OUT OF THE PAST (1947) B/W 97m dir: Jacques Tourneur
w/Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Webb, Steve Brodie, Virginia Huston, Paul Valentine, Dickie Moore, Ken Niles
Gas station owner with a past meets a desperate woman and winds up in murder. The ultimate Mitchum movie: as narrator of this film noir he says lines like: "...And then she came along like school was out," when Greer's character meets him on the beach. WOW! Plus, director Tourneur has created something close to a masterpiece in this adaptation of a novel by Geoffrey Homes. The film was remade as AGAINST ALL ODDS in 1984 with Jeff Bridges in the Mitchum role.
From the Criterion website (www.criertion.com), this article about the film by Amy Simmons:
"Adapted from Daniel Mainwaring’s provocatively titled novel Build My Gallows High (1946), Jacques Tourneur’s riveting noir is often ranked as one of the best of the genre. There are multiple reasons why Out of the Past is such an exemplary work, and in part has to do with how faithfully and inventively it adheres to the form, where themes of betrayal, corruption and fatalism are interwoven and entangled together in a perplexing and convoluted plot. Unlike most noirs, however, much of the drama is played out not in the typical confined corners of a shadowy city, but in broad daylight and natural settings --- in this case, the sundrenched backdrops of Lake Tahoe and Puerto Vallarta. Throughout, cinematographer, Nicholas Musuraca --- who also filmed Tourneur's Cat People (1942) --- utilises stark imagery, contrasting the dark scenes of murder and treachery with stunning compositions of rural, wooded retreats.
"Structured as a present-tense narrative with an extended flashback sequence, the film opens with world-weary ex-detective, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), hiding out in an idyllic small town, where he works at a gas station. His cover is soon blown however, as Joe Stephanos (Paul Valentine), a henchman for ‘big operator’ Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), orders Jeff to meet with the gangster. Forced to reveal his checkered past to his wholesome girlfriend Ann (Virginia Huston), Jeff tells her about his connection with Whit. As we soon learn, Jeff has good reason to hide. Whit had asked Jeff to find his runaway mistress, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), who shot him and fled to Mexico with $40,000 of his money. However, the bullets failed to kill Whit, and now he wants her back. Not because he wants to kill her, though: 'I just want her back,' he tells Bailey. 'When you see her, you’ll understand better.' When Jeff eventually tracks down Kathie in Acapulco --- before deliberately walking into a trap set for him by one of screen history’s most fatal femmes --- it is not long before he is falling for her charms. When she passionately assures him that she never stole the money, he responds with a laconic 'baby, I don’t care.' And right then, he does not care --- he is in too deep to worry about anything other than being with her. Before long, the erstwhile investigator is betrayed by the duplicitous dame --- when, without warning, she flees. All of this takes place in the opening 40 minutes. The rest of the film is set in the present and includes two other storylines which all culminate in a violent finale, where in a series of dizzying double-crosses, Jeff attempts to stay one step ahead of Kathie and Whit, who have now teamed up against him.
"Grounded in striking performances, Out of the Past is memorably portrayed by three leads at the beginnings of their respective careers. Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas --- actors who went on to become screen icons --- were seldom as vivid as they are here. Still barely 30 at the time of filming, Mitchum’s very presence as a man wrapped in indifference made him an archetypal noir anti-hero. His fatigued, laid-back demeanor gives Jeff the appearance of a man who has seen it all --- the eternal cynic. Conversely, Greer’s deft portrayal of the gangster’s moll is the culmination of the self-consumed, anti-domestic, anti-social female as evoked by Barbara Stanwyck in Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944) and Gene Tierney in John M. Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven (1945),where even the most powerful men around her are unable to comprehend or control the unruly forces she represents. Switching with ease from helpless victim to shrewd and calculating man-eater during the course of a single conversation, the studios must have anticipated a long and successful career for Greer, but the jealous possessiveness of billionaire businessman Howard Hughes (her mentor turned obstacle) pretty much put paid to that.
"In his second silver screen role, Douglas co-stars as the calm and collected mobster, Whit Sterling. Although we are left in no doubt that Sterling is a shrewd villain, the script never paints him as a vehement figure. Instead, he possesses a warped type of ethical code and a pleasant personality; a weakness which Kathie uses to her advantage. Another fascinating character in the film is Jimmy (Dickie Moore), a deaf-mute boy, who works at Jeff’s gas station. Signalling warnings and intentions to Jeff with his hands, he is one of Tourneur’s somewhat uncanny, liminal figures, who inhabit a border between one realm and another, much like Greer’s character. Here, his moral presence somehow implies that words are lies and the spoken language is not to be trusted.
