His Kind of Woman (1951)

“I was just getting ready to take my tie off. Wondering if I should hang myself with it.”

his kind of womanHis Kind of Woman begins in a beautiful villa in Italy where exiled drug czar and psychotic crime boss Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr) paces the marble floor like a trapped animal. One of Ferraro’s minions listens to a radio broadcast that states that Ferraro should be rolling in dough–even on Italy’s far-flung shores, but while Ferraro is trapped in Italy, the boys back home aren’t sending along those ill-gotten gains from all the gambling and narcotics scores. And so Ferraro decides it’s time to get back to America and straighten out his rackets. But the problem is he’s been deported and as an undesirable, he’s not allowed back in….

Meanwhile gambler Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) returns to his Los Angeles haunts after thirty days in the slammer. He strolls into one of his favourite late night diners to order milk, but there’s something wrong. Sam, the server seems tense and nervous, and Milner takes the hint, strolling back to his apartment where he finds three hoods waiting for him. The hoods are there to collect $600 dollars that Milner doesn’t owe. After being beaten up, Milner receives a phone call asking him to go to the home of a local crime boss and here Milner gets an offer he can’t refuse. He’s offered a cool $50,000 if he just goes down to Mexico and stays there for a year.

Although Milner hadn’t planned on going to Mexico, he realises that he can’t refuse, so he takes the downpayment and heads to Nogales. In a tatty Nogales bar, he runs into Lenore Brent (Jane Russell), a woman who claims to be a millionairess. While Milner, is strongly attracted to Lenore, she brushes him off as she sniffs that he’s not in her league, but nonetheless the pair find themselves on a chartered plane heading for Morro’s Lodge, an exclusive, isolated coastal resort.

Upon his arrival, Milner makes it a point to try and discover why he’s in Mexico, and he does this by trying to mingle with the guests. Striking up relationships with some of the guests proves difficult, and no one seems to be quite who they claim. There’s writer Martin Krafft (John Mylong)  a man who plays solitary chess games against himself in a distinctly anti-social way. Another man Myron Winton (Jim Backus) has the persona of a buffoon, but he’s a card sharp intent on separating a pair of newlyweds.  Meanwhile Milner is closely watched by a couple of hoods who refuse to give any information but don’t want him mingling with the guests too much.

The resort is obviously the hangout for millionaries who don’t want the hassle of publicity, and the guests seem to be a strange blend of the extraordinary wealthy along with a few playmates. Milner doesn’t make much headway in the information department but thinks that at least he can while away the time massaging suntan oil onto Lenore’s shoulders. And then married Hollywood actor Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price) shows up for a tryst with Lenore.

From the very first scene as Ferraro menacingly walks through his villa, His Kind of Woman is great entertainment. The film is an interesting blend of hardboiled noir laced with comic elements, and most of the film’s humour comes from Cardigan–a thwarted Errol Flynn type who can’t wait to act out his heroic fantasies off screen using real guns for a change.

The film’s strength is in its well-fleshed characters. There’s a strong sense of just who Milner, Lenore, Cardigan and the psycho Ferraro are, and even minor characters are given quirks that make them fascinating and three-dimensional. Mitchum–as always–is superb. Cool and laconic, he never breaks a sweat until the film’s final scenes. Milner knows that he’s been set up from the very beginning, but he doesn’t fight it and goes along for the ride until that ride gets too bumpy. The film’s title His Kind of Woman refers to the fact that Milner recognises Lenore as his type of dame from the moment he sets eyes on her. When Mitchum first sees Lenore, he buys her a bottle of champagne and carries it over to her table. While he may be hoping to impress her, the way he holds the bottle looks like he intends to slug someone with it. She may act as though she’s slumming by hanging out in a scruffy Nogales bar, but she’s more at home singing in bars than she is sporting with the rich and famous at Morro’s Lodge. Jane Russell as Lenore has a fantastic wardrobe–with gowns that look as though they’ve been poured on to her luscious full curves. The scenes between Mitchum and Russell snap as dialogue is exchanged. One of my favourites scenes involves Lenore discovering that Milner likes ironing his money. Milner is a tough guy but he’s so tough, he doesn’t have to worry about displaying that toughness at every turn.

The comedy takes over at a few points during the film. The Shakespeare-quoting Cardigan becomes the focus of some of the scenes, and with a captive audience made up of Mexican police and American holidaymakers, the opportunity for real-life adventures swell his already impossible ego. But it’s all great fun and Cardigan’s very genuine relationship with Milner–a relationship of contrasts plays well on the screen. Similarly Milner’s relationship with Lenore believably simmers while she struggles with the idea that she needs to nail Cardigan to a commitment in the next two weeks.

Raymond Burr as savage crime czar Nick Ferraro is suitably psychotic, and as it turns out Martin Krafft is a Nazi doctor, so there are all these characters who may have disguises and fake names but who in the end run true to type. The film’s final scenes involve some rather convoluted back and forth fighting, and while some of these scenes drag out the ending, it’s all to allow the film to conclude in splendid, no-holds barred Errol Flynn fashion. 

The film, from Howard Hughes RKO studios, is directed by John Farrow.

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