Retro Review: ‘His Kind of Woman’
By 1951, film noir was set in stone as a solid genre of filmdom and famed eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes wanted in on the act. As the owner of RKO, he turned to the studio’s most successful producer Sid Rogel to help him put one together, but there was no question that Hughes was the one in charge of production. Two directors were eventually strong armed onto the picture which starred two of Hughes’ favorite actors, Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell. Naturally when a man renowned for his quirks uses his money to rope in people to make a movie to satisfy his own ego, things rarely go smoothly. The production meddling and disorganized chaos which ensued threw multiple wrenches into the making of this film. As a result His Kind of Woman is a film, often seen as an unintentional pseudo-parody of film noir. Though it is not Noirvember (don’t worry I am already hard at work on a new set of Noirvember reviews for 2019) I felt the need to review this unique fan favorite of the genre.
American gambler, Dan Milner learns of a job in Mexico which will pay out $50,000 and considering he is down on his luck, he accepts the job. Along the way he meets Lenore Brent, a worldly woman with expensive tastes who immediately lures him in. Once he is south of the border, Milner and Lenore end up at a resort where they cross paths with the bravado filled Hollywood actor Mark Cardigan. Slowly but surely, Milner discovers that the job is simply a set up. A gangster, played by Raymond Burr, who has been deported to Italy plans on killing Milner in order to steal his identity and sneak back into the United States. He, Lenore, and Cardigan are drawn into this mess and are set in the sights of the crime boss. It all comes to a head with a wild seaside shootout where Milner has to escape being captured by a group of mobsters.
Howard Hughes was quite vocal that he saw Mitchum as the peak of tough masculinity and Russell as the epitome feminine beauty. This is why he was adamant about these two being cast as the leads and the promotional campaign was built around the two. At one point Hughes even planned to have billboards constructed around Hollywood with the couple which would shoot fireworks at night as part of the ad campaign. Considering the amazing natural chemistry to two share in the film Hughes was definitely on the right track with his thought process. To his credit Mitchum, whom Hughes referred to as the “Tall Dog” was doing this flick for a paycheck and played his role of Milner as an exaggerated version of the tough pulp characters he was famous for in flicks like; Out of the Past and Crossfire. While Russell does not project the dangerous aura often associated with a noir femme fatale in this flick, she is definitely sharp and aloof. Throughout the film you have the burning feeling that her character, Lenore, is carrying a secret but you can never quite put your finger on it. With the bar on acting already set to tongue-in-cheek mode, Vincent Price naturally does what Vincent Price does best and theatrically chewed up every scene, stealing the show as famed actor Mark Cardigan. When the time comes for the climactic shoot-out, he gleefully dons a cape and wields an antique rifle to lead a collection of police officers and fellow vacationers to fight off the gangsters in overdramtic fashion. Raymond Burr was not the first choice to play the villainous crime boss, Nick Ferraro, nor was he the second. When the film was originally shot and completed, Hughes loved the picture, except the actor who played Ferraro. This led to the recasting of the role, and the reshooting of ALL of the character’s scenes with a new actor. A short while later Howard Hughes crossed paths with Burr on the RKO lot and immediately took a liking to him. So once again, the villain was recast and now it was on Burr to go in and prove he was worth a third round of shooting for all of these scenes.
When the film began production, John Farrow who had been attached since the earliest stages of the film held the director’s chair. A veteran of the film industry, Farrow’s work dated back to the end of the Silent Era. Once the film was completed Hughes wanted several days of reshoots before he felt comfortable signing off on it. He had recently seen the final cut of RKO’s the Narrow Margin, directed by one of Rogel’s top directors Richard Fleischer. Hughes approached Fleischer to film the reshoots of His Kind of Woman, which naturally he refused. Not one to take denial laying down, Howard Hughes refused to release the Narrow Margin until Fleischer eventually caved. Thanks to the constant demands of Howard Hughes to keep making things bigger and flashier, production took far longer than it should have. At one point Vincent Price even threw a party on set to celebrate his one year anniversary working on the picture. To the credit of the eccentric studio head, every bit of money he invested in His Kind of Woman is visible onscreen, with lavish set pieces and top tier production values.
With it’s exaggerated take on the noir tropes, His Kind of Woman has become a bit of a cult favorite. While the movie never goes fully into satirical territory, it does tiptoe on the line for much of the runtime. Admittedly any sense of subtlety does in fact go out of the window in a climax which sees a bare-chested Robert Mitchum and Raymond Burr slugging it out while Price gleefully guns down anyone who crosses his path. This is clearly the product of Hughes being an incredibly hands-on producer who completely took over the filming of this scene. Unlike your standard film noir, there is no impending sense of doom or moody atmosphere but it is an absolute blast of a film, and truly a must-watch for any fan of classic cinema.