Out Of The Past

Released Nov. 13, 1947: OUT OF THE PAST, starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas. Directed by Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Experiment Perilous, Berlin Express). Out of the Past is one of the crown jewels of film noir – a superb movie that exemplifies the best of what film noir has to offer on all levels: story, cast, dialog, direction, and cinematography. Robert Mitchum plays a former private eye who’s traded in his past for a simple life running a gas station in a small rural town. But one of OutOfThePasthis former employers (Kirk Douglas), a rich and powerful gambler, reaches out and finds him, and insists that Mitchum take one more job to make up for a previous assignment that involved Douglas’ girlfriend (Jane Greer), in which Mitchum double-crossed Douglas. This setup provides the launching pad for a complex and satisfying plot that takes the viewer from rural towns and backwoods forests to elaborate mountain retreats, sleepy Mexican towns, and the streets of San Francisco. Each scene is beautifully shot, with artful compositions and striking use of light and shadow, creating a boundless feast for the eyes. But beyond the visuals, one of the first things to catch the viewer’s attention is the expert dialog. Nearly every line is worth savoring, with Mitchum’s in particular, cast off in his sleepy-eyed matter-of-fact style, being some of the best. Here are just a few examples:

Mitchum to Greer: “You’re like a leaf that blows from one gutter to another.”

Greer: “You ought to have killed me for what I did a moment ago.”

Mitchum: “There’s time.”

Greer: “Is there a way to win?”

Mitchum: “There’s a way to lose more slowly.”

Greer: “I don’t want to die.”

Mitchum: “Neither do I, baby, but if I have to, I’m going to die last.”

Mitchum is perfect in the role of the reluctant private eye who realizes from the start that he’s doomed, but still tries to negotiate his circumstances as best he can. Douglas, in only his second starring role, creates a likable, engaging, but dangerous, adversary. However, it’s Jane Greer who shines the brightest as the kitten-with-razor-claws femme fatale. Her character is quite possibly the most dangerous and malevolent of all film noir femme fatales. Stunningly beautiful, she makes herself out to be frightened and vulnerable in the early part of the film, but through a deftly subtle performance, we gradually learn absolute selfishness is her only motivation. Loyal to no one but herself, she effortlessly shifts her allegiances to whomever can satisfy her current needs, without remorse or regret for those left behind. The chemistry between all three stars, who are in their youthful prime, is charged with an underlying energy and vitality that makes each scene pop off the screen. Out of the Past is a movie that only gets better with repeated viewings. It is so dense with plot developments, varied locations, smart dialog, and stellar performances, that multiple viewings are almost required to fully appreciate all that it has to offer. It’s an enjoyable task that we gladly undertake. We give Out of the Past 5 out of 5 fedoras.

5 Fedoras

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