main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Creator: Robert Mitchum
"Baby I don't care."

Robert Mitchum (born Robert Charles Durman Mitchum 1917-1997) was an American actor, one of the earliest of the more understated "say a lot while saying very little" types, which may be at least one of the reasons why he was often cast as drifters and loners during his career. After a colorful youth jumping trains and railroad cars traveling across the country during the Great Depression, sometimes with or without the company of motley hobos and at one point arrested and put on a chain gang for vagrancy, Mitchum, who initially set out to be a writer while working various labor jobs (including but not limited to trying out boxing), casually drifted into acting at the encouragement of relatives, making his (confirmed) official debut as a henchman in Hoppy Serves A Writ of the Hopalong Cassidy films. Gradually working his way up from supporting parts - and refusing to change his professional name to Robert Marshall a request from RKO that he thought was absurd given that his name wasn't particularly difficult to pronounce - he started to get leading roles in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Story of G.I. Joe where he was so convincing that some people actually thought he WAS the soldier he portrayed and received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. A favorite for playing anti-heroes in film noir and westerns, his career was nearly destroyed when he did jail time for being caught smoking pot, but upon returning to RKO - which was being run into the ground by the infamous Aviator himself Howard Hughes - Mitchum was forgiven and supported to the public and became "the staff hero" as he put it, since Hughes - who seemed to have a bit of a man crush on Mitchum - kept putting the tall, dark, barrel-chested leading man into the heroic roles he thought suited him.

When his RKO days came to an end Mitchum took on one of his two most iconic roles in 1955's The Night of the Hunter, in which he played Harry Powell, a sadistic woman hating con man who marries a widow and then murders her before chasing her kids to get money that their late father stole. In 1962 he got his other most iconic role, that of Max Cady, the sadistic rapist who has come back to seek revenge on the righteous lawyer Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) for helping send him to jail years earlier - he later appeared in the early 90s remake, ironically as a Lawful Good sheriff while Peck's cameo had him playing an evil lawyer. Other noteworthy roles include Thunder Road (which inspired a Bruce Springsteen song), Out of the Past, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, The Sundowners, The Longest Day, Ryan's Daughter (Playing Against Type as a romantically lacking priest) and The Winds of War.

Blessed with a photographic memory, Mitchum rarely (if ever) actually rehearsed, since all he had to do was glance at the script and he'd have his lines memorized and could do the scene easily, much to the envy of his fellow actors.

Mitchum built his screen persona on an image of casual indifference, which was at least partially true of his real life self - he never really lied about the fact that many of his films were far from great art and usually just done for the money and he never really took himself that seriously as an actor. In fact the title of his biography was Baby, I Don't Care, taken from one of his early film noir roles. His indifference was such that when the notoriously temperamental Katharine Hepburn caught him doing an accurate but unflattering impression of her to the cast and crew of 1946's Undercurrent she got in his face bellowing "You can't act! You know you can't act and you would never have gotten a single picture if you weren't handsome! I'm sick of working with people who have nothing to offer!" Mitchum's response? He just shrugged those big old ditch digger shoulders as if to say whatever.

On the flipside of his stoicism, Mitchum was easily one of Hollywood's most colorful characters - a casual ladies man and professional Deadpan Snarker, he was also known for acts of great generosity, bringing lunch to cast and crew when they needed them in outright defiance of tyrannical directors and offering advice to and support to actors who were just starting out and could benefit from his experience. He was also known for being a natural storyteller, poet, mimic of accents and even a fairly good singer. He was a long time friend of actresses Jane Russell and Deborah Kerr (the latter his leading lady in Heaven Knows Mr. Allison and The Sundowners) and Tarantino favorite Michael Madsen has cited Mitchum as his role model - convenient since he usually gets cast in film noir type roles himself.

A longtime smoker, Mitchum died a month short of what would have been his 80th birthday due to lung cancer and emphysema. He is survived by his wife Dorothy and their kids (at least two of whom also took up acting, as did his brother John).

Partial Filmography:

  • Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
  • The Story of GI Joe (1945)
  • Out of the Past (1947)
  • Undercurrent (1947)
  • His Kind of Woman (1951)
  • Macao (1952)
  • The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  • Thunder Road (1958)
  • Home From the Hill (1960)
  • The Sundowners (1960)
  • Cape Fear (1962)
  • The Longest Day (1962)
  • El Dorado (1966)
  • Anzio (1968)
  • The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969)
  • Ryan's Daughter (1970)
  • The Yakuza (1974)
  • The Winds of War (1983) (TV-miniseries)
  • Cape Fear (1991 remake)
  • Tombstone (1993 - narrator)

Elizabeth MitchellActorsMamoru Miyano

TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy