Very likely the best of all the WWII movies, The Longest Day is a masterful account of the preparation for and execution of the largest land and sea military action in history: D-Day. Starring practically every available movie star of its day and directed by a crew of directors including an unaccredited Darryl F. Zanuck, it’s a logistical achievement worthy of the momentous day it’s chronicling. All the major elements of Allied invasion are represented with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum taking on the roles of the commanders of the front line divisions, the former of the airborne, the latter of the marines. Robert Ryan, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, and Richard Todd also feature but more peripherally, the latter excelling as leader of a British commando unit. The Germans are represented in force too (with Curd Jürgens doing particularly well) as the action constantly switches back and forth between both sides.
Needless to say the acting is first rate with Mitchum especially standing out as the beleaguered general of those who were always going to be the hardest hit as they stormed the beaches. The battle sequences involving him and his men are by far the most thrilling and rightly so given how relevant they were to the entire invasion. That said, there isn’t a single battle sequence in The Longest Day which won’t have you on the edge of your seat and what’s more, they are all entirely different to each other in both logistics and execution. However, during all the back and forth shifting between battle sequences, it still finds the time for moments of quiet reflection and the tone which it sets during these moments is deeply affecting.
The most impressive feature of the film is without a doubt the fact that at all times, The Longest Day never fails to intertwine the role and perspective of the individual soldiers with the broader strategic advancements of their respective units. The later A Bridge Too Far did this too when chronicling Market Garden but not as well as it’s done here. The Longest Day puts us right in the middle of the action so that we feel intimately familiar with the ebb and flow of the advance and it’s thrilling stuff. The film is shot magnificently and even though the US, British, and German episodes are all helmed by different directors, there’s a seamless look and feel to the whole thing. Overall, The Longest Day is a captivating piece of cinema which shows great deference to the momentous events of that day. There are some fine movies which focus on the same events but none are as comprehensively great as this.
Rating: The Good – 84.3 Genre: Western Duration: 88 mins Director: Robert Wise Stars: Robert Mitchum, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Preston
Robert Wise impressed across a number of genres during his career and this contribution to the great American movie form was one of his most significant, even it is has gone relatively unacknowledged. Blood on the Moon is a shadowy western noir that embraces the crime genre’s visual and writing conventions head on and pits hardened, sharp talking men and women against one another amid silhouette and darting slits of light. That everyone is sporting Stetsons and six shooters and fighting cattle wars is the only thing that reminds us we’re in the Old West.
Robert Mitchum is the drifter who finds himself drafted into one side of a complicated conflict in which his old friend (a loathsome Robert Preston) is manipulating two sides in a open range dispute against the other for his own aims. Lille Hayward’s dialogue is slick with insight and street (prairie) smarts to the extent that the cast and director alike seem inspired by it. Mitchum’s typically soulful presence is the central pillar to the movie’s success and that it’s one of his more endearing performances says a lot. Balancing the self preservation instincts of the great noir anti-heroes with the morality of the Old West champion, he foreshadows the great characters of the spaghetti western nearly two decades earlier. Barbara Bell Geddes makes the most of her plucky character in whom her affection for Mitchum’s gun hand represents an interesting conflict.
But Wise deserves the last mention for Blood on the Moon is certainly one of the more striking westerns to behold both flush with moodiness and overflowing with dusty grit. There was a time when cinema and television was inundated with westerns to the point that cinema goers became jaded with the genre. Despite a few efforts to rejuvenate its look and style in the late 50’s and 60’s, it never really recovered. That Blood on the Moon came at the height of the genre’s popularity makes Wise’s project all the impressive and indeed prescient. If others had taken more notice, the western might have survived.
Rating: The Good – 97.5 Genre: Thriller Duration: 92 mins Director: Charles Laughton Stars: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish
“Children are man at his strongest. They abide.” Charles Laughton’s majestic film tells the story of two orphaned children on the run from a murderous “preacher” who wants the stolen money that their father gave them to hide before being captured by the police. Robert Mitchum was never better as the malevolent women-hating criminal who disguises himself as a man of the cloth in order to get his hands on the cash his cell mate spoke of in his sleep. There have been few performances as brave, captivating, and disturbing and it would surely have been the most memorable feature of the picture if it wasn’t for what first-time director Laughton was doing behind the camera.
More used to being in front of it, Laughton gives a master class in the use of light, shadow, and perspective to give the ordinary and mundane a mythical and otherworldly feel. The film flows with a dreamlike quality with the river-rafting sequences in particular demonstrating an innovation and boldness which few established directors of the time were demonstrating, let alone first-timers. In fact, its subtle manipulations and breadth of imagination give it the psyche-affecting power of those archetypal fairytales we all grew up on.
