Robert Mitchum had a ”face marinated by life,” says director Sydney Pollack in a commentary on his movie The Yakuza (1975), one of six new-to-DVD titles in Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection. Well, that’s one way to describe the sleepy yet steely-eyed paradox of Mitchum’s face, with its laid-back but vigilant gaze, its sleazy but sly smile. Another commentator, film-noir historian Eddie Muller — who supplies endless amounts of inside info on two other movies, Angel Face and Macao (both 1952) — cuts to the chase when he calls Mitchum, simply, ”the original hepcat.”
Mitchum’s cool credentials are put to the test in this lumpy pile of movies. To be sure, Otto Preminger’s Angel Face is one of those Los Angeles-bright film noirs that showcased Mitchum’s marinated hepness to near perfection. Its tale of a tough but honorable guy brought low by a delicate but devious gal (Jean Simmons) is a treacherous soap opera heightened by Mitchum’s ability to play a smart aleck and a sucker simultaneously. And in Macao — mumbo jumbo about overseas intrigue — Mitchum parlays his scenes with one of the recurring costars of his career, Jane Russell, into witty eroticism transcending the script.
The Sundowners (1960) is an excellent oddity on Mitchum’s résumé in which he manages a not-absurd Australian accent as a Down Under homesteader. The film, which features a wonderful Deborah Kerr as his no-nonsense wife, is one of those big-canvas epics that required a slab of man as big as Mitchum to make it human-scale. Forced by the role to shake off some of the dozy snideness he used as his fallback mode in lesser movies (his way of signaling us he knew he was in crap and that we should dig him for admitting it), Mitchum is cheerful and charming; the generosity of his character spills over into the pleasure he seems to take in scenes with Kerr and Peter Ustinov as an eccentric friend.
The Signature Collection shouldn’t be mistaken for a gathering of Mitchum’s best work; for that, check out single DVDs of Out of the Past (1947), Crossfire (1947), and The Night of the Hunter (1955). This six-disc set, by contrast, is an extras-light hodgepodge: a dud Western (1969’s The Good Guys and the Bad Guys), the pseudo-sophisticated action picture The Yakuza, and a solid soap opera (1960’s Home From the Hill). If the Signature collectors really wanted to do us a favor, they’d have included the first-rate Mitchum film all us fans want on DVD: 1973’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle, with our man as laconically hard-boiled as only Robert Mitchum could be. Angel Face: A-; The Sundowners: B+; Macao: B; Home From the Hill: B; The Good Guys and the Bad Guys: C; The Yakuza: C