his kind of… man?

“Because, as gays, we grew up isolated not only from our heterosexual peers but also from each other, we turned to the mass media for information and ideas about ourselves… we could use the film–especially those not directly offering us images of ourselves–as we chose.” -Richard Dyer, “Introduction to Gays and Film

As a young queer cinephile, I consider myself lucky to live in a time when it is not particularly difficult to find representations of my own experiences and desires depicted within films, television, and other types of media.  Just last night I had the opportunity to attend a screening at San Francisco’s Frameline Film Festival, the oldest LGBT film festival in existence, and beyond the (excellent) films itself, just the fact of taking part in watching a cinematic depiction of gay lives and relationships along with some 1,400 other individuals was itself an incredibly powerful and moving experience.

But on the other hand, I remain endlessly intrigued about times in the not-so-distant past when this type of situation could hardly be imagined, to say nothing about it actually being a reality. One of my favorite things is to sit and gab with two of my “uncles”–a gay couple now in their late 80’s and early 90’s respectively–and listen to their memories of films and stars from the Hollywood studio era, and, most especially, all the juicy gossip that circulated in gay circles (who cares if it was ever true or not?).  It always fascinates me how vibrant many of these stories and perceptions remain for them, and what shape that they take.  For me, these conversations serve as a vivid demonstration of what queer scholars have been writing about for decades–what Dyer describes in the groundbreaking collection of essays he edited Gays and Film as a kind of “queer bricolage.”  Taking the term directly from French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, he defines “bricolage” as “playing around with the elements available to us in such a way as to bend their meanings to our own purposes.”  Through this process “we could pilfer from straight society’s images on the screen such that would help us build up a subculture, or what Jack Babuscio calls a ‘gay sensibility.'”

Even with increased queer visibility and representation in contemporary cinema and culture, this process hasn’t entirely disappeared, but has now largely takes the form of looking back and attempting to decipher and read the queer coding embedded in the films of the past, often wittily recasting these films in our own image.  Christianne over at Krell Labs provided one of my favorite examples of this in her thoughts regarding the last shots of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, stating that she prefers to think that Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell aren’t in fact marrying their rather dull male suitors, but each other.  Posting an image where Monroe and Russell exchange a meaningful glance as visual demonstration, it’s a marvelous re-reading–and queering–of these image(s).

In this spirit, I wish to offer up my own bricolaged interpretation of a classic film I dearly love.  And funny enough, it also stars Jane Russell–the 1951 pseudo-noir His Kind of Woman (John Farrow, USA, 1951).  Russell co-stars with Robert Mitchum, and this is the first of two films in which she was paired with Mitchum, with the second, Joseph von Sternberg’s Macao from the following year the one most usually remembered (despite being overall the lesser film).  I had never heard of His Kind of Woman before when I checked out the DVD from my local library on a whim, and was immediately charmed by it–Russell and Mitchum make one of my very favorite screen pairings (now there’s a man that’s Russell’s equal!), their banter is bright and witty, the mood and black and white photography is appropriately atmospheric, and there’s the’s one amazing, bravura tracking shot through a vintage 1950’s resort lounge that ranks with the best of Ophüls.  People often cite Vincent Price’s comic relief as one of the film’s chief attributes as well, but I can’t say I’m not particularly fond of it myself.

I had also been disappointed with the unexpected tonal shift the film takes in the final third, with the sly detective yarn transforming into a rather serious action film, involving a villainous Raymond Burr.  But upon writing about the film in honor of Jane Russell’s passing last year, what I had found is that memories of the film had taken a weird turn.  While I couldn’t recall any of the plot details, what had stuck with me was the fact that Mitchum had been captured by a group of thugs, stripped of his shirt, brutally tied up in various positions and whipped, and then the rest of the film involving a barechested Mitchum running around a boat with a gun.  In other words, in my memory the last third of His Kind of Woman became something akin to a gay S&M video.  And judging from some of the original promotional material, I might not be the only one:

[It can’t just be me–there is something a bit visually odd about an exclamatory “His Kind of Woman!” seeming to caption an image of a shirtless and supine Mitchum, right?]