"Beguiling and resolutely ominous, the film’s downbeat ending draws a sceptical conclusion, suggesting that past mistakes are impossible to overcome, and salvation is not available, even to those who want it. However, aside from the story’s often daunting compexity, Out of the Past is nonetheless a captivating study in male pride, stung by the lethal wiles of a dangerous woman. Undoubtedly, within this traditionally ill-fated and perversely crooked world, the mood of obsession was never more powerfully suggestive."
From Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style:
"Out of the Past is a title evocative of the noir cycle as well as descriptive of this particular film. The existential figure of the ill-fated noir protagonist Jeff [Bailey], incarnated by Robert Mitchum, is restrained, joyless, and with a look of doom in his sad eyes. The erotic and lethal female Kathie, is vividly portrayed by Jane Greer. Daniel Mainwaring's complex screenplay uses narration like the voice of fate over a flashback into Jeff's past, which inescapably determines the present and the future. The shadowy lighting of a cinematographer attuned to noir, Nicholas Musuraca, combines with the tragic sensibility of the director, Jacques Tourneur, and is well-suited to the downbeat nature of the genre.
"However, to say that this is one of the key works of film noir is not necessarily to accept it as unflawed. It can be faulted both for its excessively complex plotting, notably in the San Francisco section, and for a solemnity that almost becomes tedious. Its best section is the flashback sequence that follows an ominous opening sequence reminiscent in mood of Hemingway's 'The Killers' and the faithful recreation of that story in Siodmak's film. In the flashback sequence, the combination of Mitchum's mesmerizing narration as Jeff waits for Kathie and eventually sees her walking out of the sunlight into the Mexican cafe, the romantic interlude on the beach, and their desperate flight conspires to give the film the perfect noir mood. Elsewhere, in the film's second half, the Mainwaring screenplay seems protracted and overly emphatic of Jeff's capitulation to his fate and Kathie's duplicity. The melodramatic climax of the film, and one of the strongest visual moments, occurs when Kathie shoots Fisher and Jeff turns, registering the shock of seeing Kathie's true nature revealed.
"Its many other merits aside and its faults taken into account, Out of the Past is, with Criss Cross, one of the two films that best evoke a subject central to the genre: the destruction of a basically good man by a corrupt woman he loves. In both films, the heroine vacillates between the hero and another man, which results in the destruction of all three, and a flashback traces the hero's 'fall.' But the two films are quite different, even in the nature of their flashbacks. In the Criss Cross flashback, Steve Thompson [Burt Lancaster] is already haunted by Anna [Yvonne De Carlo], his former wife, and his first view of her in the nightclub recreates his former desire. In the Out of the Past flashback, Bailey encounters Kathie for the first time when she walks into the Mexican cafe so the turning point of his life seems more immediate and placed within the film. The most interesting difference, however, is that Bailey knows before the flashback is over that Kathie is destroying him. The film traces the course in which he gradually accepts this fate and even embraces it, spiritually if not physically. Thompson, on the other hand, in spite of bad experiences in the past, convinces himself that he trusts her and only fully understands her and her betrayal of him in the very last scene.
"But in these two fundamentally different visions of male-female relationships, there is one constant: the woman herself. Film noir is filled with such women as these and the instances in which the woman who is loved represents the best part of the hero rather than the worst, such as Keechie in They Live by Night, are the exceptions. This vision of women is resonant in many noir films, such as Criss Cross, Angel Face, Hell's Island, and Double Indemnity and the noir milieu powerfully underscores it. Alternately, such films as Pitfall, Nightfall, The Big Sleep, Notorious, and Chinatown suggest the other side of this theme. In each, the hero presumes at some point the heroine's betrayal but is found to be wrong. Still, this presumption never threatens their lives as forcefully as the true betrayal in Out of the Past. Although it would seem that some alternative version of Out of the Past's narrative --- in which the hero's lack of faith, his failure to trust, destroys them --- should be possible, the noir vision will not admit a male protagonist's simple, misguided and fatal obsession."