Robert Mitchum is an icon, no debate necessary. A stalwart fixture of 50s and 60s Hollywood, Mitchum at the very least left an indelible impression on viewers with his large stature, striking face, and his rich, deep voice. "The Robert Mitchum Film Collection" is a repackaging of 10 previous released Mitchum films owned by Fox and MGM in a handsome, double digpak (be warned as the packaging does place the discs in sleeves prone to minor scuffing). Unlike other collections of previously released efforts, this set doesn't have any particular theme nor represent the actor's best work; it instead gives viewers a look at selections from 14 years of Mitchum's career from 1954 to 1967, highlighting not only the actor's finest on-screen performance, but some otherwise middling genre fare elevated by his presence (as well as some very famous names attached as well).
The collection begins with 1954's River of No Return a rather marginal western from Otto Preminger that pairs up Mitchum with Marilyn Monroe in an unsuccessful but noble in intent performance. Positioned in the middle of Monroe's legendary career, "River of No Return" is very much a shot at Monroe breaking the glamorous typecasting she'd fallen into as Kay, a singer abandoned in the woods by her fiancé, with Matt (Mitchum) as her only chance for survival. The film largely tackles genre clichés admirably, but offers nothing new aside from two large personalities on the big screen.
The set frankly peaks high with Night of the Hunter the directorial debut and only film from esteemed actor Charles Laughton. Beautifully filmed, Laughton weaves a sinister tale built around Mitchum as murderous man-of-God, Reverend Harry Powell, who arrives in a dusty Depression era town in search of $10,000 known only to the children of widow Willa (Shelley Winters), whose late husband shared a prison cell with Powell. Powell's track record as a killer of single women for money is known only to the audience, making his interactions with children John and Pearl equally harrowing and darkly comic as the pure embodiment of evil is foiled by childish purity. Mitchum's chilling and charismatic performance is reason enough to not just see but own this movie, but fortunately the rest of the film delivers a compelling, smart narrative rich in religious metaphor.
Heaven Knows Mr. Allison is largely worth checking out due to not just leads Mitchum and Kerr, but as an offering from director John Huston. The sum of the film's parts are greater than the whole, with the tale of Corporal Allison (Mitchum) and nun Sister Angela (Kerr in an Oscar nominated performance) stranded on an island during World War II. The film in many ways feels like a considerably less antagonistic, romantic version of "Hell in the Pacific" with Mitchum and Kerr carrying the whole film on their shoulders with only the lush cinematography to aid in conveying a tale of love amidst impossible circumstance. On a whole, the film has a few rough patches to prevent it from being truly great, but the script itself is obviously elevated by the direction of Huston and the workmanship of two fine actors.
I'll fully admit, I have an intense love and fascination for submarine movies and The Enemy Below is a damn fine entry in the genre. A competent wartime thriller, Mitchum and Curt Jurgens face off as rival Captains in the Atlantic, with Mitchum's Murrell helming a destroyer engaged with Jurgens' von Stolberg deep below in a U-Boat. The film's influence on later genre entries is evident with von Stolberg's personal conflict with Nazi idealism lending his character a sympathy that is reminiscent of how "Das Boot" portrayed its U-Boat crew as German soldiers doing a job for their country and families, not for the ideological beliefs of a madman. The film's Oscar special effects are still enjoyable and eagle-eyed viewers can catch an un-credited Clint Eastwood.
Next to "Night of the Hunter," Thunder Road is easily one of the most enjoyable films in the set. A true labor of love from Mitchum who sings the title song and co-wrote the film as well as handled lead acting duties, "Thunder Road" is a cult classic in every sense of the word, capturing the breakneck culture of outlaws bootlegging moonshine across the Kentucky-Tennessee border. "Thunder Road" is not high art and flourishes on the enthusiastic performance of Mitchum and a colorful supporting cast including Mitchum's son James as his character, Lucas Doolin's brother Robin (a role originally meant for Elvis). The film's "one more run" theme is a classic of the anti-hero role and Mitchum's combination of physical stature and voice make him a convincing but incredibly appealing character to rally behind.