For this blogathon I decided to revisit the film to see if my memories held up; I’m not sure if I’m exactly surprised to find it’s ever gayer than I remembered.  So what I present below is a series of images that represents the queerly bricolaged memory version of His Kind of Woman–an aggressively heterosexual title that methinks doth protest a bit too much!

His Kind of… Man? 

Starring:

Jane: “Do you have something to tell me?”

Robert: …

Cut.

Jane: “How about now?”

Robert: …

Cut.

Vincent: “This coat?  Yes, isn’t it fabulous?  By the way, I have some friends you should meet.”

Cut.

Robert: “Err, this isn’t exactly the type of party I had in mind.”

Raymond: “Can’t I at least get a kiss?”

Mitchum: …

Robert: “That’s a big… gun you have.”

“This isn’t exactly what I signed up for.”

Fade out.

Jane: “So did you have a good time last night?

Robert: “You don’t even want to know.”

Swelling music and final fadeout.

THE END.

Make sure to check out Garbo Laughs and Pussy Goes Grrr for all of the other blogathon posts–there’s lots of great stuff to read!

17 thoughts on “his kind of… man?

  1. Pingback: 2012 QUEER FILM BLOGATHON « Garbo Laughs

  2. I’m rarely sure of whether we’re finding what’s embedded or doing the embedding ourselves, but this is one of my favorite ways to watch a movie. “So did you have a good time last night?” Ha! Your clever post has reminded me of a topic that I’ve been meaning to research–how people of color tweak movie content for personal purposes.

    • You bring up an important distinction, Joseph. I do think that there are examples when it was intentional (especially when queer individuals were involved), but often (most?) of the time in classic cinema so-called “queer subtext” was created more or less unconsciously. I’d probably place His Kind of Woman in the latter camp. But that’s what I love about “bricolage viewing”–it’s often a wonderfully creative–and remarkably generative–interpretive act. And it’s common among minority viewers, I think–regardless of whether it’s apocryphal or not, I love the oft-cited anecdote of old racist Westerns being projected for Native American populations, who then proceeded to cheer on the so-called “villains” during all the battle sequences!

      • Thanks for sharing that anecdote because I wasn’t aware of it and will look into it.

        Regarding the aspects of film bricolage (or any other kind of bricolage, really) that you mentioned, I also love them. It’s potentially empowering for consumers to take on the participatory role of creator, especially when they may not otherwise have the means (e.g., finances, skills, or equipment) to produce a work that reflects their interests and values. Even if they never express their modification of a work and only imagine it, that can be empowering. I know that when I get around to seeing Joe Manganiello in Magic Mike, I will certainly play viewer-cum-bricoleur as I sip on my Diet Coke.

  3. I think you’re dead on in reading a queer undercurrent in this film, particularly in its last third of Mitchum being stripped, bound, and tortured by a group of ogling men. I also think there’s an element of gay camp in Price’s send-up of action-hero posing (his constant quoting of Shakespeare seems to foreshadow his equally campy performance in ‘Theatre of Blood’). There’s definitely a homoerotic strain that runs through the films that producer Howard Hughes insisted on becoming personally involved with, from ‘Hell’s Angels’ to ‘The Outlaw’ and then to ‘His Kind of Woman’ – As far as I know, no one’s yet done a queer analysis of Hughes’ life and work. Seems like it’s overdue.

    • You’re right about Price, I probably should have mentioned that a bit more in my post (I just don’t care for the performance). I’ve never specifically thought of the Hughes homoerotic angle, though I’ve come across a few queer readings of The Outlaw, but from what I’ve seen you might be on to something! Fun fact: I’m distantly related to Hughes on my paternal side–my great, great grandmother was a Hughes, and as the family stories go she was a first cousin of Howard’s. A poor relation, but still!

