Robert Mitchum

 

twofortheseesaw01
Alone in NYC, Jerry doesn’t know what he wants.

Robert Wise directed the adapted William Gibson Broadway play, Two for the Seesaw in 1962. The romantic drama featured a powerful pair, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Mitchum. After West Side Story’s success in 1959, Wise collaborated again with André Previn and provided a memorable score. Ted D. McCord’s cinematography (The Sound of Music 1965) with Wise’s leadership as director is reason enough to watch the film. From the wide-angle NYC location shots to mid-range street angles to the split screen emulating two sides of the seesaw, it is a solidly crafted film.

Perhaps they seesaw too much, but the love story is authentic and portrays the painful situation one experiences if one has been in love enough times–being the ghost in the room. That is, you are madly in love but the other person cannot love you because they are hung up on the predecessor. Gittel Mosca, played by MacLaine, is looking for a man to commit. She is smart in understanding Jerry Ryan’s loneliness and his insecurities. Played by Mitchum, Jerry wants individuality. It’s a double-edged sword living the career handed to you on a silver platter by Daddy. Jerry doesn’t want his life orchestrated by his rich wife from Nebraska, but he’s scared he will fail if he seeks out his accreditation as an attorney with his own wits. He has filed for divorce but cannot cut ties.  When it comes to love, it’s hard to shelve over ten years of marriage and pretend it didn’t affect you.

He is smart intellectually while Gittel is smart intuitively. Back and forth they go, giving and withdrawing, hoping and receding. Gittel chooses self-respect and autonomy–a lesson any gal should learn regardless the decade. With stellar acting, direction, and an intelligent script, it holds up today as it did in the 60s. 4/5

I assign myself an actor to explore over the winter break. Robert Mitchum is the man this year. Nothing I’ve seen him in has disappointed me. What a voice! I confess I’ve seen only a handful, so I need your help exploring his filmography. Other than the usual like The Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear, and The Big Sleep, I’m curious which film you think I should investigate.  Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison? Out of the Past?  What’s your favorite Robert Mitchum film? 

88 thoughts on “Robert Mitchum

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  1. Ah, Robert Mitchum! Brings back a lot of memories. He had a house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I believe. I do know he bought my dad a drink at a bar in Glen Burnie, Maryland back in the 70s or 80s.

    We grew up on Mitchum films… who can forget that great actor with the surly onscreen attitude?

    My two favorite Mitchum movies? ‘Holiday Affair’ with Janet Leigh and Wendell Cory… and then one Mitchum did with Shelley Winters. He was an itinerent preacher man, and on one the fingers of one hand were tattooed the letters H-A-T-E and on the other L-O-V-E. The hands would wrestle with one another, nicely signifying man’s eternal struggle. Poor Mitchum… he was loony in this movie and truly chilling.

    But who could play ‘chilling’ as well as Mitchum? The original ‘Cape Fear’ – oh my! Truly horrifying!

    Then he’d turn around and play the heroic Pug Henry in the ‘Winds of War’ – although to be fair, I think Mitchum was past his prime for this role. I more envisioned Glen Ford in the role when I read the book – but who am I to complain? It is always a treat to watch Mitchum.

    1. Hiya Kate! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. What a cool memory of he and your dad. He has a commanding presence. I can understand how he and Shirley MacLaine had a relationship for decades. Those two — what powerful personalities. I have heard of “Holiday Affair” but have not seen it. I’ll put that one on my list. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. One of the all-times great, for sure. I’d second Paul’s recommendation of ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’, but also recommend the other two gems that followed it: ‘The Yakuza’ and ‘Farewell, My Lovely’. Represented a remarkable come-back crime trio in the latter half of Mitchum’s career.

  3. I came in to say Holiday Affair too. He’s best known more for playing a baddie or wild character, but in Holiday Affair he is so warm and kind and just another wonderful side. A truly world class actor.

  4. Robert Mitchum was such a versatile actor that it is difficult to pick just two or three films that you should watch. I think all you can do is pick two or three genres and watch how he handles them.

  5. I have to echo all the others about ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’. Mitchum is near-perfect in that film, and the rest of the cast are great too. How about ‘Angel face’ (1953), with Jean Simmons? I haven’t seen it for years, but I recall it was pretty good.
    Best wishes, happy New Year, and thanks for all your great blog posts over the past twelve months! Pete.

