Lots of great stuff on DVD today, including The Films Of Kenneth Anger, Volume One. (The first film in this volume, Fireworks, essentially invented Queer Cinema, way back in 1947!) and the fascinating (if barely watchable) double feature combo of Rock Around The Clock and Don't Knock The Rock, unbelievable examples of how Hollywood (in the form of schlockmeister producer Sam Katzman) sold rock and roll to thrill-hungry fifties kids, mostly showcasing the white bread stylings of Bill Haley. (Though Don't Knock The Rock does have Dion, looking like he wants to beat the shit out of somebody, and while he's lip synching The Wanderer and Runaround Sue, all is right with the world.)
For me, the most interesting release today is Warner Home Video's Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection, because well, it's Mitchum, a definite contender for Coolest Guy Who Ever Lived. This box set is typical of what Warner and other big studios offer when they collect a set devoted to a single star, one or two essential titles and a lot of lesser-known, frankly inferior stuff, not always of interest even if you're a big fan.
With Mitchum, though, there's always something to watch, regardless of the quality of the film. And despite the grab-bag nature of the collected titles, even the lesser titles here are enjoyable.
The biggest title here, for me, is the long-awaited DVD release of Vincente Minnelli's splendidly lurid, garishly candy-colored melodrama Home From The Hill. With a pulpy script and a supporting cast that includes George Hamilton (though he's actually pretty good here), you can't quite take it seriously, yet Minnelli's delirious direction and Mitchum's commited performance as the hyper-macho patriarch of a severely dysfunctional Texas clan manage to transform the soapy aspects of the story into something more primal. Great stuff, and it's available seperately from this set.
Other highlights include Otto Preminger's oddball noir Angel Face, with Mitchum in full hepster mode, Fred Zinnemann's well-regarded The Sundowners, a Down Under family saga with one of Mitchum's best performances ever (which is really saying something!) and Sydney Pollack's near-miss The Yakuza, which shows how by the seventies younger directors had already started casting Mitchum as a walking icon.
The set is rounded out by two disposable but entertaining items, Macao, a weird relic from Howard Hughes' days as head of RKO, mostly directed by a slumming Josef von Sternberg, and last and probably least, The Good Guys And The Bad Guys, a comedy western I remember enjoying as a kid, with a fun cast including George Kennedy and David Carradine. Director Burt Kennedy, six years before Pollack's worshipful use of Mitchum in The Yakuza, treats him as just another aging actor in need of work, and he responds by walking through this like a guy who wants his paycheck. But it's not bad, an entertaing way to kill a lazy afternoon.
And that's what makes this set so much more than the usual thrown together actor collection: It showcases everything Robert Mitchum was: working actor, dedicated artist, icon. And always, always cool.