His Kind of Woman (1951): Film Noir? Thriller? Melodrama? Never Mind, it Stars Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell

A compromised film noir, which doesn’t make much sense and doesn’t bear a singular directorial vision (or signature), His Kind of Woman is sort of a film noir, sort of romantic thriller, but who cares?  It stars Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, one of Hollywood’s coolest couples.

Though largely shot by John Farrow, it was then radically changed in the editing room by RKO executive producer Howard Hughes and director Richard Fleischer (among others).

The supporting cast includes Vincent Price, Raymond Burr and Charles McGraw.

It began as a loose adaptation of Gerald Drayson‘s unpublished story, “Star Sapphie,” but during the shoot and afterwards, Hughes added dialogue and scenes, due to his dissatisfaction with John Farrow’s work.

To that extent, Hughes recruited the young and promising director, Richard Fleischer, who had just finished the good noir film, The Narrow Margin, also for RKO.  Other writers and editors had also contributed (uncredited) to the final movie.

Mitchum plays Dan Milner, a down on his luck professional gambler Dan Milner, who accepts a job that calls for traveling but pays $50,000. He accepts a $5,000 down payment and goes to an isolated Mexican resort, Morro’s Lodge, waiting to receive further instructions.  Milner is immediately attracted to the only other passenger on his chartered flight, Lenore Brent (Jane Russell).

Milner is disappointed to discover that the guests have hidden agendas, and that Lenore is the girlfriend famous movie actor Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price).

Milner overhears two guests, self-proclaimed author Martin Krafft (John Mylong), who turns out to be a plastic surgeon, and a man named Thompson (Charles McGraw), planning a scheme.

Milner is given $10,000 and told that someone is on his way to Baja to see him. Bill Lusk (Tim Holt) flies in, despite dangerous storm conditions, and Milner thinks he is his contact, but it turns out Lusk is an undercover agent for the immigration authorities. The U.S. government suspects that underworld boss Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr), deported to Italy, plans to get back into the country posing as Milner. The two men are a close physical match and Milner is a loner, so no one is likely to miss him.

Meanwhile, Cardigan’s wife Helen (Marjorie Reynolds) and his personal manager Gerald Hobson (Carleton G. Young) show up. She is still fond of him despite intent of divorce.  Cardigan’s contract is expiring and bad publicity would damage his prospects.

In a weak moment, Lenore confesses to Milner that she is just a singer looking hunting for a wealthy spouse.

Milner helps unhappy newly wed Jennie Stone (Leslie Banning) by cheating at poker to win back her husband’s gambling losses from investment broker Myron Winton (Jim Backus).

Thompson and his men, having killed Lusk, take Milner to a yacht, but he’s able to pass along a message to Lenore. She persuades Cardigan to help out. While the actor keeps the mobsters pinned down with his rifle, Milner sneaks back onto the boat.

After killing two of the thugs and wounding and capturing Thompson, Cardigan plans a rescue with the reluctant assistance of the Mexican police.  A gunfight breaks out aboard the boat, Milner manages to break free and shoots Ferraro dead. Cardigan and his wife reconciled, and Milner and Lenore form a new couple.

For a film billed as noir thriller, it lacks suspense, bogged down as it is by marital and domestic issues. Various characters appear (out of nowhere) and then disappear (killed for no reason) for no apparent reason other than keeping the overwrought plot going on.  And on it goes, for 121 minutes.

The film’s tone is inconsistent, due to the many different writers and last moment ad-libs.  At times, it’s impossible to tell whether the oddball humor is intentional (sort of tongue in cheek) or unintentional, though ultimately it doesn’t matter, as the plot is senseless.

Jane Russell later said, “It was a good film until they took John Farrow off and put in this nonsense at the end, the gore and hypodermic needles.”

So what’s left?

Star power: Mitchum’s macho image and Russell’s sex appeal.  Mitchum is well cast as the loner anti-hero, a role he could have played in his sleep.

Taming of the shrew or just camp: In the very last scene, Russell, wearing a sexy black dress, enters the room to find Mitchum ironing his pants. A toast and a kiss follow, and the last image is a close-up of an iron!.

Throughout, the cameras, under Hughes instruction and supervision, caress Russell’s body, especially her (in)famous chest.