This sweeping brilliance makes it difficult to pigeon-hole The Night of the Hunter into one particular genre. Some have classed it as a film-noir but given the message of hope and optimism (delivered chiefly through the outstanding performance of Lillian Gish) which powerfully permeates the final act, it would seem to certainly defy that genre’s conventions. At times a parable and at times a deeply cutting satire, this film’s form is defined by an almost whimsical momentum as if Laughton was purposefully channeling the playful and malleable way children (most of all) see the world. And it’s in this achievement that the true genius of the film is realised. However, Laughton’s astounding debut was so reviled at the time of its release (for daring to dress evil in the clothes of a preacher) that he never stepped behind the camera again, depriving us of perhaps one of the truly great directors.
Rating: The Good – 83.8 Genre: War Duration: 98 mins Director: Dick Powell Stars: Robert Mitchum, Curd Jürgens, David Hedison
Actor Dick Powell stepped behind the camera to serve up this timeless and expertly crafted WWII naval drama about two captains engaged in a battle of wits above and below the water respectively. Robert Mitchum plays the captain of the US destroyer who is supposed to be convalescing on an easy assignment after spending weeks adrift in the North Atlantic after his previous ship had been sunk. However, after unexpectedly encountering a German U-boat, he enters into a compelling game of cat and mouse with a German counterpart who shares every bit of his skill and acumen.
Mitchum gives a more reserved performance than his usual star vehicles offer but, ever the consummate movie star, his screen presence still works a treat. Mitchum belonged to that small group of stars who owned the camera when it was on him and The Enemy Below is no different. Curd Jürgens is equally good as the war-weary U-boat commander and the two do a fine job in playing off each other as mutually respecting opponents. Powell deserves a lot of credit too as he constructs one immense torpedo and depth-charge laden battle sequence after another. The photography is splendid whether above or below the water and Powell’s use of sound particularly in the underwater sequences is inspired. He also strikes a composed balance between the taut and quiet moments, efficiently using the latter segments to flesh out the personalities of the various support players.
However, it is Wendell Mayes’ adaptation of D.A. Rayner’s novel which provides the finishing touch to this epic because, without a doubt, the standout strength of this movie is the cleverness of the tactical and mental interchanges shared between the two captains. It’s in these moments that each of this film’s components come together so seamlessly to produce the type of spellbinding submarine action that has really only been since equalled by McTiernan’s The Hunt for Red October, if at all.
Rating: The Good – 69.3 Genre: Thriller Duration: 112 mins Director: Sydney Pollack Stars: Robert Mitchum, Ken Takakura, Brian Keith
With Sydney Pollack behind the camera, Paul Scrader and Robert Towne co-writing the script, and Robert Mitchum in front of the camera this film had all the right ingredients to be a classic example of vintage Hollywood. Although, it perhaps didn’t scale to those heights it is a first rate 70′s thriller. Mitchum plays a retired soldier, Kilmer, who returns to Japan to repay a debt. Ken Takakura plays the Japanese ex-yakuza Tanaka who himself is honour-bound to help Kilmer. The Yakuza perfectly blends the hard-edged action of 70′s American cinema with the samurai sword-play of the jidaigeki genre to produce a rather original film for its time. Such a blending has been attempted many times since with most new attempts more jarring than the last. The Yakuza avoids the pitfalls of those later films by showing genuine interest in the Japanese psyche and how westerners operate in a world dominated by their sense of honour and respect. Richard Jordan as usual scores well as Kilmer’s right-hand man.
The original (and yes the best) Cape Fear sees Robert Mitchum give a masterful performance as Max Cady, the recently released convict who is intent on terrorising the man who put him away (Gregory Peck) by targeting the dearest thing to him, his family. Peck is (as usual) a great central character, his large frame and piercing stare saying more about his character than than any amount of dialogue could. However, this film is all about Mitchum’s insatiably cruel Cady, who really does send chills down your spine. Not nearly as caricatured as De Niro’s subsequent interpretation, his nastiness seems much more real and cold. J. Lee Thompson captures the action extraordinarily well slowing it down in classic shadowy noir style at times (such as when Cady attacks his date) and dialling it all the way up at others (such as during the climactic river sequence). James R. Webb’s screenplay is perfectly adapted from John D. McDonald’s novel “The Executioners” and on top of all that you have one of the all time great scores by the legend Bernard Herrmann which Scorsese wisely kept in his remake.
