Saturday, 10 May 2014

His Kind of Woman (1951) | The classic film noir screens early tomorrow on BBC2

With His Kind of Woman screening tomorrow (Sunday 11 May) at 6.05am on BBC2 in the UK, here's my take on one of Hollywood's most curious noirs.

Professional gambler Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) gets unwittingly embroiled in an elaborate scheme to get deported gangland boss Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) back into the US. After receiving an offer of $50,000 from a mysterious benefactor to head to an exclusive resort south of the border, Milner encounters nightclub singer Lenore Brent (Jane Russell) and her narcissist Hollywood actor lover Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price). But as he settles into the rich playground of the Morro’s Lodge and starts falling for Lenore, Milner soon learns he’s also being followed. When he finally discovers he’s being used as a patsy, his life is placed in mortal danger, but he gets an unlikely rescuer in ham actor Cardigan…

When it comes to film noir, RKO’s His Kind of Woman is definitely one of a kind. While the first third of this Howard Hughes-produced movie sticks closely to classic noir tropes, complete with archetypal noir characterisation, dialogue and shadowy cinematography, the film becomes increasingly comedic as it veers between satire, a battle of the sexes comedy and hard-boiled thriller. There’s even a ton of slapstick thrown amongst the action sequences, courtesy of the mock-heroics of Vincent Price’s flamboyant actor Mark Cardigan (the scene when he sinks a boat filled with local volunteers being amongst the film’s highlights). But it’s this crazy mixed-up brew that makes the film stand out from the crowd of more faithful, yet now forgotten, noirs of the era.

The film was originally shot and edited under the title Smiler With a Gun in May 1950 under the direction of John Farrow. But on viewing the rushes, Hughes brought in Richard Fleischer to add in some new scenes, many featuring Vincent Price’s Mark Cardigan (Hughes favourite character), and to re-shoot all of the Ferraro scenes with Raymond Burr taking over the role from Lee Van Cleef. The end result was a big coup for Price, who ends up getting almost as much screen time as Mitchum and Russell, and gets to show off his superb comic skills, while also investing real depth to his character. For Price fans, however, it’s also a joy to watch him quote Shakespeare, something he’d do on a much grander scale in his 1973 magnum opus, Theatre of Blood.

The films ‘stars’, however, fared less well than Price. As Milner, the laconic anti-hero loner, Mitchum is typical noir and certainly plays up to his hard man image, but his scenes alongside Russell’s heart of gold chanteuse lack the frisson that Louella Parsons called ‘the hottest combination to ever hit the screen’. And apart from some clever quips, singing two songs (excellently, I might add) and showing off her ample assets (again most excellently), Russell is practically left in the closet (Cardigan locks her up during the film’s crucial scenes). And speaking of closets, what’s with Burr’s frightening Ferraro? That look of suppressed ecstasy on his face as a sweaty, shirtless Milner is whipped is a very ‘telling’ sight, and makes you wonder if he wants a lot more from Milner than just his face (which we learn is the reason why he ‘engaged’ Milner in the first place).

‘Both Mitchum and Russell score strongly. Russell's full charms are fetchingly displayed in smart costumes that offer the minimum of protection' Variety, 1951

‘…the best part of the picture, as far as we are concerned is Vincent Price. He is deliciously funny…’ Los Angeles Daily News, 1951

His Kind of Woman is also available on DVD in the UK from OEG, as part of the Hollywood Studio Collection

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