Mitchum, Bitch ’em

THE ROBERT MITCHUM STORY, ‘IT SURE BEATS WORKING.’ by Mike Tomkies. Published by W H Allen at £2.50.

The last few years in the publishing world has seen a massive rash of biographies of famous film stars, most of which have been written solely as commercial efforts, and not because the author has any specific feeling or interest for the subject, rather like many of their films have been created, in fact. Sad in this case, because Mitchum is for me one of the genuinely fascinating Hollywood figures, and “It sure beats working” is yet another savage let-down. It’s written in the journalistic style of a local paper, and with its massive quotes from earlier Mitchum interviews and articles, gives the impression that it was written entirely without his personal collaboration.

None of this would matter very much if the author showed any signs of affection or sympathy for his character; but he doesn’t. Everything of interest in Mitchum’s life and everything else is skated over superficially and unfeelingly, from his teens when he lived for a long period as a hobo, we are given no ideas of his motives for living like this, through the early Hollywood bit-part days, through to the big star years.

As the book progresses, instead of becoming a deep character study of a fascinating man, it becomes more and more like a potted history of say a nineteenth century politician, a date and time diary of cardboard figures. The chaper on his arrest for smoking marijuana in 1948 for example, is solely an account of Mitchum’s arrest by one of the policemen responsible, and a rather clipped, non-committal passage on the controversy the event caused in Hollywood, and the difficulties in urging the public not to make pre-judgements on the matter. One has the feeling that Mitchum’s genuine feelings and ideas here have been restrained, for fear of offending his image, or the book’s vast sales potential.

I don’t think I’m being unfair, because even within the very narrow verbal confines of a commercially sponsored American TV chat show, I’ve seen the emergence of a very much more deeply thoughtful man.