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His Kind of Woman

His Kind of Woman (1951) is the most delicious kind of noir cinema — it's all style and witty patter with a plot so ancillary to the proceedings that it almost could have been done away with entirely. Robert Mitchum — at his barrel-chested, sardonic best — plays Dan Milner, a gambler who's approached by some bad men with an intriguing offer. He'll get $50,000 if he flies to a fancy Mexican resort hotel, but he won't know what the job is until gets there. Awaiting his chartered plane in Nogales, he meets a sultry singer/millionairess named Lenore Brent (Jane Russell), who turns out to be a guest at the same resort. But Lenore has a secret, of course — she's really a working-class gal who's set her sights on marrying Hollywood actor Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price), and she's gambling all she's got that this trip will seal the deal. As Milner slowly figures out just what, exactly, he's doing there, we meet the hotel's catalogue of assorted characters — Morro, the oily proprietor (played by Philip Van Zandt in an unctuous turn worthy of Jon Lovitz); the mysterious Dr. Krafft (John Mylong), who plays chess, by himself, each day by the pool; and investment broker/card player Myron Winton (Jim Backus), the epitome of the annoying American tourist who talks too much, and who cannily invades Milner's privacy through sheer boorishness. The reason for Milner's trip to Mexico is nothing but a huge MacGuffin, since the movie is little more than a delightful series of almost random film noir exchanges, with Mitchum getting the best lines (when asked, on the phone, what he's doing, he replies, "Just getting ready to take off my tie. Wondering if I should hang myself with it."). But it's Price who offers the most delightful performance as the vainglorious — and very married — movie star. Alternately puffed-up, petulant, and childishly pleased with himself, the film's last act finds him playing hero as he goes all Rambo in an attempt to save Milner, who's finally discovered the truth behind his assignment. Grabbing a rifle and setting off to finally do the sort of daring deeds he's only done in the movies, he quotes Shakespeare: "Now might I drink hot blood and do such bitter business the earth would quake to look upon!" which inspires his wife to snort in disgust, "Hamlet again!" (His response — an impassioned, "Oh, what fools ye mortals be…" as he sashays out the door with his gun.)

Directed by John Farrow, His Kind of Woman carries the unmistakable stamp of producer Howard Hughes, who built a fabulous mid-century modern set and filled the picture with misanthropic bon mots and surprisingly raucous comedy mixed with outlandish violence. The extraordinary Russell smolders on-screen, but she doesn't have a lot to do besides wear architecturally imaginative dresses that show off her curves (the product of Hughes's famous obsession with her enviable breasts) and sing the occasional song. Yet her chemistry with Mitchum is electric, which led to her working with him again the following year in Macao, creating a legendary screen partnership that, sadly, only resulted in two pictures together despite the pair's lifelong friendship. And one simply can't say enough about Vincent Price in this film — when Hughes saw Price's hilarious, hammy take on the character, the producer ordered more scenes to be written so that he had more screen time, and Price revels in every glorious moment. It's a bizarre, wickedly entertaining film that makes up for its rather schizophrenic tone with its assured, clever script and the sheer pleasure of watching Mitchum, Russell, and Price do what they do best.

Warner's DVD release of His Kind of Woman, part of their "Film Noir Classic Collection: Vol. 3," offers a good transfer in the original full-screen (1.33:1) ratio, but from a wildly uneven source-print. Most of the film is more than decent, quite clean with just a few specks, although the contrast is a bit soft and the overall picture could be sharper. But the quality at the very beginning and in a few scenes towards the end of the film is surprisingly bad —  blurry and dirty, with lines quivering down the middle of the screen. The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio (English, with optional English, Spanish or French subtitles) is serviceable enough for a dialogue-heavy film like this one. Also on board is a commentary track by film historian Vivian Sobchack, which is a lot like watching a movie in a Film Studies class while the teacher points out every obvious noir device as it pops up on-screen — it's great if you're just learning about the genre, but tedious if you're at all knowledgeable on the subject. Slimline snap-case in the box-set.
—Dawn Taylor



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