John Farrow, 1951
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price
A professional gambler, Dan Milner, agrees to take on a mysterious job. In exchange for $50,000, he will fly to a Mexican resort and wait there for more instructions. Along the way, he meets the beautiful Lenore, who claims to be a traveling socialite. Though she first snubs Dan, an attraction develops between the two. While at the resort, Morro’s Lodge, he also meets famous actor Mark Cardigan, who also happens to be Lenore’s boyfriend. While waiting for more information, Dan comes across a number of strange characters, including an antisocial, chess-playing writer, an undercover agent, and a bodyguard who gives him more money and tells him to wait. The agent – before being killed – tells Dan that Nick Ferraro, a famous gangster hiding out in Italy, is believed to be on his way to the island. Dan soon realizes that he may be in a considerable amount of danger, as he is of the same build and general appearance as Ferraro…
His Kind of Woman is generally labeled as a film noir, though it is really a mashup of genres. Everything from surprisingly dark and violent noir, romantic comedy, battle-of-the-sexes, crime thriller, melodrama, and adventure flick are present. This nearly turns the film into a complete disaster, but for some reason it works. The moody, dark scenes – similar to the other film noir work of director John Farrow –are quite enjoyable, but apparently producer Howard Hawks was disappointed. He went in and changed a lot of the film, including re-edits and several scenes re-shot by a second director, Richard Fleischer (Conan the Destroyer).
The film is largely saved thanks to four performances: Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, Vincent Price, and Raymond Burr. Mitchum is solidly Mitchum here, cast a loner on the wrong side of the law. He’s a lighter version of his character from Out of the Past, in the sense that he switches whiskey for ginger ale and isn’t going to win any cigarette smoking contests. There is a sense about Mitchum that he nearly always seems at ease, even when violence is at hand, and that feeling here helps to keep Dan the focus of the film. Jane Russell is a worthy competitor and the two make a believable team with a healthy dose of palpable attraction between them. I’ve always been kind of intimidated by Russell, probably because – like her costars Price and Burr – the camera seems to go out of its way to make her look absolutely huge, like the 50-foot woman come to smash tiny movie sets with her glamorous, enormous high heels. She delivers plenty of what’s expected of her here – namely songs, skimpy outfits, and cleavage – but she also imparts a level of charm and pathos that exceeds script and dialogue.
Vincent Price almost singlehandedly saves the second half of the film, when Dan is in danger and Lenore begs Mark to step in and do something. The improbably named Mark Cardigan is Errol Flynn-like action star dissatisfied with his routine life, disappointing wife, and fame (sort of). His passion is game hunting, so when Lenore pleads with him to hunt some gangster, he responds with gusto and delivers some truly magnificent dialogue. He corrals a band of Mexican federal police to take him out to Nick Ferraro’s yacht – and I can’t bring myself to spoil the rest. Needless to say, his scenery chewing reaches a new level and all Price fans will want to watch this immediately.
The equally massive, albeit more maniacal Raymond Burr (Rear Window) is almost equally wonderful, though he is given a pitifully small amount of screen time. This is arguably true of every film noir or suspense movie he was cast in, and yet he is incredibly memorable. Burr is present for a number of scenes of exaggerated violence, including a moment where he has Mitchum stripped to the waist, beaten, and locked in a steam room. It’s amazing that the homoerotic struggle that ensues managed to pass the censors. A doctor, who looks amazingly like Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove, is trying to jab a needle into Mitchum’s rippling bicep with several gangsters attempt to hold him down. It must be seen to be believed.
His Kind of Woman comes highly recommended, despite its flaws. There’s a lengthy running time at just over two hours, though it is weirdly compelling throughout. The dark and brooding first half will please more traditional film noir fans, while the absolutely insane second half is bonkers enough that it’s easy to see how this become a cult film to those aware of its presence. The film is available on DVD, and another who enjoys weirder noir, Robert Mitchum, Vincent Price, or Jane Russell must see it.