To be clear, His Kind of Woman isn’t a great movie, and, if viewed objectively, I’d be hard-pressed on whether or not to call it a good movie; that being said, I can cay that His Kind of Woman, for all its faults, is my kind of movie.
The movie stars Robert Mitchum, a big name in mystery films, usually associated with Out of the Past, a movie many have called the greatest Film Noir ever made. For younger viewers, you may recognize Robert Mitchum from his parody on Family Guy as “In-shape-out-of-shape-guy-from-the-fifties,” an epigram I first thought crude until I really looked at him. He does hover somewhere between good health and bad. Hipsters will recognize Robert Mitchum as the actor Lou Reed sings about in the song New Age when he was still with the Velvet Underground. Also, fans of contemporary films should know that he’s the guy L.A. Confidential based the opening scene of the movie on when the young actor’s caught with marijuana by the local police.
The other big star of the film is Jane Russell, a sultry star with the strong facial features that set her profile apart from other actresses, and whose bust is now infamous in Hollywood history as her cleavage in The Outlaw greatly irked censors at the time (this is re-enacted in Martin Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator). She had singing chops that she showed off in every movie I’ve seen by her, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes where she starred alongside Marilyn Monroe as well as in the unofficial sequel, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.
If you’d like to watch something good in place of this campy thriller, I’d recommend Macao, made one year afterwards starring Mitchum and Russell again, but this time directed in part by Nicholas Ray. If you’re okay with a little ridiculousness though, His Kind of Woman is the one for you.
His Kind of Woman isn’t a movie I’d say that contains a plot so much as it displays an entropic chain of events. It begins with a crime boss played by Raymond Burr telling his goons to go out and find Mr. Milner, a minor crook played by Robert Mitchum. It all seems normal enough until Burr tells his cronies “But don’t mess up his face.” With that, entropy kicks in and the plot makes its way toward the inevitable heat-death of logic.
As it’s later revealed, Raymond Burr wants Robert Mitchum’s face, and he wants it quite literally. Burr seems to think he can surgically remove Mitchum’s facial features and wear them as his own. It’s for this reason that he insists no one scratches Mr. Milner’s face, although you can easily read some Freudian meanings to this desire that I won’t go into it because I want to keep this site PG.
If the plot’s already starting to seem like pure nonsense on par with Face-Off, wait’ll you read what happens next. Burr’s cohorts give Mitchum money to go to an expensive Californian resort, then complain when they later have trouble getting a hold of him. Once at this resort, he meets up with sultry loung singer Jane Russell, turning this into yet another movie that features several songs yet isn’t a musical (other examples include River of No Return with Mitchum and Monroe, The Lady From Shanghai and Gilda with Rita Hayworth, and Witness for the Prosecution with Marlene Dietrich).
He also meets there Vincent Price, whose role is reserved and stoical in early scenes and incredibly hammy later. He plays a former surgeon-turned novelist who has come to this Californian resort to hunt wildlife. Price for some reason has also learned many Shakespeare monologues verbatim and finds every excuse to quote the bard.
Speaking of quotes, His Kind of Woman features a famous quote that is quintessentially film-noir. Robert Mitchum towards the beginning says, “I was just about to take my tie off, wondering if I should hang myself with it.” As it later turns out, Mitchum’s biggest fear then is of himself, as the bad guys are instructed not to kill him because, as the creepy villainous plastic surgeon explains, “Sometimes in death, muscles tighten. Features become grotesque.”
There’s an abundance of other goofy dialogue scenes, including one where Vincent Price says to Jane Russell, “I’ve forgotten a lot of things, but you’ll never be one of them.” Is he coming on to her or should he be worried about alzheimer’s?
In the second half, it becomes even more incoherent, as the tone drastically changes. Early on, it’d been terse and moody; it then turns into a long shootout complete with slapstick provided by Vincent Price who becomes like Errol Flynn but with a gun (his hunting rifle). There’s a lot of Raymond Burr leering and staring at Mitchum’s face, as he’s strapped to an operating table for far too long. Also, Jane Russell basically disappears, suggesting to me that her schedule was too short so they worked her out of much of the script. She finally reappears in the very last scene, for one final risque double-entendre brought to us from the libidinous mind of Howard Hughes (he tried to put as much eye candy and inneundoes into each movie as the Code allowed). Spoiler ahead–in the final scene Mitchum and Russell embrace as an iron sizzles and burns into a shirt left on the ironing board. That’s one of the most overtly sexual symbols I’ve seen in an old movie, with the exception of the train in North by Northwest.
I later read that not only did Hughes insist on many things in the production, but the original director’s work was, for the most part, shelved and reshot by Richard Fleischer, who would later direct Fantastic Voyage and Soylent Green. That would explain why the tone is so inconsistent. What’s more, according to IMDB, Mitchum admitted that much of the movie was written as they went along, which sounds highly plausible to me.
You’d think by pointing out all these crazy flaws I’m trying to devalue the film. Quite the contrary! I’d recommend watching this movie for its craziness, for its looseness, and for its mixture of chaos and control.
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