Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Now That's Some Bird

I guess I know how Vincent Price handled a duck. But the fact that he spends the entirety of a four minute scene holding a dead duck is just one of the odd things about 1951's His Kind of Woman, erroneously referred to by Wikipedia as a film noir. Really, there's no kind of movie like His Kind of Women, unless perhaps it's another Howard Hughes movie. For although John Farrow's the credited director and Richard Fleischer reshot much of the movie, if there's one recognisable creative voice dominating the movie, it's that of producer Howard Hughes. And this is one of his good ones, the stream of bizarre plot devices, innocently ham-fisted sexuality, and breathtakingly tone deaf humour are all anchored by performances from Price, Robert Mitchum, and Jane Russell.

In fact, the movie could've used a lot more Jane Russell, and I'm not talking about seeing her naked, though that wouldn't have been bad. Her acting ability had improved a great deal since her debut in Hughes' The Outlaw while she had retained the bust that made her a star. With the fact that the movie is called His Kind of Woman, one would expect her to factor in rather prominently, instead of the movie being about a gambler named Milner (Mitchum) being paid 50,000 dollars to go to Mexico as part of an elaborate scheme involving an exiled Italian mob boss's (Raymond Burr) attempt to get back into the states. It's a scheme that involves a Nazi scientist removing Milner's face and grafting it onto the mobster's.

Most of the movie takes place at a large Mexican resort hotel, where the Nazi, two of the mobster's henchmen--one of whom is played by Charles McGraw, who inexplicably provides the film's opening narration--a card sharp, a hot dame named Lenore (Russell), and a famous actor named Mark Cardigan (Price) mingle in a very stagebound parlour room mystery as Milner tries to put the pieces together with lethargically inconsistent motivation that maybe only Robert Mitchum could rope.

At first he accepts the job with no explanation ("I'm not knocking it, man, I'm just trying to understand it"). But it's not long after he gets to Mexico that he's beating guys up trying get answers. What changed his mind? Who knows. One has the sense Mitchum's perspective was based entirely on what he'd had to eat or drink a half hour earlier.

There's none of the twenty tonne steel eyelid SEXUAL INNUENDO alarm winks from The Outlaw, instead the bizarrely corny humour is played absolutely cool by Mitchum and is only sexual in a couple places. My favourite moment is when Milner decides to rescue a young, innocent couple from the machinations of the card sharp, so he joins in the game. When the stakes get high and the sharp puts his leather wallet in the pot, Milner says, "Well if you're betting leather . . . we call," and takes off his shoe and puts it on the table.

The sharp says, "But there's a thousand dollars inside my leather," and in maybe one of the greatest "what the fuck" moments of cinema history, Mitchum coolly responds, "And there's a thousand dollars in my leather," and takes a thousand dollar bill out of his shoe.

There's this mild beat of cool silliness throughout the film that blossoms to full formed goofiness as Price's role gets bigger. Determined to rescue Milner from the mobster's yacht, the actor puts on a cape and takes charge of a cadre of Mexican police, the first genuine Mexicans to show up in the film after the embarrassingly bad Spanish heard at the beginning. They're played for laughs, lazily drawn Keystone Cops, but they're background to Price's excited actor broadly quoting Shakespeare and paraphrasing other great literary works. It's too over the top to work, but one admires the self control Price exhibits as he stands at the prow of a sinking, over-laden rowboat.

Meanwhile, on the yacht, there's a pretty good, deadly serious chase going on between Milner and the mobsters. Mitchum believably plays some clever action business, including when Milner upsets a row boat of gangsters as he's being forced up the ladder to the yacht, and when he later uses his revolver to blow a hole in a steam pipe to create a distraction.

The last forty minutes or so of the movie barely feature Jane Russell after Price locks her in the closet to keep her out of trouble. Which is too bad, because in a strapless shimmering gown she looks like a live action Jessica Rabbit, and looks fantastic holding a big revolver.

Twitter Sonnet #448

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