Like "River of No Return," The Hunters is merely an unremarkable genre piece, this time seeing Mitchum and Robert Wagner as pilots with Mitchum playing Major Sevell, takes with wrangling a wild Lieutenant Pell (Wagner). Set against the backdrop of the Korean War, the film at times feels like a prototype version of "Top Gun" only without the sheer stupidity and poor acting. The film does take a turn from a dogfighting epic that gave it a sense of new lungs, but the only really memorable element are the aerial sequences, with both Mitchum and Wagner sleepwalking at times through their roles.
The Longest Day sees Mitchum as General Norman Cota one of dozens of characters in this legendary, epic-length World War II classic. Frankly, while the film is truly great and holds up on multiple viewings, it doesn't particularly highlight Mitchum's range of talents, relegating him to one effective, but small part of a very large ensemble film. A true who's-who of major actors of the time, "The Longest Day" holds up on its sheer spectacle, cast, and expansive storytelling. Frankly, I doubt we'll ever see a film as "big" as "The Longest Day" ever again; while it's surely been passed by other films in terms of realism and authenticity, it's place in film history is not up for debate and its entertainment value wanes little if at all.
The final three films in the set are, at least for me, the least well known. Man in the Middle is an interesting military courtroom drama directed by Guy Hamilton, most well known for his work on four Bond films. Despite running just over 90-minutes, the film doesn't really make a huge impact with Mitchum's Adams character feeling rather bland and generic and Keenan Wynn's work as accused murderer Winston not quite connecting on an emotional level. The underlying conflict of duty vs. honor is nothing new and there's little any of the actors can do to elevate Hamilton's flat direction.
What a Way to Go finds Mitchum in a partially out-of-place performance playing opposite Shirley MacLaine, Paul Newman, Dick Van Dyke, Gene Kelly, and Dean Martin. Mitchum was reported to have replaced both Frank Sinatra and Gregory Peck and despite the film being an entertaining hybrid of film styles and genuinely funny, Mitchum himself is far from the most memorable element of the film. MacLaine herself was a replacement for the tragically deceased Marilyn Monroe and honestly, it would have been fascinating to see if some of the chemistry from "River of No Return" would have still been there. "What a Way to Go" is an attractive film, but very lightweight, getting by on good spirits and a good cast.
Last but not least, Mitchum gets second billing to Kirk Douglas in The Way West an overwrought at times western epic that features the on-screen debut of Sally Field. The film tries a bit too hard to give an epic feel with Mitchum as Dick Summers a guide seeing Douglas' Taddock along the Oregon Trail. The two-hour runtime is in the limbo of too short to be epic and too long to be a lean, effective drama. Like a few of the other lesser films in the set, the stellar cast, including Richard Widmark as a companion with Taddock's settlers, makes viewers care far more than they should and like many films of the era, it's attractive to view.
"River of No Return" features an incredibly impressive for its time, anamorphic 2.35:1 (cropped or opened up from its 2.55:1 OAR, I can't tell which for sure) transfer. The restored transfer captures the beauty of the film quite nicely holds up against some of the best restoration work of the past few years by Warner.
"Night of the Hunter" feature a 1.33:1 transfer that appears to be an open matte version of the film's 1.66:1 OAR. The image is a huge step down from the recent criterion offering, with noticeable print damage, prevalent but minor digital noise/grain and a few instances of jitter.
"Heaven Knows Mr. Allison" features a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that does the beauty of a John Huston film justice. The transfer features rich color reproduction, above average detail, and minimal edge enhancement and artifacts.
"The Enemy Below" features a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer captures the rich color palette of the film quite admirably, despite the coloring being a tad too intense at times. Digital noise/grain is evident, but not overly distracting and thankfully, it is otherwise free of artificial defects.
"Thunder Road" features a 1.33:1 original aspect ratio transfer. It's a good looking transfer with solid contrast and noticeable but not overpowering amounts of digital noise/grain.
