What The Times’ critics said about eight of Robert Mitchum’s best-known roles

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Actor Robert Mitchum broke into Hollywood doing Hopalong Cassidy westerns in the early 1940s. He moved up quickly, appearing in war pictures such as “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” and “The Story G.I. Joe,” earning an Oscar nomination for the latter, his sole acknowledgment by the academy. Neither his own military service or an infamous 1948 marijuana bust could slow his trajectory. His sleepy eyes and boxer’s nose were a natural for film noir and he became one of the biggest postwar movie stars.

More cowboys, private eyes and military roles followed, not to mention insouciant charmers, homicidal preachers and other morally ambivalent types, and Times critics chronicled his progress across a five-decade career:

The Story of G.I. Joe

“The actors are mostly unfamiliar, and it would be hard for me to pick and choose as to merit among Robert Mitchum, Freddie Steele, Wally Cassell and Jimmy Lloyd. They live their roles. Mitchum probably will gain the greatest popular advantage through the sympathy he exerts as the commanding officer who is ultimately killed.” (Spoilers apparently weren’t a concern back then.) — Edwin Schallert, Aug. 9, 1945


Out of the Past

“The players acquit themselves histrionically if not morally. Mitchum, [Kirk] Douglas and the Misses [Jane] Greer and [Rhonda] Fleming are all commendable.” — Philip K. Scheuer, Dec. 12, 1947

The Night of the Hunter

“Robert Mitchum, in a casting even more offbeat than his surly rancher of ‘Track of the Cat,’ plays Preacher Powell. … It is doubtful that you will ever hear the old hymn, ‘Learning,’ again without recalling the gaunt, flapping figure of Preacher Powell as he lams it out in the dark night — to the terror of the listening youngsters. (Extra! Mitchum sings.)” — Philip K. Scheuer, April 17, 1955

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

“Splendidly acted by both Mitchum and Miss [Deborah] Kerr, who indubitably give performances in this picture that in many respects they have never before equaled.” — Edwin Schallert, March 15, 1957

Thunder Road

“Robert Mitchum portrays the rough ace whiskey runner… Performances by principals are what is to be expected from good, reliable actors … Walter Wise’s scenario from a story by Mitchum was, barring a few soft spots, much better than average B.” — Charles Stinson, June 5, 1958


El Dorado

“Mitchum delivered one of the loveliest hangover sequences on record.” — Kevin Thomas, Jan. 7, 1968

Ryan’s Daughter

“Mitchum’s role is vastly different from the kind of belching semi-heroes he is customarily asked to play. He, too, reveals an impressive gentleness and a commendable earnestness, but I’m afraid his undisguisable Yankeeness and the weight of everything else he has done prevents him from being totally successful as an undersexed pedagog.” — Charles Champlin, Nov. 15, 1970

Farewell, My Lovely

“Robert Mitchum is the newest Marlowe and visually he too seems exactly right, world-weary and despairing, every lousy case remembered by a crease on his face which always needs a shave. … In the dramatic scenes Mitchum comes off pretty well, too, finding the anger and the compassion and the cynicism.” — Charles Champlin, Aug. 20, 1975

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