Here's a weirdie. Robert Mitchum was known to sing title songs for his movies--'Thunder Road' most notably--and even did a Calypso album ("Calypso Is Like So..."). But at some point in the late '40s, early 50s, he seems to have made a handful of straight-up jazz vocals for an album that never materialized. The material wound up coming out in 1997 on a CD called "Robert Mitchum; Tall Dark Stranger."

They're a curious batch of records as they clearly were not meant for release. Rather they seem to be tests, first drafts if you will, of how Mitchum might approach the tunes. They're all too short--running just over a minute or so--and except for 'Blue Skies', none of them have an ending. Mitchum kind of fades away, not confident in his ability to wrap up the song in a jazzy way that will sync with the pianist (whom I don't know the identity of). On a couple of them you hear him derisively pooh-pooh the effort at the tale end of the take ("I told you that ending wouldn't work..." etc.). But the oddest thing about the existence of these tracks is that, unlike Jack Lemmon and Jerry Lewis (see previous week's posts), Mitchum is actually a pretty cool cat when it comes to his singing. He has a little Dino in his accent and more than a touch of Frankie Laine in his sliding, quasi-country beltings. You get the definite impression that had he focused on it more, he'd have gotten more comfortable and confident and actually pulled this stuff off.

But that wasn't Mitchum's way. It either fell into place for him or it didn't. That was how he approached acting and life. To work hard (or be seen working hard) wasn't his thing. I've always dug the story of him when working on Elia Kazan's movie of Fitzgerald's "The Last Tycoon." It goes like this: Robert De Niro and Kazan were deep in 'method' rehearsals and conversations, which Mitchum naturally had no interest in. One of the other actors heard their rehearsals and was fascinated with a direction he heard Kazan give--a way to achieve the distracted, melancholy nature of the doomed studio-head Monroe Stahr. The actor told Mitchum that Kazan asked De Niro to always be thinking of something other than the lines he was reading while he was talking. Mitchum shrugged and said, "Shit, I've been doing that for forty years."

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