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Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) runs a small gas station in a little town
in CA. He's in love with a beautiful girl. But he has a past which is
about to catch up with him involving gangster Whit (Kirk Douglas) and
evil Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer)...MANY twists and turns happen.
The plot is very complicated but this is a prime example of film noir. It's beautifully directed using darkness in almost every shot and has all the ingredients of a good noir--an innocent man (Robert Mitchum) in over his head, a bad guy (Kirk Douglas) and a totally amoral woman (Jane Greer). What makes this stands out (beside the incredible cinematography and direction) is a wonderful script. It's full of some truly incredible lines and delivered dead pan by the cast (as it should be). If any of them had winked at the camera once this would have failed. Mitchum plays it very stone-faced but Douglas is great and Greer is just fascinating as a totally evil, beautiful woman.
Basically a must-see film.
How do I love it? Let me count the ways...First, like a few perfect
jazz albums, OUT OF THE PAST has a distinctive, coherent sound
developed through various moods and tempos and melodies. Robert Mitchum
is the lead soloist who dominates the score; the sound of the film is
his sound, cool and weary and knowing. Though he doesn't sing in this
one, no performance better demonstrates Mitchum's musicality, his sense
of rhythm, pace and inflection. He referred to his dialogue as "the
lyrics," and treated it that way, delivering his lines behind the beat,
the way Sinatra sings. Jane Greer contributes her gorgeous dry
contralto and Kirk Douglas adds a light, sneering counterpoint to an
inspired group improvisation on the theme of disillusionment.
Mitchum is Jeff Markham, alias Jeff Bailey, an ex-private eye who made a big mistake by falling for Kathie (Jane Greer), the gangster's mistress he was hired to track down. Splitting up after he discovers she's a liar and a killer, he hides out in a small town, taking up with a nice girl named Ann, knowing it's just a matter of time before the past catches up with him. His narration and dialogue carry the film along on a laid-back high, like a series of perfect smoke rings. He sums up his philosophy of life in a casino when Kathie asks, "Is there a way to win?" and he answers, "There's a way to lose more slowly." When she says she's sorry the man she shot didn't die, he murmurs dreamily, "Give him time." His enveloping pessimism is strangely elated; Jeff knows the score and savors it like some private hipster knowledge. "She can't be all bad. No one is," Jeff's nice girlfriend says of Kathie, but he returns, "She comes closest."
Kathie Moffat is the greatest of all femmes fatales, because she's the least caricatured. She's not a scheming black widow, just a totally selfish, cowardly woman who feels no remorse for anything she does, and who happens to be beautiful and alluring enough that we can believe any man, even a smart and tough one, would fall for her. Jeff and Kathie's romance is genuinely rhapsodic, nothing like the usual mating of temptress and chump; they're both so sexy and smart and wised-up, always getting the joke together. The disillusionment wouldn't be so compelling if the illusion weren't so lovely. When Kathie shoots Jeff's partner, Mitchumin a reaction shot lasting all of two secondsshows Jeff realizing, and instantaneously coming to terms with, the fact that the best thing that ever happened to him is also the worst thing that ever happened to him. He looks simultaneously shocked to the core, and as though he'd expected it all along.
Jeff Bailey is a paradox: you'd think nobody could put anything over on this guy, yet he acts like a sucker; he exemplifies both cynical pride and romantic blindness. Does he know what he's getting into and deliberately delude himself? Is he drawn to Kathie because she can rouse him from his torpor of indifference, because he can only really care about his life when he's in danger of losing it? You're never sure, but Mitchum knows how to hold your interest without explaining himself. His essential "Mitchumness" lies in hidden depths, those hints of melancholy, amusement and cold violence that seep through his impassive surface, the suggestions of menace and compassion and old wounds. He gives the movie a core of mystery that's eternally captivating. Like great American popular music, it's sublime hokum, so well-crafted that it stays eternally fresh and means more to you the more you hear it.
Here is a world in which every throwaway gestureordering a cup of coffee, checking a briefcasehas drop-dead style, every word spoken is a wisecrack or a line of pulp poetry. Even minor characters and incidental scenes are rich and unforgettable: Theresa Harris as Eunice the maid in her fabulous Billie Holiday hat in the Harlem nightclub; the check-room clerk at the bus station, witness to who knows how many noir entanglements, with his hollow-man motto: "I always say everyone's right"; Joe Stefanos's black overcoat appearing like an ink-spot in the clean white town; the signs the mute Kid flashes to Jeff by the glittering lake, as the sky clouds over
The movie floats from place to place, blending real landscapes and studio sets, expressionistic stairwells and Ansel Adams mountains. The episodes run together fluid and compulsive as a dream. Sometimes there's nothing but music and movement: Jeff prowling cat-like around Meta Carson's apartment while boogie-woogie piano plays in the next room. The cinematography is distractingly gorgeous, drifting into glistening abstract patterns of black and white, like the web of bare tree-branches projected onto the bodies of Jeff and Ann at their last meeting. A seamless blend of romance and cynicism, drama and humor, OUT OF THE PAST is not only a perfect Hollywood studio product, it's a definitive movie experience. It's supersaturated, yet it never feels overworked, never tries too hard. It just seems to happen, almost by casual serendipity; the wit and elegance and glamour are so unforced and alive. You succumb to it instantly and helplessly as Jeff succumbs to Kathie's magic. The spell breaks for him, but not for us. Disenchantment may be the theme of OUT OF THE PAST, but the movie itself is a source of perennial wonder.
