His performances were seemingly effortless, projecting a world-weariness and menace that perfectly suited the film noirs, crime thrillers and westerns that made up the bulk of his resume. Academy Award-nominated actor Robert Mitchum (1917-1997) was one of Hollywood's most enduring stars, appearing in more than 130 films and TV shows. including such classics as "Out of the Past," "The Night of the Hunter" and "Cape Fear."
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
"Beyond the Last Frontier"
Born in Bridgeport, Conn., on August 6, 1917, Robert Charles Durman Mitchum lost his father before he was two years old. A wild childhood, including his expulsion from middle school and a brief sojourn on a chain gang when he was 14, precipitated his early years on the road as a writer, poet and laborer, before seeking extra work in the movies.
Mitchum made his film debut in 1943, and appeared in a remarkable 19 features that year, including several westerns (such as "Beyond the Last Frontier," pictured) and war movies.
Robert Mitchum and Paul Hurst in 1944's "Girl Rush," a cowboy musical set in a Gold Rush town.
"Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"
Robert Mitchum appeared with Van Johnson in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" (1944), about Doolittle's Raiders.
"The Story of G.I. Joe"
In one of his first starring roles, Robert Mitchum received his first (and only) Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actor, for "The Story of G.I. Joe" (1945). Mitchum played the leader of C Company as it pushes through Italy, accompanied by war correspondent Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith), who documents the blood, fear and fatigue of the soldiers' fight.
In Vincente Minnelli's "Undercurrent" (1946), Katharine Hepburn plays a bride who becomes suspicious of her husband, and seeks out his brother, Michael (Robert Mitchum), to get to the truth. Suspicion about one soon turns to obsession over the other.
In Raoul Walsh's "western film noir" "Pursued" (1947), Robert Mitchum is at the wrong end of a rope.
Robert Mitchum in "Pursued."
"Out of the Past"
In Jacques Tournear's classic film noir "Out of the Past" (1947), Robert Mitchum played a private eye hired by a not-so-upstanding businessman (Kirk Douglas) to find his missing girl friend who'd robbed him.
"Out of the Past"
Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in "Out of the Past."
In Lee Server's biography, "Robert Mitchum: 'Baby I Don't Care'" (2001), Greer described Mitchum's carefree style as misleading: "He would arrive for work in the morning and say, 'What are the lyrics?' That's what he called his lines, his dialogue. He hadn't gotten around to looking at the script yet, he'd say.
"And I though that was the secret to doing the lines like he did them. You don't learn learn them in advance. ... Oh dear, was I wrong. I was stumbling over my first line. And he knew the script backward and forward. It was part of his act."
"Out of the Past"
Robert Mitchum in "Out of the Past."
Of the actor's characterization as the "soul of film noir," critic Roger Ebert wrote, "In his ironic inflections, in his sleepy cynical eyes, in the laconic way he handles a gun or a dame, he embodies the essence of the darkest American film genres."
Convicted for conspiracy to possess marijuana, Robert Mitchum is pictured at work in Los Angeles County Jail, Feb. 10, 1947. The actor (who would serve a total of 60 days) claimed that he had been set up. The conviction was later overturned.
"Rachel and the Stranger"
In "Rachel and the Stranger" (1948), Robert Mitchum comes between a frontier farmer (William Holden) and the woman he'd purchased as a bride (Loretta Young).
"Blood on the Moon"
Robert Mitchum, as a cowboy who enters into a tense conflict between a local cattle baron homesteaders, in the western "Blood on the Moon" (1948). With Barbara Bel Geddes.
"Blood on the Moon"
Robert Mitchum in "Blood on the Moon," directed by Robert Wise.
Robert and Dorothy Mitchum and their sons, Jimmy (standing) and Chris, relax on the deck of a boat cruising on Lake Mead near Boulder Dam, May 21, 1949. The couple would have three children (including a daughter, Petrine).
Mitchum's parenting was, like his performances, low-key. In 1973 his daughter told Rolling Stone magazine, "The only thing Dad would get upset about was if one of us did something stupid. Then he got mad. Dad has a very low tolerance for stupidity. But that's worked out for my benefit, really."
"The Red Pony"
Peter Miles and Robert Mitchum in "The Red Pony" (1949), based on the John Steinbeck novel.
"The Big Steal"
Directed by Don Siegel, "The Big Steal" (1949) starred Mitchum as an Army officer robbed of a payroll, who skirts danger to pursue the thief into Mexico, where accomplices make things even tougher. Featuring his "Out of the Past" costar Jane Greer.
