After The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), Robert Mitchum, that most laid-back of movie stars (Baby, I Don’t Care is the title of Lee Server’s terrific biography) and soon the exemplar of “cool,” began coming into his own. The stars aligned in 1947 and Mitchum had the best year of his film career. Coincidentally, Pursued, Crossfire and Out of the Past were true representatives of film noir or featured noir elements.
With a limited release in March (general release in September) Pursued has been called Hollywood’s first “adult” or “psychological western.” Traumatized as a child when from hiding he witnessed his father gunned down, Jeb Rand (Mitchum) grows to manhood in the home of Mrs. Callum (Judith Anderson), who has secrets she will not reveal despite Jeb’s frequent requests and nightmares. Eventually, Jeb, the last surviving member of the Rand family, learns that he has a nemesis determined to see him in the ground.
Film aficionados know Crossfire as “the movie of the 3 Roberts”: Young, Mitchum and Ryan. This Edward Dmytryk-directed item was released in August. Mitchum was a war veteran assisting Robert Young’s detective solve the case of a murdered Jewish-American. Anti-Semitism was at the film’s core and it beat the similarly-themed (without the murder) Gentleman’s Agreement to theater screens. Despite a Best Picture Academy Award nomination for Crossfire, Gentleman’s Agreement won the statuette.
Out of the Past (December) is now considered one of the half dozen greatest examples of film noir. Trying to forget his sketchy past, Jeff Bailey (Mitchum) runs a filling station in the boondocks. Whit (Kirk Douglas), a former confederate, hires him to find his missing paramour Kathy (Jane Greer), and against his better judgment Jeff agrees to undertake the search. Kathy was once his girl. He knows this might go south and he’s right. Kathy is one of noir’s seminal femme fatales.
For much of his career Mitchum was vastly underrated, but he would have key films in his future, including Angel Face (1953), The Night of the Hunter (1955), and Cape Fear (1962). The National Board of Review awarded him its best actor award for his two 1960 films, Home from the Hill and The Sundowners. Nevertheless, for packing a lot into one year, 1947 was the best year of Robert Mitchum’s cinematic life.
Server, Lee. Robert Mitchum: “Baby, I Don’t Care.” 2001.
Marill, Alvin H. Robert Mitchum on the Screen. 1978.