    1. Thanks, Pete. I have quite a few suggestions to get me going! Eddie Coyle is first on the list. Angel Face — sure, I’ll add it. 🙂 Cheers, and here’s to another year of conversations.

      1. Oh – you don’t play fair, Cindy!! 🙄 These are the ones I remember the most:
        The Night is a Lonely Hunter
        Rio Bravo
        Longest Day
        Cape Fear
        Heaven Knows Mr. Allison

  6. You mentioned directors, and my comments apply to both stage and movies, As a teenager and young adult I enjoyed movies along with everyone else. I remember seeing movies starring Robert Mitchum and liking the way he presented, but as I grew older I started to become disenchanted with movies based on bestselling books. A book allows you to interpret what you read and enjoy the experience. But a directed movie is someone else’s interpretation and that compressed into the limited timeframe of the cinema. I’ve been quite disappointed with the result and in some cases aghast at how the book was recreated. The movie may have been well done, but quite different from the enjoyment I gained in reading the original. I guess my age must have made me like the guys who sit upstairs making nasty comments in a Muppet Movie. lol.

  7. I’ll have to check out Two For The Seesaw. I remember being single in my twenties watching Marty and thinking 50 years after it came out this film speaks to me. Classics really are timeless.

    1. That’s what’s great about them. Universal themes, universal stories–there will always be bad movies whether you are a classics fan or only watch the current offerings. I see the value in all the generations. But, I will admit, dialogue and film cinematography I have a bias for. I see less and less of that these days.

  8. Cindy, with many notable exceptions, i find that bad cinematography has been the rule in Hollywood movies from the beginning to the present. Dialogue, has been of decent quality until the turn of the century, when it declined along with the importance of story. And character? Forget about it. “Two for the Seesaw” was fairly typical adult drama from 1962. Interesting story with excellent dialog. Charismatic and skilled performers playing characters with depth. Professional but uninspired black and white cinematography. And a moody and fitting soundtrack, the music good enough to stand on its own but unobtrusive when combined with all the elements of the film.

    1. Thanks, Bill, for your input. Great characters are few and far between — you struck a chord with me here. I think what annoys me is a fine character presents himself (even fewer female characters) and they take that and reproduce him over and over until he becomes a stereotype and utterly boring. I also think our ages have something to do with seeing films with “fresh” eyes. Honestly, we’ve (you win here) seen every plot known to man, experienced the themes and variations of characters to the point where nothing seems original or fresh. I often wish I were starting back out watching films with the eyes of a teenager just so going to the movies was a magical experience. I’m rarely enthralled these days. How’s that for grumpy?

      1. you are right about our ages having much to do with the way we see things. if star wars were the first science fiction movie you saw, or crouching tiger your first asian martial arts film, or saving private ryan your first WW2 movie…..you would think these movies pretty mind blowing. however, the experience you mention of being a teenager in front of a movie screen can still be recaptured you see something like The Assassin. The more developed your aesthetic sense, the fewer things you will enjoy, but your experience of them will be much deeper than that of a teen seeing their first outer space movie. As for characters, it really bothers me when in almost ever y mainstream movie, the first girl who shows up invariably becomes romantically involved with the central male character. and when this happens, the story goes out the window and this relatioship becomes the movie’s focus.

      2. Although I would not watch it again, “Requiem for a Dream” is a masterpiece” and a movie like you have never seen directed be Aronsky (The Black Swan and Pi). If you have seen it I’d like to know what you thought of it.

        1. This is silly, but at the time, I was not a fan of Jennifer Connolly and didn’t want to watch it because she was in it. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate Jared Leto and Aronsky since I adore “The Black Swan”. Thanks for reminding me to revisit it! I can’t say whether I find it a masterpiece yet 😉

  9. Let me qualify my statement of cinematography. The photographic element has always been of the highest quality, but the grammar of shot construction began and has generally remained on a very primitive level.

        1. The primitive example didn’t come through. The sophisticated one, however, did. L’eclisse – Film Completi
          First, she’s gorgeous, and it is obvious a male is directing because I noticed the camera shots focus on parts of her (the hand, the heel, her eyes) . The perspective of the camera is over the shoulder so the audience is looking at her as if we were the admiring male. Despite the hand and the foot, I noticed several frames where the top of her head is chopped off and this, I find, distracting and annoying. I want her to fit into the box. I do notice throughout there’s a natural progression, transitions from one object to another (I like the balloon rising and the camera following it.) It’s a very close film. That is, the world is her and I don’t get a sense of her surroundings. I’m feeling claustrophobic except for the ending sequence which moves about the streets, the trees rustling, the ants on the tree, the length of the fence. That’s interesting to me. There’s a message there. I’m going to guess that primitive shooting is something I would do if someone put a camera in my hand- point and draw in or out. I know I’m attracted to interesting, unusual angle shots, reflections, symmetry as well as asymmetrical compositions.
          You bash a lot of directors that I have admired over the years. Let’s take Spielberg. What does he do wrong that makes you so livid?

