Film: Indelible Idol

The Rafael celebrates Robert Mitchum

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The late actor Robert Mitchum, who would have turned 100 on August 6, is seen here in ‘Out of the Past.’ Photo courtesy of Getty Images. 

By Richard von Busack

Adonis handsomeness and lizard-like strangeness, mixed in one cool, sleepy-eyed vessel, Robert Mitchum had his centennial last week. Beginning on Sunday, August 13, the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center remembers this essential actor in a half-dozen movies from 1947-73. The closing film is director David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970). Mitchum plays an Irish  school teacher whose wife (Sarah Miles) favors a battle-scarred English soldier (Christopher Jones).

Mitchum was indelible playing a brace of psychopaths. One is the hellish good old boy Max Cady in Cape Fear (1962), a brutally effective right-wing thriller. He’s even more frightening in the southern Gothic Night of the Hunter (1955). A mesmerizing Judas preacher (Mitchum) of the Depression is on the trail of a pair of orphans who may know where some stolen money is hidden. There is absolutely no movie like it.

River of No Return (1954), not bad, is a CinemaScope Otto Preminger Western with Marilyn Monroe as a lady of easy morals traveling with an Idaho sod-buster trying to reconnect with his son. But the Aug. 13 opener Out of the Past (1946) in 35mm is a masterpiece: A compass-spinning, epigrammatical noir with Mitchum in search of a strayed lady (Jane Greer), while his old associate, the man who seeks her (Kirk Douglas) waits in the wings. Douglas threatens, “I’ll kill you. And I’ll promise you one thing: It won’t be quick. I’ll break you first. You won’t be able to answer a phone or open a door without thinking, ‘This is it.’”

Whether death ever really caught up with a figure as cool as Robert Mitchum is an open question.

Celebrating the Centennial of Robert Mitchum; Aug. 13 to Sept. 3; Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael; 415/454-1222; rafaelfilm.cafilm.org.

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