Film noir icon Robert Mitchum may have tried to fool the world that he was too cool to care about acting, but the intensity he brought to classic villain roles of Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter and Max Cady in Cape Fear wasn't just him having a good time playing dress up. Though without pretense to be sure, nobody could have (under)played the tragic hero of circumstance better than Mitchum in classic noirs such as Angel Face and Out of the Past, while acing more tender fare such as Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison and The Sundowners. Mitchum's films recently inspired me to put together a quick animation featuring him and some of his most iconic roles while I had some time in between projects. I had always been a fan, and had illustrated his unique face before (or used as inspiration), so it seemed like a good opportunity to play around with some different genres and styles.
I wanted to really put together the full package for this project, since it was going to consist of quick cuts (5-10 seconds per film) between each unique role and aesthetic (war, western, noir, etc.), so I wanted to visually explore it as much as I could. The first job was to figure out which, and how many films, to feature. Initially I was going to keep the animation even more basic and streamlined, but each sequence began to take on a life of its own. For time's sake, I settled on a Top 10 - not necessarily Mithcum's best 10 performances or films, but 10 films I felt were essential. Cape Fear, Night of the Hunter, Out of the Past, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, were all in for sure, as you can see from the sketch and notes below.
After that, it was tough to decide. I finally settled on The Lusty Men over El Dorado since it was reportedly one of Mitchum's favorite films, even though it might not be one of mine. I needed another noir, and Angel Face won out over two Jane Russell films that even though might be a little more famous for the Mitchum/Russell RKO pairing, are no where near as good and Jean Simmons' bitter femme fatale. I considered not including The Sundowners just to avoid two Deborah Kerr appearances, but it was impossible to leave it out - Mitchum and Kerr are too good together. Farewell, My Lovely seemed like a perfect way to bring the whole animation back to where it started as Raymond Changler's world weary private dick. As you can see from the notes below, I considered everything from River of No Return (not a great film) to El Dorado (a fun remake of the superior Rio Bravo, but not essential), so pairing these down to 10 wasn't easy.
|A few quick sketches from Cape Fear, Night of the Hunter, and Out of the Past while outlining which films to feature. (yes, that's Fat Elvis ghosting through from the next page)|
|Robert Mitchum awaits his destructor in Out of the Past.|
The Nigh of the Hunter is more famous for its unique gothic aesthetic than anything else. It remains such a weird little film - a dark children's fable full of murder and lullabies, but designed like a German Expressionist horror movie at a time when Hollywood was trying to move away from stylized stages and towards realism. It was hard to pick just one image or scene.
When you illustrate the same actor repeatedly over the course of 30 years of their career, you begin to illustrate the character as much as you are illustrating the actor. That was the case with Heaven Knows, Mr Allison, which I started creating full character sheets for.
Thunder Road is perhaps the quintessential drive-in B-movie, but the theme song (written and sung by Mitchum himself) surpasses the quality of the actual film. Today it looks tame and dated on the small screen, and watching Mitchum's son, Jim, step in for Elvis Presley as his younger brother is always odd, but it was Mitchum's sole pet project during his career so I couldn't leave it out.
The Sundowners was the last film segment I completed because I wasn't really sure what to feature and how to make it different from the other Kerr-Mitchum segement (and I really didn't want to animate sheep shearing).
Cape Fear was the toughest segment since the film is essentially about a stalking sexual predator. I tried to retain Mitchum's menace and the stark black & white cinematography, but thought I should include Gregory Peck.
Then I saw this publicity photo and knew it was perfect. I had to use the egg scene.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle segment took the longest to create and animate due to all of the faux-3D animation I put together to create the camera shot that reveals Peter Boyle's double-crossing bar keep, but I thought it was essential to show Mitchum alone while revealing one of his "friends".
|A quick study of Eddie "Fingers" Coyle.|
Farewell, My Lovely brought it all home. The shot of Marlowe looking out of the neon-lit LA hotel window is about as iconic as it gets. I toyed with the idea featuring Marlowe and Moose, but it didn't seem like much of a final for the short (and I had illustrated Jack O'Halloran as Non recently).
|A quick study of Mitchum as Philip Marlowe.|
Anyways, here is the final product yet again.
Robert Mitchum (Will Last Forever) from Brett Underhill on Vimeo.