          1. i will give you the classic, typical example. in saving private ryan, the men are getting dgy and want to kill the german prisonor. the scene build to a high pitch, as hanks tries to think of a way to diffuse the situation.. when everything is about to explode, the solution comes to him. he announces that he wanted to be a teacher..this statement immediately diffuses the situation and everyone is calm now and laughing. to me, this is one of the most stupidly directed scene in cinema history. it breaks all the rules of drama and is just plain silly.

          2. Funny you should mention this scene as I watched it yesterday in class. It isn’t silly to me–considering the pool to find out what he did for a living, the mystery. A. They wanted to break that officer/enlisted boundary strongly established in WWII. B. They wanted to be close to him because they loved him as their leader. C. War between shooting is boring as hell and it was another game to play to pass the time. So after the emotionally charged scene with the German and Tom as Capt. breaks down crying, one part is because it made number 95 lost under his command, but another part is because he lost Wade the corpsman who was dear to the band of brothers, but because Capt. was buckling under the pressure–his decision to take over the mound instead of bypassing it was an unnecessary risk and his men knew it. His decision was a breakdown in respect to the squad. It was FUBAR on top of FUBAR. By bringing up the teacher moment is the one way he could reconnect with his squad. that he had regained his composure. Mercy and familiarity in a foreign place and sick situation.

          3. now to antonioni. the actress, moica vitti is his ife, so his care with her is closer to the john cassavetes/gena rollins collaborations than the kind of oogling male gaze stuff we get when polanski follows denueve around in repulsion.,,you are correct in calling the scene claustrophobic, but each character contains their ownplpable sense of space,and are irretrievable confined to that space, as they are isolated from each other. this is the awkward morning after the breakup, and she cant wait to get out of the house, and you felt the release of tension and expansiveness when they finnaly went outside. no,t the primitive example shows two people in a car, the backround is out of fucus. the scene is constructed with alternating close=ups of the male and female faces camera cutting to the character right before they begin speaking, then cutting to the other character right before that character speaks. this is all there is.. priitive. but most movies dont go much beyond this set up. they will through in some over the shoulder shots, often with a stand in standing in for the shoulder, so the actor can take a break. and then moving out for a two shot on occasion.. a person directing scenes int his manner has no ideas. also, the over the shoulder shots in the eclipse are much different than the static things we see in the hollywood pictures.

          4. Fascinating. The over the shoulder is so foreign (sorry). That must be an Italian technique that you admire so much? The French used it, too, did they not? If the camera functions as the POV and in Hollywood films (generally) we are watching an omniscient story and the over the shoulder technique would make it first-person. Interesting.

  10. Cindy, you make a good defense of the scene. I respond by claiming that the captain’s revelation that he used to be an english teacher is not sufficient motivation to cause the man on the other side of the screen to holster his gun at the very moment when he is about to murder a fellow soldier. There is a strong current of dramatic energy between the man with the gun and the man against whom it is aimed. The captain has to equal and then exceed this level of energy in order to break the current. His soft-spoken answer to thee pool question doesnt do it. The holstering of the gun is a ludicrous response to the revelation that the captain used to teach school. It is a totally insignificant piece of information at this precise point in the drama, which juggles so many big issues. What I would have done is first find a way for the captain to physically break the connection between these two men, then show the response of the rest of the guys. After they settle down, this is the point at which he can unify them with the answer to the pool question. The bit itself is a war movie cliche. we see it all the time. A strong character reveals he always wanted to be a ballet dancer, which gives the group a laugh, temporarily relieving them from the anxiety of the moment. But this situation is not one of quiet anxiety, but high tension threat. One of the squad is about to murder another member of the squad. The least the captain could do is get off his ass and slug the assailant.

