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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Mitchum’

Screen Faces: The Doppelganger Effect

In art, film on December 29, 2014 at 11:20 pm

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of 'El Dorado', 1966

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of ‘El Dorado’, 1966

Back a ways when I was a little kid I was used to seeing Dean Martin on television via his weekly variety series. And he was in big screen westerns with John Wayne; and so was Robert Mitchum. Both Martin and Mitchum had what women called “bedroom eyes” in those coy times when demands of cock measurements were unheard of. (Incidentally, resisting all temptation, both stayed married to their first wives for decades.) Film reviewers described them as “heavy lidded”, referring to their deceptively casual approach to acting and lazy look of almost dropping off to sleep — again, a reference to the importance of eyes in dramatic acting; something totally irrelevant in the current 37-year-long era of special effects/CGI. (Again incidentally, for you fellow trivia lovers, seen in the same movie — Five Card Stud, 1968 — Mitchum at 6ft-1 towered over Martin, who claimed to be the same height.)

To my immature thinking, Mitchum (his vast store of varied characterisations unknown to me) was something of a standin for Martin, whom I’d noticed first. Just as, to Bob Hope, western star Randolph Scott was “a cut-rate Gary Cooper” — a physical double, but without the same appeal. Others accused Dane Clark of coopting John Garfield’s early method approach to pushy working-class toughs, though to see them in the same film (Destination Tokyo, 1943) they aren’t really much alike at all. There was the same denigrating of Kirk Douglas “wanting to be” Burt Lancaster; they appeared in seven movies together and surely only the ill-informed (to put it politely) could get them confused. But you have to laugh out loud in sympathy at Robert Mitchum’s story of getting called out in an Irish pub for being Kirk Douglas. On the other hand, though Burt Reynolds’ dark, virile looks and lithe movement might closely resemble Marlon Brando from some angles they are never compared because not remotely in the same kind of movies, never mind the gap in eras.

More and more, other likenesses occurred to me. Again, based solely on which one I’d seen first, wasn’t Buddy Hackett a stand-in for Lou Costello? Thoughtful, sensitive Joan Hackett (probably not Buddy’s sister) for simmering soap hottie Barbara Parkins? Much later as I got deeper into films, I wondered, did star-producer Burt Lancaster select and groom young Dianne Foster into a standin for Rita Hayworth, in The Kentuckian (1955), three years before he was able to work with the original item (Separate Tables, 1958)? Their shared, red-haired lissome sensuality is superficial but striking.

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, directed by Don Siegel (1971)

Today it’s an absolute exception to stumble on a major movie actor who doesn’t resemble the rest. After all, over the past twenty years or so, an Arnie Schwargenegger movie is a Sylvester Stallone movie is a Chuck Norris movie is a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie is a Steven Seagal movie is a Harrison Ford movie is a Liam Neeson movie is a Matt Damon movie is a Johnny Depp movie — and all are a subset of the original Clint Eastwood action genre. And isn’t Mark Wahlberg a poor man’s remake of handsomer Matt Damon? Frightening how the screen landscape has contracted to a microsopic point compared to the broad spectrum of screen genres there used to be.Matt_Damon_Pumped

The A-list actors still active on screen, who have something to say and are capable of interpreting it with subtlety? Daniel Day Lewis, Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Ellen Barkin, even Liam Neeson and Johnny Depp when they’re in the mood… a few others but they’re mostly dead from overdoses (uncoincidentally?) come to think of it.

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MOVIE REVIEW — HOWARD HAWKS: Rio Bravo (1958) vs El Dorado (1966)

In film on June 27, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Famous man’s-man director Howard Hawks was primarily a maker of “action” movies, but in the olden days of Hollywood the tag was a thoroughly respectable one implying no aspersion on the audience of such films. Some of the most admired directors of silents, Rex Ingram, and Sergei Eisenstein himself, were action directors. In the Thirties came Michael Curtiz and Raoul Walsh, both today considered master craftsmen of fast-paced adventures made with intelligence, imagination and spirit: in other words, more than Spielberg, Lucas or other of their ilk have ever achieved, and bearing hardly any relation at all to today’s blood-and-gore fests dished up as standard fare for desensitized ghouls who pass as film buffs.

Modern cineastes have concluded that Hawks’ particular schtick was the theme of male comaraderie, starting notably with Only Angels Have Wings (1939) most familiar to modern film fans. But by then he had produced all-time classics in several genres: the similarly pilot-concerned Dawn Patrol, Scarface, Road to Glory, and not least, screwball comedy in Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday to follow shortly after with Sergeant York, his third classic on World War I. He came late to westerns with 1948’s Red River but only John Ford’s are admired more, and just a few including Henry King are said to rank with Hawks as authentic interpreters of the American scene. Rio Bravo was remade with the same director-star combination into El Dorado (and certain refrains were replayed in Rio Lobo four years later). Superstar John Wayne was accompanied by Dean Martin in the first, Robert Mitchum in the second. The Duke is his Mount Rushmore self in both, each time a former hired gun turned lawman (the town sheriff in the first; allying himself with the town sheriff, an old friend, in the remake). And each story centers on him supporting his co-star in rehabilitating from town bumhood brought on by a no-good floozie. Making up the rest of the male ingroup are Ricky Nelson/James Caan on the youth side and Walter Brennan/Arthur Hunnicut as the curmudgeonly but humorously persnickety jailkeeper.

