Occasionally I have some genuine freak-out moments. Case in point? I’ve been writing movie reviews here with Just Hit Play since January 2009. I must be getting old! I’ve mentioned before though the timing of starting some of these reviews. I watched some good, even great, movies in the months right before I started this site but never reviewed them, not feeling confident enough to review months later from memory. That’s today’s review, a film noir from 1951, His Kind of Woman, that’s one of my favorites.
A down on his luck gambler living in Los Angeles, Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) is drifting along with the clothes on his back and very little money in his pocket. Then, his luck turns on a dime, but it seems so easy. A mysterious man with underworld connections offers him a huge payday if he’ll simply leave the country and visit Mexico. There’s a catch though. He can’t know why, only get to a remote hotel on the Baja California peninsula and wait. From there, he won’t be able to return to the United States for at least a year. Suspicious but in need of the money, Milner takes the deal and heads to Mexico. There at the hotel, he meets a beautiful singer, Lenore (Jane Russell), in pursuit of a popular Hollywood actor, Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price), and an odd assortment of guests and locals. Milner sits back and waits for what’s heading his way. What has he gotten himself into exactly?
I saw this 1951 film noir in November 2008, two months before I started writing these reviews. Talk about bad timing, huh? I loved it, something pulling me in and keeping me interested throughout its two-hour running time. It comes from bazillionaire Howard Hughes and had a whole bunch of production problems that become evident in the final act. Now that said, there’s something charming and fun about it from beginning to end. It hasn’t been distributed much, if at all, since its release and ‘Kind’ doesn’t have a huge following. The moral of the story is simple. It should. I highly recommend it.
To say this is a film noir is limiting. It is to be sure, but it tries to do a lot more and generally, succeeds on most of those fronts. Director John Farrow (and an uncredited Richard Fleischer when Hughes didn’t like Farrow’s work) is at the helm of an equal parts film noir, love story, comedy with some action and shootouts thrown in. It isn’t always perfect, but the script makes a mostly successful go at it. Six different people are listed at the IMDB page for this movie as having written part of ‘Kind’ (again reflecting the behind the scenes drama). It’s smart. The dialogue crackles. The story is sorta kinda there, relying on the actors to bring the at-times slow story to life. I think the biggest compliment I can say is that it almost plays like a spoof of the film noir genre itself…but never truly becomes a spoof. Now that takes some doing. Not too light, not too heavy-handed, but more importantly and more successfully, somewhere in between.
Just a few weeks ago, I reviewed 1952’s Macao, another pairing of stars Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell. I watched ‘Kind’ back in 2008 in my Jane Russell phase. I’d never seen her films but fell hard for her right away, and this was only my second Russell film I believe. Again, talk about an on-screen match made in heaven. It’s easy to say Mitchum does the same thing movie in and movie out – that laconic, loner anti-hero – but he brings a different edge and energy with each passing film. I loved his Milner character, a man who knows he’s in trouble but keeps going along to figure out what’s up. The same for Russell’s Lenore, a young woman looking for love but with a fair share of failed attempts behind her. The duo just WORKS so well together. Their scenes are pretty pitch perfect throughout. They’re believable, you like them, and they seem to like each other. How can you go wrong?
What surprised me about the movie’s general unknown quality is the cast. With the cast assembled, how does it not have more of a reputation even by accident? Mitchum and Russell are excellent, but it’s Vincent Price who steals the show. His Mark Cardigan is an Errol Flynn-like movie star, a swashbuckler who’s looking for his movie star life to become his real life. A little too much at times, but very funny. Still not enough? There’s also Tim Holt as an investigating cop, Charles McGraw as a thug and enforcer, Raymond Burr as a mobster trying to get back into the U.S., Jim Backus as a talkative investment banker, Philip Van Zandt as the hotel owner, and an uncredited Anthony Caruso a brooding sidekick to Burr. Not bad at all.
An additional character worth mentioning is the hotel set on the Baja California peninsula. It’s so 1940s/1950s stylish with its bungalows and pool and just some really cool architecture. The sets date the movie a bit, but it truly becomes an additional character. The ending? Yeah, things fall apart a bit as the last 40 minutes get a little too kooky. Even when it goes off the tracks though, ‘Kind’ is still a really fun movie. Definitely worth seeking out, the 1951 film noir popping up occasionally on Turner Classic Movie’s schedule.
His Kind of Woman (1951): *** 1/2 /****