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Robert Mitchum Interviewed by Roger Ebert

Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter by Charles Laughton
Robert Mitchum in Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter

Robert MitchumVia Rogerebert.com:

“He [Robert Mitchum] was my favorite movie star, and my favorite interview. He would tell you anything. He fearlessly maligned his directors, co-stars, even actors he had never worked with. ([Steve] McQueen? 'He doesn't bring much to the party.') He was once called 'the embodiment of film noir,' and that was about right.

“In 'From the Archives' this week, I'm reprinting four of the seven or eight interviews I did with Mitch. The first three take place between 1969 and 1971, during and after he made Ryan's Daughter. The fourth is at a tribute some 20 years later. You get a sense of his irreverence, his refusal to take himself seriously, and also, beneath the surface, a constant intelligence. Nobody can be that funny and not know what he is doing.

David Lean's Ryan's Daughter was a critical and box office failure, but now I think I have to go back and look at it again, because I've been informed by the director Gregory Nava that he looked at the DVD, and was astonished to think it a masterpiece.”


Personally, I've never cared much for Robert Mitchum in film noirs. I like the mind-boggling Out of the Past, but mostly because of femme fatale Jane Greer. As far as I'm concerned, Steve Cochran would have been infinitely better in any of Mitchum's noir roles. Cochran was better looking, more menacing, more brooding, more sensual, and a more convincing ladies' man than Mitchum ever was.

Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr in The SundownersIn fact, I find Mitchum's somnambulistic approach to acting detrimental to most of his movies. There are, however, a few glaring exceptions. He is remarkably good in Fred Zinnemann's The Sundowners (1960, right), in which he co-stars with the even more effective Deborah Kerr. Both were cast against type: Mitchum plays an affable and somewhat “weak” sheepman, while the English Rose Kerr plays his wife and fellow Australian hick.

Mitchum is also good – in another non-virile role – in Ryan's Daughter. In fact, that may well be his best performance, though David Lean's highly uneven drama (I certainly find it no masterpiece) actually belongs to Sarah Miles.

In his interviews, Mitchum could indeed be quite caustic about other people he knew or had worked with. Entertaining reading (or watching) for some, perhaps, but in my view he often comes across worse than the people he so gleefully puts down.

Here's a (all-but-harmless) Mitchum quote from an interview Roger Ebert conducted in October 1969:

“But I don't give a damn, I must be good at my job; they wouldn't haul me around the world at these prices if I weren't. I remember one picture – Wonderful Country [1959], I think it was – where the character comes across the border from Mexico. [Robert] Parrish was the director and he wanted me to gradually lose my Mexican accent and then pick it up again when I went back to Mexico.

“… Parrish is essentially a cutter, not a director. There are several of those. [Robert] Wise, for example, couldn't find his way out of a field without a choreographer. Bobby even times a kiss with a stopwatch. He marks out the floor at seven o'clock in the morning, before anybody gets there. Lays it all out with a tape measure. True. It's very difficult to work that way. I worked with him and Shirley MacLaine [on Two for the Seesaw in 1962] and Shirley said, 'Why doesn't he go home? He's just in the way…'"


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6 Comments to Robert Mitchum Interviewed by Roger Ebert

  1. Mark Davis

    Robert Mitchum carried with him, a strong but “quite” independence, depth, intelligence and mystery, in touch with himself…..Never Trying ……………” just being .” Always eluding to a savvy view of the world around him, and those “so-called” uncooperative answers when interviewed, was his effective way of “not” being exploited as an actor or as a person. Hollywood is made up of 99% backside kissers and self glorification, on and off the screen. Mitchum was neither.

    Robert Mitchum had great talent but his genius was in his powerful sense of who he was, never telling people who he is, Robert Mitchum lived who he was…. and he did it better than most anyone. He really owned himself and that is something most find an elusive goal in themselves.

    A quintessential, one of a kind original.

  2. kate

    Robert Mitchum is a most under rated actor. He always had my full attention ever since I first saw him on screen - I was about 8 years old. He has never lost his allure.

  3. Andre


    My favorite Bogart performances are in non-tough roles: “The African Queen” and “The Caine Mutiny.”

    But sure, I'd say that most people are quite fond of his film noir tough guys.

    Now, I find Bette Davis quite good in some of her roles. If you haven't done so already, check out “The Letter” and “The Little Foxes.” Nothing sullen there…

    Thanks for writing.

  4. Jasper von Blowhole

    Mitchum wasn't on my radar for about two decades. Recently I went through a noir phase and really came to like him in these movies. Especially in Out of the Past. I appreciate his thoughts on Robert Wise.

    I also used to dislike Bogart (whom I thought had no range) but his noir movies persuaded me he was a strong presence in his movies. People rise to stardom for all sorts of reasons, only one of which is acting talent.

    My selection for an actor with no range would require you to view any Bette Davis movie. She seems to have only mastered 'sullen' and 'contemptible.'

  5. Andre

    Thanks for sharing your comments.

    A clarification: I'm not “anti-Mitchum” and have no desire to be perceived as a “maverick.”

    True, my tastes are usually quite different than most people's. Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, not to mention Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the like would never have become stars if most people's tastes matched mine. (Madonna and Britney Spears would never have sold any records, either.)

    But I'm free to express my “different” views, and people are free to express their disagreement. And that's just fine.

    I do like Steve Cochran, and I think he was an underrated and underused actor. Michelangelo Antonioni got some good stuff out of him in “Il Grido.” I'd recommend a look at that to those who find Cochran a predictable performer.

  6. Ned Brewster

    Regarding your statement regarding Robert Mitchum,
    How can you justify saying that Steve Cochrane is better, sexier than Robert Mitchum? Although I like Steve Cochrane as a secondary player he's pretty thin as a personality or perhaps see through is a better word and if you pardon me kind of a dummy. In that I mean, for example, Jane Greer in Out of The Past would of taken him for a ride and plugged him by the end of the first reel. An actor a little too in love with himself, for example in Best Years of Our Lives. Good a being a creep and too aware of his looks. Mitchum on the other hand had the attitude, real or not, of ” So what, so I look good, are we done?” Also Mitchum could move “B” material up to an “A” just by showing up and not tripping over the furniture. Either you're trying to be anti Mitchum in order to show what a maverick you are or you just don't have any sense. To me the reason Mitchum excelled in his acting, whether in noir films or almost any other type of film he took on, was his ability to play it low key and be natural but he also had something going on inside. Intelligence, depth, maybe just plain old experience with the real world, something many actors of the past and especially of todays movies, have very very little of. Also if you can deny Mitchums sex appeal then this may just be your own personal taste or problem. How about Steve Cochrane in Night of the Hunter think he could have pulled one that off too? Oh and referring to Mitchums attitude or style being described as somnambulistic is pretty tired as of the 1950's.