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Out of the Past (1947) - Plot Summary Poster

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  • Jeff Bailey, small-town gas pumper, has his mysterious past catch up with him one day when he's ordered to meet with gambler Whit Sterling. En route to the meeting, he tells girlfriend Ann his story. Flashback: Once, Jeff was a private eye hired by Sterling to find his mistress Kathie who shot Whit and absconded with $40,000. He traces her to Acapulco...where the delectable Kathie makes Jeff forget all about Sterling... Back in the present, Whit's new job for Jeff is clearly a trap, but Jeff's precautions only leave him more tightly enmeshed...

  • In a small town in California, the mysterious Jeff Bailey owns a small gas station and is in love with the local Ann. When a stranger just arrived in town meets him, Jeff is ordered to travel to meet the powerful criminal Whit Sterling. Before traveling, Jeff calls Ann and tells her the story of his life, when he was a private eyes hired by Whit for US$ 5,000.00 to find his former mistress Kathie that had shot Whit and stolen US$ 40,000.00. The competent Jeff finds Kathie in Acapulco, but she tells him that she had not taken Whit's money and they fall in love for each other and escape from Whit. When the former partner of Jeff, Fisher, finds the couple living in an isolated cabin, Kathie kills him and Jeff buries his corpse. Jeff accidentally finds the receipt of deposit of the amount in Kathie's purse and leaves her forever. When Jeff meets Whit, he surprisingly finds Kathie living with him; Whit asks Jeff one last job to get even and release Jeff from his debt. But Jeff finds that Whit is actually framing him.

  • For the last three years, Jeff Bailey has been laying low and trying to live a normal life. He's been running his own gas station but prior to that, had been a pretty good private detective. His last job had been for a gangster, Whit Sterling, who hired him to find Kathy Moffat, who just happens to have shot him, and recover the $40,000 she stole. Jeff found her in Mexico but fell in love with her. She eventually ran out on him and he decided it might be better if he found a new line of work. When one of Sterling's henchmen happens to see him pumping gas, he's summoned to the gangster's Lake Tahoe estate. Sterling's offer is quite simple: recover some incriminating tax files and all will be forgotten. Jeff soon realizes however that he's being set up and framed for murder.

  • A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) seems to be a mundane gas station owner in Bridgeport, California. He is dating local girl Ann Miller (Virginia Huston) and lives a quiet life, but is secretive about his past. A stranger passing through recognizes Jeff. Later, he returns and tells Jeff that Whit Sterling has been looking for him. Jeff agrees to meet him.

    Before he leaves, Jeff begins to tell Ann about his mysterious past. His real name is Jeff Markham. He and partner Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie) worked as private investigators in New York. They took on a job for a rich gambler, Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). The movie then flashes back to that time.

    Sterling hires Jeff to find his girlfriend, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer). She had run away after shooting Sterling and stealing $40,000 from him. He wants her and the money returned. Jeff talks to Kathie's former maid, Eunice (Theresa Harris). He learns that she had packed for warm weather, was vaccinated, and left for Florida. Jeff knows vaccinations aren't needed for Florida, but they are for Mexico. He tracks the luggage to Mexico City and learns she had been there. From there, the trail leads to Acapulco.

    Jeff finds Kathie there. At first he doesn't tell her he's been hired to find her. Later, when he goes to send a telegram to Whit, he finds the Western Union office closed for the siesta. So instead, he sees her again and they begin to fall in love. He tells her the truth - that Whit is alive and just wants her back. She claims she didn't take Whit's money. Eventually, they decide to run away together. They plan to start from Jeff's hotel the next morning.

    However, Whit and his henchman Joe Stephanos (Paul Valentine) show up unexpectedly, having flown down to check up on Jeff. He tells Whit that he hasn't found Kathie yet, and she has caught a boat south. After Whit leaves, the lovers take a boat north.

    They live as inconspicuously as possible in San Francisco, fearful of being found but thinking the odds are one in a million anyone will spot them. But it happens. Fisher, Jeff's old partner, spots him at a race track. Tracking the couple to a cabin in the woods, he demands the $40,000 in return for his silence. A fistfight breaks out and ends when Kathie fatally shoots the would-be blackmailer. She then drives off, leaving Jeff behind. He finds her bank book and discovers a balance of $40,000.

    The movie then flashes forward to Jeff and Ann. He tells her he never saw Kathie again, and he has to tell Whit all which has happened. He arrives at Whit's place and sees Kathie is living with him again. Rather than discussing the past, Whit says he wants to hire Jeff to recover some income tax records that a lawyer, Leonard Eels (Ken Niles), is using to blackmail him. Jeff agrees to take the job.

    In San Francisco, Jeff meets Eels' secretary, Meta Carson (Rhonda Fleming). She tells him of her and Whit's plan to get the papers. When Jeff meets Eels, he warns him Whit isn't interested in paying Eels off, and he should give up the papers. He returns later, only to find Eels dead. With Kathie's help, Whit had planned the murder of Eels and hoped to frame Jeff for it. Jeff also learns that Kathie told Whit that it was Jeff who killed his ex-partner Fisher, and among Eels' papers is an affidavit she signed naming Jeff as the killer. Jeff goes to Whits night club, slugs the manager and takes the tax papers. He tries to trade them for the affidavit, but the plan goes awry.

    Joe tries to hunt down Jeff on a small river, but when he tries to shoot Jeff, Jimmy hooks him with a fishing line and pulls him in the river, where he drowns.

    Later, when Jeff again tries to meet with Whit, he finds Kathie has killed him. She tells Jeff he must leave with her or be arrested for killing Fisher, Eels and now Whit. Jeff agrees, but when she goes to get her bags, he makes a phone call. They leave together, but soon come upon a police roadblock. Kathie realizes Jeff has double-crossed her. She shoots Jeff with a small revolver. The police then fire on their car, killing both Kathie and Jeff.

    After Jeff's funeral, Ann asks his assistant,The Kid, if Jeff was really going away with Kathie. The Kid indicates he was. Ann drives off with Jim, who's always loved her. The Kid lied because he knew it's what Jeff would have wanted. Ann would never marry Jim if she thought Jeff really loved her and hadn't lied to her.

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