Saturday, February 07, 2015

His Kind of Woman (1951)

8.5/10 - Currently enjoying a streak of great Robert Mitchum noirs from the late 40s / early 50s, and it started with this one. His Kind of a Woman somehow manages to combine classic film noir elements, action, psychotic violence, and a healthy dose of comedy (though not of the Monty Python variety, as the back of the DVD weirdly claimed). Mitchum plays Dan Milner, a down-on-his-luck gambler who’s set up by high-level mobsters who then “offer” him a large sum of money to go down to an isolated resort in Mexico and wait for instructions on the job they want done. On the flight down, he encounters Jane Russell, the girlfriend of a famous actor – played deliriously by Vincent Price – who’s on a hunting trip at the lodge. The first half of the film has a languid, mysterious atmosphere as Mitchum waits around at the lodge, encountering a strange array of characters, including a sexually predatory Jim Backus (!), and trying to figure out what’s going on. What he doesn’t know is that he’s become involved in a scheme to get a major gangster (Raymond Burr) that’s been deported to Italy back into the United States. Mitchum and Russell sizzle together (they would be re-matched a year later in another great noir, Macao, and, according to the bonus feature, became lifelong friends), but Vincent Price almost steals the show as a hammy, fed-up actor who finally finds himself when he’s actually shooting at bad guys, quoting bits of Shakespeare along the way. The story’s a little convoluted, the product of Howard Hughes re-doing much of the film after the initial version by John Farrow (Mia’s father). The last section alone includes a particularly brutal beating scene (for 1951), a terrifying Nazi serum(!), shootouts, and a swashbuckling fight aboard a yacht, but it’s ultimately quite entertaining. The cinematographer, Harry J. Wild, was a noir veteran (Murder My Sweet, Cornered, The Big Steal) and does a great job with the shadows and angles, making the most of the elaborate Mexican resort set. The casting is terrific. Russell is stunning looking (that according to Alexandra, and I would not disagree) and a lot of fun on screen. Robert Mitchum is, well, just his bad-ass self. His Kind of Woman is a bit of an odd duck as a film noir, with the comic elements and over-elaborate plot twists, but it conjures up just enough of the existential angst before turning into something of a romp. I saw it alone the first time and enjoyed it so much I made Alexandra watch it, and it only got better the second time. Very entertaining.

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