Jacques Tourneur will probably be remembered best for this film, even
though he had an extensive career in Hollywood. Working with Daniel
Mainwaring, the author of the novel in which this movie is based, he
created one of the best pictures of this genre, one that will be a
perennial favorite. Mr. Tourneur and his cinematographer, the brilliant
Nicholas Musuraca, made a stunning looking film that looks as good
today, as when it was originally released.
If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading now.
Jeff Bailey has reinvented himself as the owner of a gas station in California. His past comes to haunt him at the beginning of the movie. Jeff has found peace and love in the small town where he has taken refuge. He can change his identity, but he can't hide from the people that want to see him dead.
We watch in the beginning how Jeff is sent away by Whit Sterling to look for the disappearing Kathie Moffat, who has stolen forty thousand dollars and gone hiding. Jeff finds her in Acapulco. Kathie gives a bad name to any other dames in the movies of this genre. She is totally ruthless; she will do anything to double cross Whit as well as have Jeff do whatever she wants.
Comparisons have been made between "The Maltese Falcon" and "Out of the Past". Both have plots that are twisted; when we feel we know everything, there is a new twist to the story. We are constantly misled into thinking one way, when in reality, something else has happened.
This is a film that combines all the elements of the classic film noir and juxtaposes it against the serene surroundings of where Jeff is now living. Black and white photography was used to great advantage in the movie. It has a style that makes it one of a kind. The music by Roy Webb plays neatly in the background without interrupting the action.
The acting is first rate. Mr. Tourneur got a brilliant performance from Robert Mitchum. His Jeff, is the epitome of coolness. It's hard to understand the mentality of American cinema of the times not paying Mr. Mitchum his due. He was a much better actor than he was given credit for. His presence looms large in this movie and it's a tribute to him that he makes his character dominate the movie.
Jane Greer was also excellent in her take of Kathie Moffat. She is pure evil, a sensuous woman who will do anything to get her own way. When we see her in Acapulco she is a seductress that no man can resist. She leads Jeff on by the sheer power of the desire he feels for her. Ms. Greer was not a beauty, by Hollywood standard, but yet, she makes an incredible contribution to the movie. Her textured performance is exquisite in its economy. We all see right through her, yet, she takes us for an incredible ride, up to the end of the picture.
The others in the cast do an excellent job. A young and dashing Kirk Douglas is perfect as the dubious Whit. He shows such a magnetism, even then, at the start of his career in movies. Rhonda Fleming had a small role and she makes most of it. Also Virginia Huston, as Ann, makes a great contribution to the film.
The film, ultimately, is a tribute to the talent of the director. This is Mr. Tourneur's best movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As one of the most emotionally shaded, unforgettable instalments of the noir
cycle, Jacques Tourneur's Out Of The Past opens deceptively not in the
neon-lit tenderloin of a big city some rainy night but up in the thin, cool
air of the High Sierras, in a little town whose Main and only street boasts
an open-kitchen beanery on one side and a gas station on the other. The
sign on the station tells that it belongs to Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum),
and when a stranger drops into the diner looking for his old pal Bailey, the
waitress remarks `Small world.'
`Or big sign,' the out-of-towner cryptically replies.
Of course it's not a casual call to catch up on times past, because Mitchum has a past, a heavy one that's about to catch up with him, a past that he lived under another name. The visitor to the mountains is an emissary from silky operator Kirk Douglas, for whom Mitchum, with his partner in the private-eye racket Steve Brodie, has worked before, with fateful results. Mitchum senses that his particular jig may be up, and, before answering his summons from Douglas to meet him at Lake Tahoe, tells his story, in flashback, to his girl (Virgina Huston).
A woman (Jane Greer) had shot Douglas and absconded with his $40,000. Douglas engaged Mitchum to play bounty-hunter, to track her down and bring her and the loot back. His search led him to Mexico and a little bar called La Mar Azul, where she appeared `out of the sunlight,' elusive but radiant, and stole his heart. A few days later she reappeared, this time `out of the moonlight,' and under that subtropical moon they walked on the beach and then to her cozy bungalow, where a sudden deluge drenched them to the skin and blew open the door to their passion. Here, Tourneur establishes himself as the Great Romantic of the noir cycle it's a charged and rapturous idyll.
