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Robert Mitchum - From Chain Gang to Film Stardom

Updated on April 15, 2013

Robert Mitchum left his home in Connecticut, New York at the age of 14 and was charged with vagrancy and sent to work on a chain gang in Georgia. He escaped and headed to Long Beach, California where he discovered acting with a local theater group. He started receiving small roles in numerous films and in 1945 was given a major role in Story of G.I. Joe for which he received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. This would unfortunately be his one and only Oscar nomination.

In the 40's, he was one of the top stars of Film Noir. He was appealing to both men and women for his tough guy image and his thick skinned persona. He seemed mildly aloof and transparent and won the hearts of many a woman without trying.

He found a home in both westerns and romantic films and starred opposite some of Hollywood's most beautiful leading ladies. In 1949, however, there would be a break in his career when he was convicted of using marijuana and sentenced to prison. Instead of ruining his career, however, the prison term enhanced it since he had that Bad Boy image to begin with.

One of those Film Noir films that I thoroughly enjoyed was Out of the Past in 1947 with Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer.

Another, His Kind of Woman in 1951 was with Jane Russell whom he would remain close friends with the rest of their lives. Mitchum had those half-closed eyes that added to his sex appeal. He had a unique smile and moved like a cat. He looked seven feet tall on the screen even though he was only 6'. Mitchum was a true Hollywood Star.

Mitchum's personal favorite role was as the Reverend Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter in 1955 with Shelley Winters. This movie was directed by the legendary actor, Charles Laughton. The Reverend would marry rich widows and murder them for their money. His demonic sermons to Shelley Winters were overwhelming to her and his refusal to make love to her on their wedding night because it is sinful breaks her spirit.

My personal favorite is Cape Fear in 1962 where Mitchum plays the evil and seditious Max Cady. This film would be remade with Robert Di Nero and I know Mr. De Nero is a terrific actor, but, for me Robert Mitchum brought out the better of the two roles. His was more of an evil from within rather than an outwardly ugliness brought onto the screen by Di Nero. He mesmerized the audience in the houseboat scene where he terrorizes a local attorney's wife and daughter.

Mitchum was an enormously talented actor that seemed uninterested in his craft. He would make 116 movies with his last one in 1995 Waiting For Sunset. His final appearance was on the small screen in 1997. Robert Mitchum passed away in July of '97 at age 79 in Santa Barbara, California. His ashes were scattered at sea by his wife of 57 years, Dorothy and neighbor Jane Russell. He died one day before James Stewart. They co-starred together in 1978 in The Big Sleep. Robert Charles Durman Mitchum went from the chain gang in Georgia to movie star in Hollywood.


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