“The beauty of that man. He’s so still. He’s moving and he’s not moving.” -Lee Marvin
Robert Mitchum was both actor and movie star, and he didn’t care about either. Possibly Hollywood’s best beloved bad boy, he once served time in jail on a marijuana charge. It only enhanced his glamorous bad boy persona. In an era where other actors would see their careers destroyed, Mitchum emerged unscathed.
One of the most defining films of his career is The Night of the Hunter (1955), the greatest one ever made in my opinion. It’s a film noir, a horror film, and a fairy tale. Part of this film’s extraordinary strength lies in the cinematography by Stanley Cortez. The visuals in this film evoke an enchanted terror. It’s a world filled with vivid shadows.
I was lucky enough to watch this on the big screen at the art house movie theater. Mitchum plays the Reverand Harry Powell, a man who preys on women and eventually murders them. His latest victim is Willa Harper (Shelley Winters), a widow whose husband Ben was hanged for the crime of robbing a bank and killing two men. The Harper children, John and Pearl, are entrusted with the secret of where the money is hid and are sworn to never tell. Once Harry arrives on the scene, the Harpers are endangered. He wants the money and he’s going to get it.
Harry Powell is a charismatic villain. He frightens and appeals to us as an audience. He’s dangerous but also comical.
And Robert Mitchum with his insolent good looks and powerful drawl just pulls us in. I’m fascinated by Harry, as psychotic as he is. He’s someone who deserves to be punished but there’s no denying that he is charming. It would explain why he so easily fools Willa and the rest of the town.
I really appreciated watching The Night of the Hunter with an audience, even though they sometimes laughed at all the wrong moments. But they did applaud and cheer and laugh at all the right ones too, nothing less than what this magnificent film deserves.
And I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Robert Mitchum’s centenary. You meet so many one of a kind people from classic Hollywood, the kinds with such magnetizing force that you simply can’t look away. Robert Mitchum was one.
You can watch Robert Mitchum movies all day long on TCM today, and read about him as part of the Summer Under the Stars blogathon.
Happy birthday, Bob!