Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Favorites List --- His Kind Of Woman

Next time someone asks why noirs can’t be more fun, show them His Kind Of Woman, the only big laugh feel-good picture in the genre’s entire output. Howard Hughes put his inimitable, break-the-bank creative stamp on what was initially a workmanlike John Farrow action thriller that had been finished nearly a year before. Robert Mitchum once said that after they’d wrapped it the first time, Hughes had everyone come back and do it "twice more", till there was finally enough movie for at least three more trips to the theatre. Hughes then tinkered with those miles of film for his customarily obsessive, to-hell-with-the-costs eternity before releasing 120 minutes of his unique vision just before Labor Day weekend in 1951. Howard had learned a lot from his abortive relationships with better filmmakers than himself. He was said to have been a slow learner at some things, but he was patient, if not dogmatic. From Howard Hawks, he picked up the combination of relaxed patter, some songs, and memorable set-pieces to flesh out otherwise uneventful stories. Preston Sturges
taught him the application of zany and unexpected comedy into situations a less imaginative producer/director would have done by rote. After years of frustrated attempts at collaboration with these two (on The Outlaw and The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock, respectively), Hughes was ready to take the wheel and dictate every aspect of his remade His Kind Of Woman. That control would extend to the selling campaign as well, but for now it was enough to direct the director, compose random dialogue, and do his usual obsessive thing with women’s wardrobe. If you have any inclination to go deep inside the skull of Howard Hughes, this is the movie to do it with. Did I mention that His Kind Of Woman is one of my absolute all-time favorites? It may well be the one movie I’d pack for lifelong solitary confinement if indeed they made me choose (Yikes! --- could be I'm headed for Hughes-style madness myself having made a declaration like that).

Robert Mitchum
always winds up at a Mexican hellhole in his RKO thrillers. This time it’s an elegant soundstage resort, supposedly just over (or under) the border, but it’s got flavor of Mexico just the same, and there’s a lot more joy to be had here than in Bob’s last trip south, Where Danger Lives. That’s the very unpleasant one with Faith Domergue where Mitchum got conked on the head early in the picture and spends the rest passing out and/or writhing in pain. Could it have been a blueprint for the initial completed version of His Kind Of Woman? If so, I’m really glad Hughes took over, because the Farrow model needed lightening up. So what about all the shipboard beatings Mitchum sustains this time, or nasty business with the hypo needle poking into his skin? Somehow that never bothered me. In fact, it plays like morbid extension of black comedy antics back on the beach with Vincent Price as he shoots up Charles McGraw and company before sailing out to rescue hapless RM. Hughes seemed hung up on the needle work, for reasons best left to a therapist I suppose, but the number of close-ups detailing the progress of that pincer toward Mitchum’s pulsing vein does reveal, if nothing else, a truly disturbed mind at work (was Hughes administering on-the-quiet jabs to himself?). They say Mitchum refused to let his own skin be so penetrated, and indeed, his nerves were so frazzled that he ultimately went on a set leveling rampage after endless retakes on a bruising blows to his solar plexus and a lashing with the buckle end of a leather belt. How do you say no to the crazy producer when he has all the money?


Among myriad of pleasures to be had in His Kind Of Woman, there is Jim Backus as a lecherous Wall Street type out to compromise a member of the supporting cast during her honeymoon in a riff on a Casablanca sidetrip that Hughes (or somebody) must have remembered (you said it first in your excellent review, DVD Savant!). Backus combines a smarmy approach with that Magoo voice and the result is screen magic. Had the picture centered on his character, you could call it Thurston Howell --- The Early Years. I hadn’t mentioned Jane Russell, but she’s here alright, and all that fuss about specially designed dresses and/or cantilevers to best present her daunting assets seems odd in retrospect, for most of it’s modestly camouflaged with floral arrangements judiciously placed at the portal of joy (just as MGM would do two years later when Ava Gardner
showed up a little too low cut for Knights Of The Round Table). For a more direct approach to salacious audience yearnings, I might point out this 1951 Got Milk? variation devised by RKO on behalf of the American Dairy Association. Not that Jane wouldn’t make an ideal spokesman for that venerable group, but was this some publicity staffer’s real-life adaptation of a cartoon from the back pages of Wink magazine, or mayhaps Mr. Hughes developed the idea of tying Miss Russell in with the beverage she evoked best.

It pains me to report that His Kind Of Woman lost money, but Hughes probably knew it would. He just didn’t care. The man put his dream on celluloid and I respect him for it. Negative costs could have been worse, considering what they all went through to finish it. $1.8 million is high for an RKO, but Metro would have signed off without complaint. Problem is the Mitchum shows weren’t doing all that well as a group. Holiday Affair, Where Danger Lives, My Forbidden Past --- each had lost money. His Kind Of Woman would roll up $1.7 in domestic rentals, $750,000 foreign, with a worldwide finish of $2.4 million. The loss was $825,000 (a grim revenue reaper would strike again the next year with a $700,000 deficit on Macao --- could this be why "the screen’s hottest combination" only did two together?). Note poster art of them lying horizontal like. It was used on all the posters. An artist named Mario Zamparelli designed it, under the very close supervision of Howard Hughes. Upon completion, Mario was instructed to drop the neckline on Jane half an inch. For the sake of children wandering past theatre fronts, H.H. was constrained from taking that décolletage even further, but essential promise was conveyed, and the painting was blown up for a giant billboard on Wilshire Blvd. augmented with gas jets spewing twenty to thirty foot flames into the night air. Hughes’ own aesthetic reservations compelled him to take it down after one night --- more waste disposal in his eternal quest for perfection. The campaign madness continued when he leased three L.A. theatres in order to insure his Labor Day opening. The customary RKO showcase houses were tied up with Disney’s Alice In Wonderland, so Hughes simply took over the venues he needed --- "precedential direct action", industry observers called it. The happy group gathered here at the premiere includes Tim Holt, Vincent Price, Marjorie Reynolds, Mitchum, and exhibitor hosts. Holt was always a welcome presence in "A" pics --- he only made a few (including The Magnificent Ambersons and Treasure Of the Sierra Madre), while his day-job revolved around a crackerjack series of RKO westerns in which he’d outlast almost all of cowboy rivals. The scene of Mitchum with uniformed police is not present in the final cut --- no doubt some of discarded footage from earlier incarnations of His Kind Of Woman


Anonymous Griff said...

My Kind of Picture -- so help me.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous ayres orchids said...

I love this teaming, too. You've reminded me that I really need to catch this and "Macao" again.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Jim Lane said...

Hear hear and amen! I too love His Kind of Woman; one of the few deadpan noir spoofs, if not the only one, and certainly the best. Robert Mitchum was the best possible co-star for Jane Russell -- watching the two of them trying to out-snarl each other is a source of endless delight -- and it's a shame they didn't make more movies together. Great supporting cast too, as you suggest. For me the show-stealer is Vincent Price as the roue swashbuckling movie star -- I consider it his best performance ever. A thinly-veiled lampoon of Errol Flynn, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was at least a partial inspiration for the creation of Alan Swann, Peter O'Toole's character in My Favorite Year.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous dave 7 said...

Then, much later in the '50s, a similar title (not noir) was "THAT Kind of Woman" with Sophia Loren, Tab Hunter, Barbara Nichols, Jack Warden--one of those things that just works, and you can't take your eyes off the NYC of the time.

2:01 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019