A Welsh poet appropriates an American icon in search of a workable design for manhood.
Robson (Bbboing and Associated Weirdness, 2003, etc.) assays the persona of iconic tough-guy actor Robert Mitchum in this unusual biography/memoir. He “searches” for Mitchum in a variety of the actor’s prefame stomping grounds, traversing the Eastern Seaboard in a haphazard effort to pin down the facts about Mitchum’s peripatetic youth, which included riding the rails with hoboes during the Depression, a career as a prizefighter and a stint on a prison chain gang. Rather than devoting himself to methodical research, however, Robson wanders around strange towns large and small, drinking in bars, smoking copious amounts of dope, bedding friendly American women and suffering the privations of modern long-distance bus travel. All the while he natters on about Mitchum to everyone he meets, most of whom fail to recognize the actor’s name or remember any of his films. Strangely, this approach produces an entertaining, insightful portrait of a Hollywood movie star that avoids the deadening formula of the standard celebrity biography. Robson evokes the essence of a life through a collage-like accumulation of lines of movie dialogue, quotes from interviews with the garrulous and eloquent actor, descriptions of sequences from Mitchum’s films and the scanty piece of hard biographical evidence. The author states that his quest is motivated by a spiritual need to reconcile the opposing poles of his own masculinity—sensitive artist versus stoic man’s man. His father refused to acknowledge such oppositions, he writes, while Mitchum seemed to negotiate them with a sort of divine grace. Robson perhaps makes too much of the actor’s poetry; quoted examples suggest that Mitchum indeed belonged on screen, not anthologized in a comp-lit text. But the poet’s clear need to identify with his chimera gives his quest an emotional authenticity that suits his subject perfectly.
An odd, compelling addition to the film fan’s library.