    1. I see your point, however, I would maintain that because they were brothers, the Sgt. would have killed him but didn’t want to because they were brothers. I do think because every moment is a potential moment to die, because they were utterly desensitized, pulling the trigger would be easy. The Capt.’s lacodazical response to the situation was the opposite reaction everyone concerned. In fact, his calm, seemingly passive reaction is a common response to a very hostile situation. When pushed to the limit, some explode, others laugh, others act like they are in a fog. The capt. is the latter example. His bringing up a banal conversation in the heat of the moment is like a slap in the face that causes them to desist. His fine speech thereafter about getting home to his life –that’s one of the best speeches in war and one of Tom Hank’s finest moments. But first, the verbal slap in this case, the ironic calm intercession.

        1. That’s a mistake. No doubt about it. It’s so profound, the older Ryan falling to his knees in front of the rows of crosses (a beautiful sequence) and the amazing storming of the beaches that you forget the initial mistake. It becomes the red herring — the next time you are in an extreme close up of eyes is Hanks, so you assume he’s Private Ryan.

          1. Nope. It stars Lee Marvin and that’s all I needed to hear. Looks awesome! There are few good WWI films. I will add it to the list as I’m guessing you think it’s superior to SPR.

          2. well, it was written and directed by somebody who was there…but dont get the reconstructed long version. it is just bloated with material fro
            the gag reel, and the normandy beach sequence is the version that was assembled to get the project green-lighted. the shorter theatrical version is director-approved version. i dont want to try to impose my tastes, but just suggest it for comparison.

          3. another thing i dislike about SPR, but it is not a directorial shortcoming, is the idea that these guys are going through all this for private ryan. the reality is that they are mopping up after the normandy invasion, and would be doing the same thing with or without the private ryan element of their mission.

    2. I also greatly dislike Spielberg because he treats his audience is stupid as he does when in “Schindler’s List” everything is in black and while except the little girl we saw her earlier in the movie and then on the top of a pile of bodies he films her in color, pink, no less. He is also sentimental and his films (except the ones made purely as entertainments like Jaws and E.T.) are dishonest. Saving Private Ryan, except for all the effort put into the D-day invasion was a very ordinary story, boring, and again sentimental when one of the aged characters goes to his grave in Arlington Cem. Usually, he makes unoriginal, exploitative films disguised as good films by high production values.

      1. i dislike him on the basis of his amateurish direction. he is so bad that i found myself laughing when fiennes walked around the camp shooting random people in the head. and that should have been anythingbut funny! but spielberg’s direction is so absurd …….. he is, however, a pretty good manager of his employeea, he might have made a good foreman on a pipeline dig.

        1. Explain to me how it’s amateurish? What’s wrong with the over the shoulder? What’s wrong with anticipating his next kill with the swing of the camera as if we, the audience, were Geoth and we’re focusing on the sights? I find that clever and horrifyingly perfect.

          1. it would take a book to explain my views on Spielberg’s direction, and you wouldnt agree with me anyway..and i wouldnt want you to. You deserve all the pleasures in life you can find. I remember once, a long time ago, i was sitting in a cafewith somebody and the radio was playing one of those acoustic cafe live shows. after a while i mentioned how crappy i thought the performer was. she listend closely for awhilem then agreed with me, but added,”i wish you hadn’t of drawn my attention to that, because i was relly enjoying the ambience.”

      2. He can be quite sentimental, I’ll give you that. A bit hammy and manipulative? Okay, I can see how you think that. The opening scene of SPR with the cemetery was highly moving for me. The symmetrical white flags in the cemetery? Visually stunning. The message–freedom isn’t free–if don’t agree with that, well, perhaps that’s why you don’t like the film. Regardless, I thought the realistic filming of the taking of the beaches of Normandy authentic. The best stories are often the most simple. The band of brothers grappling with the FUBAR assignment was dramatically interesting to me. As far as the girl in red, what’s wrong with a symbol? She’s the one that instigates a change of heart for Schindler. You see it as manipulation, but I thought it effective and powerful. With camera angles of a mass of people, the red girl is the focal point and brings about the humanity of the sea of people. It worked for me. Obviously, Spielberg’s style is divisive. There are many films of his that I respect a lot. I like to be moved. All directors manipulate. That’s their job.

        1. Spielberg doesn’t trust his audience to get the symbolism of the death of the girl lying on the top of the pile of bodies so he has to stick the audiences face right into her by putting her in color when everything else is in black and white.

