Sunday, September 30, 2012

Oddball Noir: "His Kind of Woman" (1951)



With a cast featuring hunky Robert Mitchum and sultry Jane Russell, "His Kind of Woman" has all the makings of a classic film noir- darkness, crime, and suspense. But then Vincent Price comes in and completely steals the film from the rest of the performers.

Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) is a small-time gambler who finds himself in and out of jail. He is back in Los Angeles, and is presented with a new job: don't ask any questions, go to Nogales, Mexico, wait, and then collect $50,000 for your time. Okay. While in Nogales, he hooks up with millionaire/singer Lenore (Jane Russell), and the two are flown on a chartered flight to an isolated resort on the coast of Baja California. There, Dan gets handed more money but no information about what his job is, or why he must leave the country for a year. He fishes around to the other guests, who all may be there because of Dan. Lenore is seeing vain actor Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price), but finds herself falling for Dan. As Dan integrates himself into the other vacationers' lives, we find out he is being used as a pawn, and gets a very unlikely ally once things unravel and the shooting starts.

Reading online, this film should have been a mess. Instead, it is an enjoyable mess. While John Farrow is credited as director, much of the film was reshot by Richard Fleischer, and Mitchum would later recount that a lot of the script was improvised. This is obvious, especially in the varying tones of both the story and performances. While Mitchum and Russell smolder, Price is in his own little comedy, and deftly walks away with the picture. His gun-loving Cardigan is hilarious, and this is the performance he should have received an Academy Award nomination for. Whether he is quoting Shakespeare, pissing off Lenore, or mugging for the camera when he finds out his wife has arrived to surprise him, Price delivers perhaps his strongest, and definitely funniest, performance.

Special mention should also go to Raymond Burr, as the violent mobster Ferraro. He is the opposite of Price, never cracking a smile, and even more evil than the murderer in "Rear Window." The set design is incredible (especially the resort's decor), but the music seems a little spotty, and Russell gives us two unmemorable songs.

The film is a few seconds shy of two hours long, and was in desperate need of a trim. The climax goes on forever, and leaps in logic will have you more perplexed than excited. Again, this might be due to the weird production. Mitchum and Russell ooze sexual chemistry, making a fantastic team. The supporting cast also sports familiar faces like Jim Backus and Tim Holt, and a nice turn by Charles McGraw as the evil Thompson.

In the end, troubled production stories aside, "His Kind of Woman" is dark, weird, and delightful. You'll remember it more for moments than as a whole, but it is well worth a couple of hours. (* * * *) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: His Kind of Woman