", and "Sunny". He even had a hit record with the theme from Thunder Road (a movie near and dear to my heart, as it deals with Kentucky moonshiners flouting the law.)

But what I really respect about Mitchum is how much his offstage life was like his roles - breezy, mellow, and not giving nine tenths of a fuck. Before settling into the movie-star bag, he was literally a boxcar-riding hobo for a time and ambled his way through a variety of jobs including astrologer (seriously!), ditch-digger, proto-Beat poet, and machine operator for military contractor Lockheed.

Mitchum's lazy laconic laidback style, which he radiated at 25 just as much as at 65, also serves well to represent that cometary and perennial world-weariness that besets every Transylvania Gentleman now and again. In his first scene in both The Night of the Hunter and The Big Sleep, he notes, "I'm tired."

I'm tired, too, Bob. I'm comin', I'm comin', my head is hanging low. I hear those gentle voices calling.

- - JSH

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