          His pink coat is like an actor who doesn’t trust his audience to understand what he is conveying so he over acts, overplays the emotion. A good director, like a good actor, trusts the audience to connect emotionally with their performance no matter how internal or subtle his actions may be.
          Yes, the scenes of the beach were authentic, but after that the movie becomes an average war film. It isn’t bad but it doesn’t stand out as do Platoon, Atonement, Enemy at the Gates, The Iron Cross or The Deer Hunter (which is a metaphorical film on the death of the “American Dream”). Of course in our world freedom isn’t free. Is that for which the flags in their neat rows were four, to tell us what we all already know and was amply demonstrated in the Norman invasion scenes. All directors have points of views from which they draw the ideas for their films their films may have symbolic elements, but the best directors don’t beat the audience members over the head with them because they trust the audience’s ability to intuitively absorb a symbol’s meaning. Spielberg doesn’t trust the audience to understand a movies underlying symbolic meaning so he hits you over the head with it, and more pathetically, tries to manipulate the audience to cry and sniff into their hankies. I do like his fun films like Raiders of the Last Arc and E.T. and, one serious film as well that no one seems to have seen- Empire of the Sun which I highly recommend.

      3. Empire of the sun is probably spielberg’s best film because he is emulating David lean. He is always a bit better than himself when he is imitating someone. i disagree about the d-day invasion scenes of private ryan. though they were terrible, an imitation of lucio fulci’s zombie movies. for an excellent realist version of this battle, check out sam fullers the big red one, theatrical cut, not the faux restoration.

        1. Bill. I agree. It is the only serious film by Spielberg I like. I have seen one version of Fuller’s film. I will look for the theatrical version. I believe I saw it on TCM

  11. when you mentioned monica vitt’s head bring cut off in the eclipse, it sent up a red flag. so i checked my copy of the movie and saw that no such shot existed, and watched the youtube version and saw that the compositions throughout were improperly displayed. also, at least five minutes were missing from the scene. no wonder you were not impressed.

  12. Cindy, you might also enjoy William Wellman’s Track of the Cat. The cinematography is an attempt to make a black and white film on color stock by shooting in snowy mountains, much like The Revenant. And Mitchum is always good.

  13. Dissing Leo? .I am the only one who rallied behind his performance in Gilbert Grape. Everyone hated Leo until Scorsese started using him. I guess they thought he must be a great actor for Scorsese to want to work with him. But Scorsese has been senile since Casino! I dont mind seeing Leo in a picture. he cant act, but he can function. In my opinion, he has never ruinedapicture, and I enjoy watching him. But to call him a great actor..that is absurd.

    1. You just said he was not an accomplished actor. See– you just said (many times) that he can’t act. Bull-Malarkey! Okay, then you quantify your dissing with saying he’s not great, he just functions. Humph.

      1. if the director knows what he wants, and the actor understands the direction and is capable of carrying it out, then the actor is functioning properly and will not ruin the shot. But a great actor is not working for the director, but for the gods. And Leo is not i that camp.

  14. I fell in love with Robert Mitchum when I was fourteen and watched “Thank Heaven Mr. Alison” on the Big Show. I think his best films were “Out of the Past” which shouldn’t be missed as it is one of the best Noir films, as is “Cape Fear.” “Night of the Hunter is also one of his best. Others I really like are “Crossfire,” “Ryan’s Daughter,”Not as a Stranger,” “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “Farewell my Lovely,” “His Kind of Woman,” “River of No Return,” and “Holiday Affair.” Of the films you discussed, I couldn’t finish “Two For The SeeSaw,” because I thought it was so bad. I thought “Home from the Hills” was also a terrible movie” as was the TV mini-series “The Winds of War.” All though I didn’t like “Two for the Seesaw,” “Home from the Hills,” and “The Winds of War,” Robert Mitchum was their only bright spot, It has been a long time since I saw the last three films so I can’t really say what exactly bothered me so much about them. Robert Mitchum, Bill Murray and Russell Crowe.

      1. I let the domain name expire by accident and would have had to pay over $80.00 to reactivate it so I changed it. The site is now lostinuniversalmystery.net. It was .com before. I am doing a major overhall now. Always enjoy your posts.

          1. I hope so. I’m bipolar and I go into deep funks that can last a long time and during them, I literally can’t get off my coach or go out of my house. Right now , I’m in a good place though.

  15. Jerry Ryan is wandering aimlessly around New York, having given up his law career http://www.wasegracelaw.com in Nebraska when his wife asked for a divorce. He meets up with Gittel Mosca, an impoverished dancer from Greenwich Village, and the two try to straighten out their lives together. Interesting movie! I will watched this one.

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