Angie Dickinson and that famous shape in costume for 'Rio Bravo', 1958

Angie Dickinson and that famous shape in costume for 'Rio Bravo', 1958

Rio Bravo, for ill-defined reasons, is the more generally admired by critics. Maybe the prominent contemporary critics that greeted the remake in the Sixties were just more vicious: Pauline Kael, Richard Schickel … Hawks specifically remade it because he believed he could improve on the first version, and then believed he had. I too, maybe because a child of the Sixties, have always preferred El Dorado, though having just seen Rio Bravo again and giving it proper attention, I appreciate its niceties more than before.

Hawks knew what he was doing in remaking it. There seems to be more happening, backed with a booming wall-to-wall Sixties soundtrack. It is in every way less sentimental than its Fifties forebear. The female roles are less defined in the remake (spread as they are now between Charlene Holt and Michele Carey), almost perfunctory compared with Angie Dickinson’s fully defined one, more in the nature of eye candy. That by itself says more about how spectacularly constructed female stars were treated in the Sixties. Raquel Welch hardly ever got a whiff of the central roles Sophia Loren had been entrusted with at an even younger age a decade earlier. And compare ingenue Natalie Wood with, say, the later Sandra Dee — typical Sixties teen fodder; and Tuesday Weld not allowed to show her talent until almost middle age. Dickinson plays a hard-drinking professional gambler turning back to saloon singing for new beau Duke’s sake, while in the Sixties version Duke comes across all bashful as an old-friend-of-the-family even responding to all-grown-up wholesome Charlene Holt, who has a scene sashaying around in a revealing figure-hugging number for no apparent reason but the aforementioned eye-candy factor.

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of 'El Dorado', 1966

John Wayne and Robert Mitchum on the set of 'El Dorado', 1966

I would have thought by most measures El Dorado is a less compromised piece of filmmaking. The performances of Robert Mitchum and James Caan are more convincing than those of their prototypes. Moreover, the expanded, modified role of Caan allows a real relationship to develop between him and his mentor (Wayne). Maybe simply to give the ensemble cast more on-screen time, there is a conscious insert in Rio Bravo where singing stars Martin and Nelson get to do their thing — Dean crooning a cowboy song — ‘My Rifle, My Pony, and Me’ — with less C & W feel than anyone since Roy Rogers. Ricky bats his thick eyelashes and heavy lids for the girls rather irritatingly throughout, and almost pouts his more-generous-than-Elvis lips. Walter Brennan comes close to self-parody with his incessant cackling. On top of this, the original is far too wordy, especially for a western — courtesy of the screenplay by highly cultured Hawks favorites Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett.

MOVIE LEGENDS — THE MOUNT RUSHMORE FOUR (Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston)

In celebrity, film, generational/fashion, history, morality on April 7, 2008 at 2:37 am

If there are four screen stars with the granite jaws and steely gazes worthy of replacing the presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore, they are those who rose as actor-producers in the immediate post-World War II era and projected themselves as larger-than-life characters on screen: Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston. Other stars of the era — Richard Widmark, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Victor Mature, Cornel Wilde — miss the category by being not quite as stellar, less predictable and therefore less conventionally heroic.

Gregory Peck

Gregory Peck

Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston

Burt Lancaster

Burt Lancaster

Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas

In their time and for long afterwards they were derided by critical cognoscenti for not being the same type of actor as Olivier or Laughton or Muni, totally losing themselves in their roles. I’ve come to agree with Bette Davis, who, remarking on her Warner Bros studio-mate Paul Muni, regretted that he submerged himself so far into his role that there was little real flesh and blood showing on the screen. Spencer Tracy, if not Fredric March, might have lent something to them — though he too was too much of a thespian and boozer to be a producer. Brando, too, in the end, thought little of his craft, dabbling in directing often to the detriment of his films, and bent as he was on being an activist.

The Rushmore Four were also liberal activists in their day, even Charlton Heston — sticking his neck out for others’ civil rights, like Burt Lancaster, on protest marches with Martin Luther King. Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster were instrumental in breaking down the Hollywood Blacklist, the brick wall of rabid hatred erected by Senator Joe McCarthy and maintained by Nixon and many others starting in the late Forties and persisting for the next fifteen years with few exceptions. Gregory Peck, particularly after he gained civil-rights iconic status through To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), was near the top of Nixon’s dirty tricks hitlist. As far as acting went, the Four were plenty disciplined enough (unlike Brando) and convincing enough to carry the central role in at least a hundred major films between them from 1945 to say, 1975, though the flow had thinned out considerably over the last decade.

