"Good coarse romantic-adventure nonsense."
- Manny Farber, reviewing the film for his pick as one of the best films of 1951
His Kind of Woman was originally directed by John Farrow, but producer Howard Hughes brought in Richard Fleischer to add a few shots. Then, Hughes co-wrote a new ending with Fleischer, and then Fleischer ended up reshooting the entire film, during which the leads (Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, and most especially Vincent Price) took the liberty of revising their own dialogue.
Any film with such a convoluted journey to the finish line is likely to be uneven, and this one certainly is - but gloriously so. Its unevenness almost certainly elevates His Kind of Woman to a film noir classic rather than just an enjoyable slice of noir with a great cast.
|The film begins with an exiled-to-Napoli American gangster (Raymond Burr) being assured over the short wave that the plan to get him back into the States is underway.|
|Ten thousand miles away, professional gambler Dan Milner (eternally cool Robert Mitchum), has just finished a thirty day stretch in the Big House.|
After strangers threaten him over a debt he never acquired on a bet he's never placed and rough him up when he doesn't cooperate, Milner is made a strange offer: head down to Mexico for a year and lay low and further instructions will follow. This will disappear the trumped-up gambling debt, and he'll pocket $50K for his troubles. Milner agrees - with trademark "Hey it's your nickel, fella" body language from Mitchum - and off he goes to Mexico.
|While waiting for further instructions just over the border, Milner meets Lenore Brent (Jane Russell), a singer, in the bar near the landing strip and chats her up.|
|Turns out they're headed to the same place: Morro's Lodge, on the southeastern coast of the Baja California Peninsula.|
|Lenore is meeting Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price), a married actor with whom she's having an affair. Cardigan's all-consuming narcissism will serve the plot well in the third act.|
|But, in true every-quirk-to-serve-the-plot fashion, said narcissism will come in handy for everyone.|
|Everyone hangs around just looking cool for most of the second act.|
|Milner tries to suss out the mystery of the hoods keeping tabs on him, while Lenore keeps making his head snap (or the Robet-Mitchum equivalent of this) with strategic flirting, surprise How-did-you-get-in-heres and grand entrances.|
G-man Bill Lusk (Tim Holt) flies into the resort in the middle of a hurricane under guise of a maverick-drunk-totally-not-Howard-Hughes-playboy-type and kicks things into high gear when he heps Milner to the real reason he was sent to Mexico: as face-fodder for Ferraro, the exiled gangster. Fellow resort guest Krafft (John Mylong) is the plastic surgeon that Ferraro hired to help him surgically burgle Milner's face.
|Crazy as it sounds, this has a tenuous connection to plausibility. Allegedly this sort of duping-someone-to-steal-their-face scheme was why Lucky Luciano moved to Cuba in his unsuccessful (at least while breathing) hope to move back to the United States.|
Milner is kidnapped by the baddies and brought aboard the gangster's yacht. He escapes and is able to alert Cardigan, who seizes the opportunity to become the Shakespeare-quoting over-the-top real-world bad-ass his screen persona has always imagined himself to be. He organizes an assault on the boat, while Milner is gratuitously and excessively beaten, left to die (sort of) in the steam room, and even threatened with an experimental Nazi brain damage serum.
The bad guys all die, Cardigan reconciles with his wife, and Milner and Lenore, after coming clean with one another, fade-to-banging.
|"You could be a handy thing to have around the house if a man went broke."|
As mentioned in Drew Morton's review of the film for Pajiba: "The oddest and most rewarding characteristic about His Kind of Woman is the complete tonal reversal it exhibits. The first half of the film is a fairly typical noir plot. However, once Dan gets kidnapped by his malevolent benefactor and held hostage on an off-shore boat, it shifts to a bizarre comedy, with Mark Cardigan emerging from the supporting peanut gallery as Dan's savior, commandeering a sinking row boat and shouting down his crew's incompetency with the line 'Alas, why must I be plagued by yammering magpies on the eve of battle?'"
|The just-mentioned rowboat scene is a gag right out of a silent film.|
|When he insists on pushing the overloaded boat from shore, it immediately sinks under the weight of his hubris.|
Primarily, though, Vincent Price's character (Mark Cardigan) sells the film. Something which may have initially upset Mitchum - Price later wrote that he thought Robert Mitchum was disappointed in the film "because if he had known about (Hawks emphasizing) the comic tilt, he would have played his character in a lighter vein." It does make things a little uneven. But it's a tonal 180 ("it bifurcates," as mentioned here; perfect word choice) that works for me. Like the switch in tone from Tarantino (the first part) to Rodriguez (the second) in From Dusk to Dawn.
Really if the only reason this film exists is to dress a send-up of self-obsessed actors in film noir clothes, that's justification enough. (Tropic Thunder might even owe some conceptual debt to it, though I've not seen anyone else make this connection so perhaps I am overreaching.) Easily one of the most outrageous of all his performances.
|Mitchum and Russell are the leads, but no one could be faulted for referring to His Kind of Woman as a Vincent Price film.|
As for the rest of the cast:
Some familiar faces from other noirs we've covered here, namely The Killer That Stalked New York (Bela Oxmyx) and The Asphalt Jungle (Thurston Howell III).
|Voice actor Paul Frees (a personal favorite) has a rare onscreen cameo as one of the heavies waiting for Milner at his apartment at the beginning.|
And finally, Harry Wild, the cinematographer for Murder My Sweet, The Big Steal, and other noir classics, last seen in these pages for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, does his usual excellent job.
|This film even features an impressive uncut sequence following a shapely server around the lounge and pool in much the same manner as we saw in Kiss Me Deadly.|