Film: Indelible Idol

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.