Rating: The Good – 94.1 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 97 mins Director: Jacques Tourneur Stars: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas
“Just get out. I have to sleep in this room.” The prototypical film-noir, Out of the Past (or Build My Gallows High as it is also known), is as close to a perfect film as there has ever been. It stars Robert Mitchum as a former PI living under an assumed name to evade a mobster (Kirk Douglas) whom he double-crossed years before hand on account of who else but a devious woman (Jane Greer). The film opens with him being discovered by one of Douglas’ henchmen and while the process of bringing Mitchum “back in the fold” begins, his story is told in flashback. Mitchum was a truly iconic actor and it was performances such as this one which made him arguably the greatest *movie star* of them all. With his laconic delivery and poise (and director Jacques Tourneur’s immaculate framing), he owns every inch of the screen and becomes the reference point for every other character in the film. What’s remarkable about a performance like this one is that rather than overshadowing his fellow actors, he enhances their roles and allows them to shine still brighter. Jane Greer is insatiable as perhaps the most treacherous of all the femme fatales as every word shes utters seems laced with poison. Douglas revels in the role of the charismatic bad guy and in his own way helped forge a character that we would see many times again not just in the noir genre but others too.
Tourneur’s direction is inspired, demonstrating some of the most subtly brilliant scene composition in a series of sumptuous night-time and daytime scenes. The exquisite framing and lighting has never been equaled and every shot seems impossibly polished. Of course, the standout strength of Out of the Past is without doubt Daniel Mainwaring’s deeply perceptive and downright sizzling dialogue (adapted from his own novel), which perhaps more than any other film noir paints the murky and romantically charged world of ambiguity that so defines the genre. With the superbly timed delivery of Mitchum and co it takes on an easy grace that massages your ears and captures your imagination. Timeless.
“Hating…can end up killing people who wear striped neckties.” A standard enough murder plot involving three off-duty soldiers is elevated due to some prescient social analysis and even a forewarning of where the anti- communist witch hunts (still in their infancy) were heading. Robert Young plays the insightful detective, Robert Mitchum the good-hearted sergeant, and Robert Ryan the surly soldier who may or may not have something to do with the murder. Dmytryk shot the film in a film noir style for convenience and in truth that’s where its connection to the genre ends. The plot is much more basic than your typical noir and the characters nowhere near as ambiguous. That said, the film remains one of the clearest explanations of hate and bigotry and is worth watching for that alone. As an interesting side note, Crossfire is the film that supposedly drew the attention of the House of Unamerican Activities towards liberal Hollywood.
Rating: The Good – 72.1 Genre: Crime Duration: 92 mins Director: Arthur Ripley Stars: Robert Mitchum, Gene Barry, Jacques Aubuchon
Neither a typical road movie nor thriller, this 50’s cult classic focuses on a community of bootleggers who defy the law by hiding their stills way out in the mountainside and transporting their shine in muscle cars faster than anything the police have on the roads. Based on Robert Mitchum’s own story, Thunder Road follows Luke Doolin (the fastest of all the transporters) and his battle with both a police task force set up specifically to catch him and an organised crime network determined to take over his family’s patch. Thunder Road is an original movie which stands squarely on the broad charismatic shoulders of Robert Mitchum as Luke. Given the unconventional nature of the premise and its lead actor, it feels exactly like a cult classic should. The chase scenes are few but excellent and hard-hitting, the drama is sufficiently engaging, and the end provides us with a great pay-off. Furthermore, you get a chance to see some well acted scenes between Mitchum and his eldest son who stars as his younger brother. What more could you want?
An interesting but problem ridden account of the decisive WWII battle of the pacific sees Carlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford and others go up against their Japanese counterparts in the form of Toshirô Mifune and James Shigeta. The strength of the this film lies in its honest attempt to capture the ebbs and flows of the battle as tactics, mechanical and human error, courage and above all luck played their respective hands. This goes a long way in recreating some of the anxiety and panic that defined the days events. The cast is littered with big names from the aforementioned to Hal Holbrook, Robert Webber, Robert Wagner, Cliff Robertson, James Coburn, and most exciting of all Robert Mitchum. Though they all bring their presence in different ways most of them are mere cameos and so there’s a tendency to feel rather hard done by as the film continues. But that’s only a minor issue compared to major problems which beset this film.
First off, the Japanese characters either speak English in American accents or in most cases they are dubbed by Americans making no attempt to disguise their accents. While this reduces the authenticity which films like Tora! Tora! Tora! achieved so easily it also makes it difficult to discern which sides the various pilots belong to as they radio back to their ships. Even more unfortunate is the shooting of the battle sequences themselves. Pedestrian at best, laughable at worst, they lack any proper coordination and involve bargain basement visual effects. The director Jack Smight is most culpable here and one suspects his decision to incorporate actual dog fighting footage into those scenes was to compensate for the poorness of those effects but in the end, they only destabilise them further.
All this is a shame because the Battle of Midway is an important and critical moment in WWII and no other film before or since has brought the necessary scale to do it justice. That this is what hardened WWII movie fans are left with is frustrating especially give that it could be avoided. However, for those fans alone, Midway’s successful attempt to give a methodical blow by blow account of the day should prove enough reason to give this one a watch.