"His Kind of Woman"
Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell in the 1951 film noir "His Kind of Woman."
Straight-arrow police captain Robert Mitchum won't take a bribe, so mobsters see if he'll take a bullet, in the film noir "The Racket" (1951)/
Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell in the exotic melodrama "Macao" (1952).
Otto Preminger directed Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons in 1953's "Angel Face."
"River of No Return"
Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum in Otto Preminger's "River of No Return" (1954).
"The Night of the Hunter" (1955)
Robert Mitchum was riveting as a murderous preacher - with the words Hate and Love tattooed on his knuckles - on the trail of two children he believes are harboring a bank robber's loot in the thriller "The Night of the Hunter" (1955), directed by Charles Laughton.
"The Night of the Hunter"
Robert Mitchum attacks Shelley Winters in "The Night of the Hunter."
"The Night of the Hunter"
Robert Mitchum is an ominous presence, just yards from the protective Lillian Gish's shotgun, in "The Night of the Hunter." With Sally Jane Bruce as the young girl pursued by Mitchum's murderous preacher.
"Man With the Gun"
Robert Mitchum is the gun for hire (and he knows when to use it) in the 1955 western "Man With the Gun."
Robert Mitchum played a writer hired by an unscrupulous businessman who falls into a world of espionage in the 1956 thriller "Foreign Intrigue."
A portrait of Robert Mitchum from "Foreign Intrigue."
Robert Mitchum played an American mercenary taking part in the 1916 Mexican Revolution in "Bandido" (1956), with Gilbert Roland.
All's fair in love and war: In "Bandido," mercenary Robert Mitchum puts the moves on Ursula Theiss, playing the wife of a gun runner.
"Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison"
In "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" (1957), a serviceman (Robert Mitchum) and a nun (Deborah Keer) are stranded on a Japanese-inhabited island during World War II.
"The Enemy Below"
Robert Mitchum is the captain of a destroyer who engages in a cat-and-mouse hunt for a German U-Boat in the World War II drama "The Enemy Below" (1957).
A cult favorite, "Thunder Road" (1958) follows Robert Mitchum through the backroads of Tennessee and Kentucky, as a hot rod driver running moonshine past federal agents, like the one played by Gene Barry.
Mitchum produced and co-wrote the film, and also composed the theme song.
Robert Mitchum and his 16-year-old son, James, relax during filming of "Thunder Road." Jim played the the moonshine runner's younger brother, a mechanic - a role Mitchum had originally hoped Elvis Presley would play.
In 1957, inspired by the calypso music he heard in the Caribbean while filming "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison," Mitchum recorded the hip album "Calypso, Is Like So...," which showed off his voice to good effect.
He later recorded "The Ballad of Thunder Road," a song he had composed for the film, which became a minor hit, and was added to the re-issue of "Calypso."
Ten years later he recorded a rockabilly album, "That Man Robert Mitchum ... Sings," which reached 35 on the country charts, with such hits as "Little Ole Wine Drinker Me" and "You Deserve Each Other."
"The Angry Hills"
Based on the Leon Uris novel, "The Angry Hills" (1959), starred Robert Mitchum as a journalist in Greece who is tasked to be a conduit of information from the Greek Resistance to British intelligence - if Nazis and collaborationists don't stop him.
"The Wonderful Country"
In "The Wonderful Country" (1959), Robert Mitchum starred as an American mercenary in 19th century Mexico.
"Home From the Hill"
Robert Mitchum and George Hamilton in a melodrama of familial discord, "Home From the Hill" (1960), directed by Vincente Minnelli.
"The Night Fighters"
Robert Mitchum is recruited into the IRA, but soon is at odds with its militant plans, in "The Night Fighters" (1960). With Anne Haywood.
Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum starred in "The Sundowners," Fred Zinneman's tale of a sheephearding family in the Australian outback. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress (Kerr).
In the thriller "Cape Fear" (1962), Robert Mitchum is a violent ex-con who returns to wreak vengeance upon the lawyer he holds responsible for his conviction (Gregory Peck).
"I didn't want to do the part at all," Mitchum told the L.A. Times in 1994. "But the director, J. Lee Thompson, said, 'Who else?' And that stopped me."
Robert Mitchum's Max Cady threatens attorney Sam Bowden's wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen) in "Cape Fear."
"The Longest Day"
Robert Mitchum as Brigadier General Norman Cota during the Allies' D-Day invasion of Normandy, in the 1962 epic "The Longest Day."
"What a Way to Go!"