Though all could be relied on best to project virility effortlessly on screen — something hardly captured by the Arnies and Sylvesters with all their huffing and puffing, in their biggest, pumped-up bodies — Burt and Kirk were from the start capable of considerable subtlety of emotion along with the naked power, and Gregory and Chuck improved with age. Greg Peck’s early screen performances were described in terms of various levels of inadequacy even by his major biographer. The open implication always was that he made it on his looks in openings at a time when the real, established stars were off at the war. And at the peak of his box-office popularity in the late Forties and early Fifties he was singled out as “the kind of actor that Humphrey Bogart despised”, whatever species of beast that be. Critics held reservations about Charlton Heston because of what was said to be his “reserve” on screen, slow to come to the boil in front of the camera, for example — though probably it was all down to a highly controlled technique. He had considerably more stage experience than the others, after all. And he never quite made the Motion Picture Herald top 10 in personal popularity for any one year though starring in the biggest box-office blockbusters of all through the Fifties: The Greatest Show On Earth, The Ten Commandments for DeMille again, and Ben Hur — supposedly for lack of any deep connection felt by the audience. Lancaster and Douglas were said to be “terrible tempered twins” though not really much alike — renowned for their egos though, as good friends, surrendering status to each other in the many films they made together. Lancaster once suffered from faint praise by co-star Shirley Booth, admittedly a stickler for stage standards of quality, for relatively rare moments of “truth” in Come Back Little Sheba (1952). All were highly regarded for their ability by British audiences, foremost Douglas just shading Lancaster.

Burt (The Killers, 1946) and Kirk (Champion, 1949) were both launched to stardom at age 33. Greg and Chuck made it at 27 — vi Days of Glory (1944) and Dark City (1950) respectively, though a little less convincingly. None had difficulty filling the screen from the outset — better than say, contemporaries Richard Widmark, who just misses this bunch, with Robert Mitchum, missing only for reasons of lackadaisical anti-heroism — but only two of them made the annual top 10 box-office stars lists, and only twice each, Greg and Burt. Kirk and Charlton narrowly missed the honors list several times, as did Widmark and Mitchum. Sure there was more, and hotter, competition for places in those days. But there also wasn’t the all-fired rush for bigger blockbusters every time. Many of their films were actually made to be personally uplifting. Also, for whatever reason, in recent decades the Harrison Fords, Sylvester Stallones, Arnold Schwarzeneggers, Chuck Norrises, Samuel L Jacksons and Jackie Chans have been named top box-office draws when special effects afficionados would go along to see a trained chimp in their roles.

As far as their acting went, some of their roles have rarely been surpassed: Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life (1956) as Vincent Van Gogh and as the disillusioned colonel in Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1958). Lancaster, after a swashbuckling period — The Flame and the Arrow (1950), The Crimson Pirate (1952) — applied himself to as versatile an oeuvre as Brando, including such classics as Elmer Gantry (1960) and The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). Watching him recently in Run Silent, Run Deep, up against the old warhorse Clark Gable, admittedly twenty years past his prime, Lancaster came across as fine — sensitive and subtle. Surely, adding that same year his frightening portrayal of abuse of power in The Sweet Smell of Success and of sexual frustration (pursued by Rita Hayworth at her most alluring) in Separate Tables gave him the acting honors for 1958. All of them infuriated a certain type of critic at one time or another — Peck especially for Captain Ahab in Moby Dick and evil Dr Mengele in The Boys from Brazil, “boring” or inert in other roles; Heston for being irredeemably dignified and monumental — as if he could be anything else in his best, most demanding roles; Lancaster for not being “method” enough to need a therapist — so definitely not the actor’s actor in the Fifties; Douglas, though more “method” and facile in displaying feelings, still too much of a hunk to please other, generally weedy actors.

Burt was an acrobat pre-acting, Kirk a professional wrestler, and Greg and Chuck similarly athletic. That by itself is enough in most circles to consign them to the monosyllabic Action Man category and disqualify them from serious artistic consideration today, when slightly built, androgynous Johnnny Depps, Brad Pitts, Matt Damons and Leonardo DiCaprios rule.

All four retreated to rather routine westerns in the latter 1960s to extend their commercial lives — and all were better for their presence. At the same time they continued extending their experience in different types of roles, just as other old timers essayed risky roles late in the decade, giving their last hurrahs in ground-breaking blockbusters: Tony Curtis (The Boston Strangler), John Wayne (True Grit), Henry Fonda (Once Upon a Time in the West), Rod Steiger (Waterloo), George C Scott (Patton), with Marlon Brando (The Godfather) still to come. Of the four, as always Lancaster and Douglas did best in attempting to stretch the boundaries. Heston (Planet of the Apes) was the only one to lower himself to “disaster movies”, though he fitted them in to finance his Shakespeare and other literary classics.

Douglas produced and directed the anti-establishment western Posse (1975) before semi-retiring into the production side; Peck the same, emerging on screen for superior horror The Omen (1976). Lancaster did best through this era with 1900 and Atlantic City. All four boasted marriage partnerships of extraordinary duration, especially where Hollywood is concerned. And all lived at least into their mid-eighties, Douglas still going at 92, again maybe reflecting outstanding professionalism and discipline.

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