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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. It might be the only feel-good sample from a whole genre lot. Howard Hughes played interference upon what began as a workmanlike John Farrow crime thriller that had finished nearly a year before. Robert Mitchum said Hughes called everyone back in to do it "twice more," ending up with enough movie for at least three trips to theatres. Hughes tinkered with miles of film for expected eternity before release of 120 minutes of his unique vision just before Labor Day weekend in 1951. Hughes 
learned from abortive relationships with better filmmakers than himself, being patient, if not dogmatic. From Howard Hawks, he saw values in relaxed patter, songs where they helped, plus action to spur a flagging pace. Preston Sturges had applied zany and unexpected comedy to situations a less inspired producer/director would do by rote. After years of more frustrated than fruitful collaboration with these two (The Outlaw and The Sin Of Harold Diddlebock, respectively), Hughes was ready to seize the wheel and dictate every aspect of a remade His Kind Of Woman. That control would extend to end-game promotion as well, but for now it was enough to direct the director, compose random dialogue, and loose his OCD on women’s wardrobe. Here is where one delves deep in the skull of Howard Hughes. 



Robert Mitchum was oftener than not plopped in Mexican hellholes, default setting, it seemed, for RKO thrillers. Hughes built an elegant soundstage resort to approximate luxury below the border, but was it authentic flavor of Mexico or one man's concept of what Mexico ought to be? Hughes seems to have applied a lighter touch, credited director John Farrow having gone grimmer direction with Mitchum and similar content in previous Where Danger Lives, not half so pleasurable a trip south as His Kind Of Woman proved to be. Mitchum takes abuse as before, nasty business of a hypo needle poking his skin a moment hard to forget, but that supports a plot device outlandish enough not to be taken seriously, and there is played-for-laughs Vincent Price coming to a rescue, itself assurance that a happy ending is in the offing.  Endless close-ups detailing progress of the pincer toward Mitchum’s pulsing vein reveals singular minds at work. Based on apparent fixation re injections, we could wonder if Hughes was administering on-the-quiet jabs to himself. Mitchum refused to let his own skin be penetrated, his nerves so frazzled by the ordeal that he went on a set leveling rampage after endless retaking of blows to his solar plexus and lashing with the buckle end of a leather belt. 


 



His Kind Of Woman has Jim Backus as a lecherous Wall Streeter out to compromise a  supporting character on her honeymoon, a narrative side trip borrowed from Casablanca. Backus combines a smarmy approach with familar Magoo cadence to offbeat and pleasing result. Had the picture centered on his character, you might 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

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Kind of Picture -- so help me.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous 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 Anonymous 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  

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