They don't make 'em like they used to. That feeling reverberates while reading the new biography of a screen iconoclast. Author Lee Server has written Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care in the hip, loose style of Mitchum's decidedly debauched life and career, and if the result sometimes feels a bit hammy (after all, no one can outcool Mitchum), this is a comprehensive and satisfying look at Hollywood's baddest bad boy.

Based on dozens of interviews mostly of professional colleagues as well as extensive print sources, this book underscores the Mitchum enigma. He went through women like booze, but enjoyed an enduring marriage. He delighted in his two-fisted image, but was also a closet intellectual who grew up writing sonnets and short stories. On the set he could be rude, insolent and downright vulgar (in language and behavior). Yet opposite fragile leading ladies like Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth, he was kindly, even protective. Mitchum got his start in Hopalong Cassidy programs, went on to etch memorable portraits in movies ranging from World War II sagas (notably, The Story of G.I. Joe) to thrillers. In several titles made at RKO under Howard Hughes' reign he romanced Jane Russell; in Night of the Hunter (1955) he terrorized children; in Cape Fear (1962) he was a sadistic rapist and killer. He made 120 movies some of them just to get out of the house. Though he never won an Oscar, he was capable of Oscar-caliber work, beginning with an arena for which he was eerily suited. As Server notes, Mitchum's "brooding bemusement and simmering violence" made him the perfect fit for the genre "of shadows and cynicism" that came to be known as film noir. Fittingly, the book derives its title from the 1947 noir classic, Out of the Past, in which wealthy criminal Kirk Douglas hires detective Mitchum to track down the no-good Jane Greer. After finding her, Mitchum falls for her. Ever cunning, she insists to him that she's an innocent. Mitchum's retort: "Baby, I don't care." Pat H. Broeske interviewed Robert Mitchum over lunch in 1996. She still has the swizzle sticks.

 

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