  4. Someone on the NET calls this an “insane asylum of a movie.”
    It starts as a film noir, then has comedy and satire and goes back to
    noir. Hughes apparently had dir Richard Fleischer spend almost a
    year doing reshoots while rewrites went on. I agree : what was really
    going on w Hughes that made him giddy over homoerotica ? As a result
    “His Kind of Uh-huh” has some memorable whacky scenes. Fleischer’s
    memoir, “Just Tell Me When to Cry,” has been recommended. As Ataide
    notes, Russell-Mitchum are a dynamite duo.

    • There’s a great review of the film over at Senses of Cinema (http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/cteq/his/) that I think really does a nice job of capturing the wonderfully “insane” qualities of the film. I wasn’t aware of Fleischer’s involvement, that’s interesting… it makes me wonder who’s responsible for that wonderful tracking shot early in the film!

      I feel kind of bad for relegating Jane to a minor role in this post, because she really is one of my very favorite aspects of the film. And her and Mitchum together… yowza!

  5. I can’t tell you how much I love this. Re-reading supposedly heterosexual films as queer is definitely a passion of mine. (Can’t help it, it’s really addicting and makes movies so much more interesting!) This was such a hoot to read, but also informative and well-researched. Thank you so much for contributing to the blogathon!

    • Thank you for being such a gracious hostess for this blogathon, Caroline–it was a pleasure to contribute, but I’ve really enjoyed all of the other contributions more than usual. Hope you decide to do it all over again a year from now! :)

  6. Pingback: Queer Film Blogathon: Day 4 | Pussy Goes Grrr

  7. Not to belabor what I call the Hs. angle in “The Outlaw” or Hughes,
    but Sarris writes in an essay reprinted in “Focus on Howard Hawks,”
    edited x Joseph McBride, that Hawks directed the first 10 days of
    “Outlaw,” and he always searched for a comic angle in grim material.
    Sarris wonders if “Hawks is responsible for the zany conception with
    its suggestive homosexuality in the strange relationship” between
    Billy & Doc. Then adds, “Most critics were too distracted to get
    the joke.” (Sarris goes fr wondering to flat statement).

    Of course, Sarris puts the focus on Hawks who, admittedly, inserted
    a rattling Hs. element in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” with the Jack
    Cole (gym) choreography which looks even more audacious today.
    And hilarious. It’s another reminder that film is a collaborative art.
    (I want to crunch rigid auteurists).

    Time Out Film Guide, again on “The Outlaw,” again noodge to
    auteurists, calls attention to the “disarmingly tongue-in-cheek
    script” x Jules Furthman. Yah, someone wrote the script !
    Time Out Guide also refers to the “surprising undertones
    suggesting homosexuality.”

    Let’s not forget Hawks put Cary Grant in drag (“War Bride”) and
    had him suddenly “going gay” in “Bringing Up Baby.” Hawks was
    a worldling and full of mischief. This circle keeps spinning, round
    and round–.

    • Wow, lots of great info here–thanks! Hawks is such an interesting case–he maintains a “man’s man” kind of reputation but as you show, there’s so many weird, queer things that show up in his films fairly consistently (I’ve heard the “going gay” exclamation was a Grant contribution, but it’s impossible to know such things for sure).

      I really must rewatch The Outlaw sometime soon. I remember it as being a rather dull slog–but then that was early on in my film watching and I hadn’t really developed the abilities (or had the experience) to detect possible subtext. Nor was I an avowed Russell fanboy then either!! :)

      • Hawks/ “Outlaw” : It’s not really an ‘interesting’ pic, as I
        recall, but it has its quirks. Yes – lots of Hmmms in the
        work of Hawks. Makes one wonder…

    • I haven’t even heard of it to be honest, though to be fair, I’m not much of a Lumet fan. Sophia is always a plus though, and I’ve always liked Hunter–he’s never that good per se, but I’ve always found him to be rather charming.

      • Im not a Lumet fan either. And I agree, Tab has a certain charm.
        Hitting Google Blvd, as I call it, sleuthing something or other,
        I came upon this pic. It’s not esoteric knowledge that was stored away.
        (Ive never seen it). The title caught my eye.

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