Rating: The Good – 73.7 Genre: Film-Noir Duration: 91 mins Director: Otto Preminger Stars: Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Mona Freeman
Low-flying but meticulously crafted psychological thriller adorned with some deftly realised themes of regret and despair. As he often tended to do, Robert Mitchum gives a relaxed performance as Frank Jessup, an ambulance driver trying to earn enough money to set up a specialist auto-parts garage who stumbles into the life of a spoiled young woman in the form of Jean Simmons’ wonderfully played Diane. Diane is an ice cold manipulator who resents sharing her doting father with her rich stepmother and will do anything to get rid of the latter while retaining the wealth. It’s not long before Frank falls afoul to her possessive streak and he finds himself not only in her employ as the family’s live-in chauffeur but also implicated in a nefarious murder plot.
Angel Face is not your typical thriller. Though intricate in set up, the plot is not the main thrust of the film. Instead, it’s the sense of dangerous inertia behind Frank’s well meaning but not altogether innocent character that seems to take centre stage. Caught in the web of a malicious psychopath, there’s a sadness to his predicament realised chiefly through his stop-start relationship with his girlfriend (played by Mono Freeman) which is sabotaged so ruthlessly by Diane. The regret he shows in that final act is palpable accentuated as it is by Frank’s helpless acceptance of his circumstances.
Angel Face shows all the polished composition of Preminger’s films with the lighting, framing, and set design providing a substantial backdrop to the dramatic tension. The script is not as sharp or caustic as the films noirs that have traditionally made plots like this work and it’s in that arena more than anywhere else that this film loses points. At times, it also feels like something is missing between Mitchum and Simmons, a fire which might explain the actions of Frank more sufficiently. Though both do well when their characters are apart, this film could’ve been imbued with a far richer personality had they replicated the steamy antagonism of say Stanwyck and MacMurray, whose relationship in Double Indemnity followed a similar arc. That said, Angel Face is still a fascinating and well shot thriller which is content to play out somewhat differently to the norm.
Rating: The Good – 85.7 Genre: Crime Duration: 102 mins Director: Peter Yates Stars: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan
The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a forgotten gem of the crime genre starring Robert Mitchum in his finest role from the later stage of his career. As the title character, he plays a wearisome small time thief forced by a hot shot young cop to inform on the criminals he works with in return for a reduction on his sentence for a recent conviction. “Eddie Fingers” has become largely philosophical about the world he lives in and the rules which everybody needs to obey in order to get by but he refuses to go to prison at his age and leave his family to fend for themselves. Richard Jordan is the ambitious cop who equally understands the dark underworld Eddie hails from and even shows some compassion for his stool pigeon. However, to him, the bust comes first. Peter Boyle is the truly despicable hit man who himself is under that same cop’s thumb but is far more shrewd and treacherous in how he makes his deals.
With such talent in front of the camera, it should be no surprise that one of the major strengths of this film is the acting. Boyle is perfectly sinister and will make your skin crawl. Jordan proves yet again what a vast under-tapped talent he was and his scenes easily prove the most enjoyable. He’s sharp and honest up until a point. But he’s also human and there’s a well structured sting operation in which he shows all the adrenaline and fear which go hand in hand with that type of work. Mitchum was probably better here than in any other film since the height of his popularity and he lays his character’s emotions bare for all to see. It’s another brave performance from a man who made his career playing riskier roles but it’s a more touching turn than anything else he did with the exception of Out of the Past.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle is steeped in gritty authenticity as the always underrated Peter Yates shot on location in Boston, in flat lighting, and was generally happy to let the script and actors dominate the feel of every scene. It proved a wise decision too because Paul Monash’s script (adapted from George V. Higgins novel) is superb and way ahead of its time. Capturing the straight shooting perspective of the street and juicing it up with slick dialogue, the likes of which, Michael Mann would salivate over, it must surely rank as one of the best crime screenplays. The characters are entirely believable (and in some cases disturbingly so) and each is defined by a distinct lack of glamour. Coyle himself, is in many ways a run of the mill working man married to a normal looking woman. His aspirations are modest and there’s no super street skill bubbling under the surface like with so many characters today (no “best of the best of the best” here). There’s a degree of street wisdom but nothing that will prompt anything spectacular. There are some well conceived bank robbery sequences run by more clever criminals and they do the job of impressing the audience (those familiar with Ben Affleck’s The Town will see a couple of key similarities between their robberies and those which feature here).
The Friends of Eddie Coyle resists all temptations to give a popcorn audience what they want and instead, it is satisfied to tell an honest story about an interesting central character. At first blush, this might seem like a modest ambition but because of its degree of unconventionality, the audience might find it rather shocking. The final 10 minutes in particular will keep you guessing right up until the end and while the popcorn brigade will be dissatisfied, there are rich rewards for true cinephiles.