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 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."