In the comedy "What a Way to Go!" (1964), Robert Mitchum, appearing as a playboy enjoying an orgy aboard his private jet, becomes one of Shirley MacLaine's string of husbands.
"The Way West"
Robert Mitchum starred as a guide leading a wagon train along the Oregon Trail, with Kirk Douglas and Richard Widmark along for the ride, in "The Way West" (1967). It was Mitchum and Douglas' on-screen reunion following "Out of the Past" two decades earlier.
In Howard Hawks' "El Dorado" (1966), Robert Mitchum is a drunk of a sheriff who helps an old friend (John Wayne) brought in as a gunslinger in a range war.
"5 Card Stud"
Robert Mitchum played a preacher whose appearance in a frontier town precipitates a string of murders (which may be revenge for a lynching), in "5 Card Stud" (1968), co-starring Dean Martin.
Robert Mitchum starred as a war correspondent witnessing the Allied invasion of Italy in "Anzio" (1968).
Peter Falk and Robert Mitchum in "Anzio" (1968).
In David Lean's 1970 romantic epic "Ryan's Daughter" (inspired by "Madame Bovary"), Robert Mitchum played a small town Irish schoolteacher whose young wife (Sarah Miles) has an affair with a British officer.
Mitchum with Sarah Miles and director David Lean during filming of "Ryan's Daughter."
"He is a master of stillness. Other actors act. Mitchum is," remarked Lean. "Simply by being there, Mitchum can make almost any other actor look like a hole in the screen."
"The Amsterdam Kill"
"The Amsterdam Kill," in which Mitchum played a former DEA agent trying to take down a drug cartel, was one of several 1970s crime thrillers in which he starred, as gumshoe Philip Marlowe ("Farewell, My Lovely," "The Big Sleep"), a mob informer ("The Friends of Eddie Coyle"), and a retired detective investigating Japanese gangsters ("The Yakuza").
"The Friends of Eddie Coyle"
Robert Mitchum played a Boston mob gunrunner who turns ATF informant in "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (1973).
"Farewell, My Lovely"
In the 1975 film of Raymond Chandler's "Farewell, My Lovely" (previously filmed in 1944 as "Murder, My Sweet"), Robert Mitchum starred as detective Phillip Marlowe tying the strands of a mystery involving murder, jewels and blackmail. Charlotte Rampling costarred as a femme fatale.
Robert Mitchum as Admiral Bull Halsey, with Henry Fonda (left) as Adm. Chester Nimitz and Glenn Ford as Adm. Raymond Spruance, in a scene from the film "Midway" (1976).
"The Big Sleep"
In 1978 Mitchum reprised the role of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe in a remake of "The Big Sleep." Unlike "Farewell, My Lovely," this film was set in contemporary Los Angeles.
"One Shoe Makes It Murder"
Robert Mitchum starred as a private detective hired by a casino owner to track down his missing wife in the TV movie "One Shoe Makes It Murder" (1982), co-starring Angie Dickinson.
"The Winds of War"
In the TV miniseries "The Winds of War" (1983), based on Herman Wouk's bestselling novel, Robert Mitchum starred as Navy Commander Victor "Pug" Henry, who prior to World War II is appointed U.S. Naval attaché in Berlin. There he witnesses growing signs of the coming Nazi aggression.
Harrison Ford and Robert Mitchum
Actors Harrison Ford and Robert Mitchum chat during a party at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 11, 1985.
In the comedy "Scrooged" (1988), Robert Mitchum was the boss of TV executive Bill Murray and rival producer John Glover.
"War and Remembrance"
Robert Mitchum returned as Victor "Pug" Henry in "War and Remembrance" (1988), the miniseries sequel to "The Winds of War."
Robert Mitchum appeared in Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake of "Cape Fear," this time on the "right" side of the law, as a police lieutenant advising a former public defender (Nick Nolte) on how best to use extra-legal means to handle a threatening former client, Max Cady (Robert De Niro).
Directed by Jim Jarmusch, the western "Dead Man" (1995) featured Robert Mitchum as a business tycoon who sends hired guns after the man who killed his son.
"The Big Sleep"
Robert Mitchum died July 1, 1997. He was 79.
At the 1993 Virginia Festival of American Film, Mitchum remarked on his career: "Well, making faces and speaking someone else's lines is not really a cure for cancer, you know. If you can do with some grace, that's good luck, but it isn't an individual triumph; it is about as individual as putting one foot before the other. One of the greatest movie stars was Rin Tin Tin. What the hell. It can't be too much of a trick."