"The Hunters" features an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (a 1.33:1 version is on the other side of the disc) that has intense natural colors and only a few defects that could only be solved with an expensive restoration, namely inherent grain
Infuriatingly, "The Longest Day" is the decade-plus old 2.35:1 NON-ANAMORPHIC transfer. It's incredibly insulting that MGM/Fox has repackaged this inferior disc when an anamorphically enhanced version was released back in 2006 that also sported two great commentary tracks. Not much more needs to be said about a transfer in 2012 that's not even anamorphically enhanced, although it's worth noting the film has very intense contrast levels and noticeable digital/noise grain.
"Man in the Middle" sports a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with eye-pleasing, balanced contrast levels and a highly detailed print."
"What a Way to Go" features a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with very hot color reproduction, average detail and noticeable edge-enhancement.
"The Way West" sports a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that really only has average at best detail keeping it from being an impressive offering. Coloring is vibrant and natural, while digital tinkering is absent and clarity is notable.
"River of No Return" features a Dolby Digital English 4.0 track that doesn't feel like much improvement over a standard stereo track. A 2.0 French track is included as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
"Night of the Hunter" features an English 2.0 audio track that is relatively balanced, with only a few cases of high-end distortion. A French 2.0 track is included as well as English and French subtitles.
"Heaven Knows Mr. Allison" features an English 2.0 audio track that is clean and has a little more life than one might expect. An English mono track is included as well as French and Spanish mono tracks and English and Spanish subtitles.
"The Enemy Below" features an English 4.0 audio track that once again feels more like a glorified stereo track than anything resembling proper surround sound. French and Spanish mono tracks are included as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
"Thunder Road" sports an English 2.0 audio track that is clean and rich although lacking a desired kick when the film's soundtrack gets going full steam.
"The Hunters" English 4.0 audio track actually does a solid job of adding some surround atmosphere but the lack of a low-end component robs the action scenes of a desired kick. Audio is clean and well balanced across the board. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
"The Longest Day" features a Dolby Digital English 5.0 track that is thankfully, well above the image in terms of technical merit. It's still an ear-pleasing track and much better than the 4.0 tracks Fox has done for other films of the same era. English and Spanish subtitles are included.
"Man in the Middle" features an English 2.0 audio track that is a marked improvement over the also present English mono track. A Spanish mono track is also included.
"What a Way to Go" features an English 2.0 audio track that is perfectly serviceable and preferable to the English mono track also offered.
"The Way West" features an English stereo audio track that has a minor warm feeling to it while remaining clean and clear. An English mono track is included as well as Spanish and French mono tracks.
The extras on "River of No Return" consist of an image gallery, trailer gallery and brief featurette on the restoration of the image.
"Night of the Hunter" features the film's trailer as the lone extra.
A collection of four Movitone newsreels and the film's trailer are the extras provided with "Heaven Knows Mr. Allison."
"The Enemy Below" comes with the film's original theatrical trailer and three vintage Movietone newsreels.
"Thunder Road" features the film's theatrical trailer as the lone extra.
"The Hunters" features a set of trailers for the film as well as footage from the film's premiere.
"The Longest Day" consists of the film's original trailer.
"Man in the Middle" features the film's original trailer and an image gallery.
"What a Way to Go" features two Movitone newsreels and a pair of trailers for the film.
"The Way West" features no extras.
Normally I'm not opposed to collections of repackaged films as long as the theme is acceptable. In the case of "The Robert Mitchum Film Collection" this is nothing more than 10 films that MGM and Fox had the rights to. It's definitely not the best of the actor, despite his best work "Night of the Hunter" and the very personal and very fun "Thunder Road" making there way in the set. Fans wanting Mitchum's other career highlights need to look to Universal for "Cape Fear," Warner for "The Yakuza" and "Angel Face," and finally Criterion for "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" and a truly definitive, superior edition of "Night of the Hunter." Only the underrated "Farewell, My Lovely" remains MIA on DVD. Still, despite some of the other film's being moderately entertaining at best and the inexcusable non-anamorphic copy of "The Longest Day," single copies of "Thunder Road" and "The Way West" are OOP and would cost more on the secondary market than this set costs as a whole. A very mild endorsement. Recommended.