But even illicit honeymoons must end. Greer and Mitchum came back to the States, lying low in the North Beach district of San Francisco, until the industrious Brodie, in Douglas' pocket, spotted them at a racetrack. They lay even lower, thinking they've finally eluded him, but he turned up one night at their mountain cabin, where Greer coldly shot him dead. Even more startled than Brodie was Mitchum, who saw Greer in a new light that neither sun nor moon provided with the wrenching realization that she wasn't the innocent victim of bad men and worse circumstances that she'd sold herself to him as. She clinched the point by high-tailing off, leaving him to dispose of the body (and forgetfully leaving her bankbook, showing a deposit of the $40-grand that she'd lied about never taking).
So much for the past; the present now beckons, as does Douglas. He claims to harbor no ill will for Mitchum. And why should he? As Mitchum joins him for breakfast on the terrace, Greer is there, too, eating grapefruit as though nothing had happened. The past holds no claims on her; she lives the for next advantage the future can offer. But Douglas has a job for Mitchum, involving a shady lawyer and some compromising papers back in San Francisco.
Here the movie takes its most audacious turn (Daniel Mainwaring wrote the script from his novel Build My Gallows High as Geoffrey Homes and James M. Cain and Frank Fenton had their hands in it as well). Right in the middle of Out Of The Past we embark on something close to a movie-within-a-movie, a mini-Maltese Falcon, with a new set of characters and even a new femme fatale (Rhonda Fleming). The conventional look of film noir taxicabs and elevators, penthouse apartments at night with the Coit Tower looming in the distance finally gets full rein. But then into this murky scheme a frame-up, really emerges Greer, this time out of pitch darkness. The plots within plots begin to converge....
Out Of The Past was a pivotal picture for its three principals. It was only Douglas' second film, but he started big in a supporting role but a meaty one, as in his debut the previous year in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (they're two of the best roles he would ever take). Mitchum had spent years in the galleys but finally got a leading role that let him unleash his distinctive persona the fearless and nimble intelligence behind the nonchalant eyes, the world-weary retorts mumbled from behind the cigarette drooping from his lip (it's Mitchum's own appropriation of what Humphrey Bogart had started). The best of his many great lines he aims at Greer, calling her a `leaf that the wind blows from gutter to gutter.' And Greer, who made far fewer movies than her acting (graceful and natural) and her looks (like a less literal Jayne Meadows) would augur, takes her most emblematic credit and plays it to the hilt. Hers is perhaps the slowest transformation in the noir cycle and the most breathtakingly brutal. When, for her final scene, she shows up in a snood, it's clear that, for Mitchum, good times are no longer in store.
The talent that went into Out Of The Past is manifold. Both director of photography Nicholas Musuraca and Roy Webb, who wrote the responsive score, were old comrades of Tourneur from his earlier days in Val Lewton's B-movie unit at RKO. The credentials for the screenplay, as above, were impeccable, resulting in chiseled, quotable dialogue, right down to Paul Valentine (as one of Douglas' strong-arms) advising Greer, about to place a long-distance call, that `those dames listen in.'
But the most prestigious palm must go to Tourneur. He had less of a distinctive style to him less of a `look,' less of a formula than most of the top-flight noir directors; he was a chameleon, who used his talents less to make his own statement as to bring out the best in the scripts he was given. He was born in France and he died in France, but when in Hollywood he brought neither technical innovation nor rigorous theory to his work. Rather he looked for the human element that underlies and informs art and he relished its complexity. (The movie, for instance, opens and closes on Dickie Moore, as a teenaged deaf mute in Mitchum's employ, and whose function in the story is far from a merely sentimental fillip.) Tourneur took film noir as close to tragic poetry as it would ever come, and Out Of The Past, his masterwork, raised the standards of the noir cycle as far as they would ever go. It's not just one of the greatest noirs, it's one of the greatest movies, period.
Terrific exotic adventure/melodrama with gothic undertones. Douglas follows
Mitchum following Greer to Mexico; murder and robbery follow everywhere
femme fatale Greer goes. She's excellent; vulnerable eyes revealing the
fear motivating her totally irrational, greedy actions. She and Mitchum are
made for each other (it's a shame that this and the less exciting "The Big
Steal" are their only films together as far as I know, although Greer did
make a good pairing with the comparably skilled Richard Widmark in "Run for
the Sun"). Every step of their twisted journey feels inevitable, painful,
and joyous, like a death-row inmate smoking his last cigarette. Mitchum is
at his best here as the patsy for Greer and Doublas' schemes, who plays
along as if he knows better but is truly seeking absolution from
One of the best films ever made by Hollywood, all the more amazing considering it was made almost on the fly (what people today call a "film noir" but what the producers though of as a "B" movie).
Tourneur is one of the best low budget directors in the business; fans of good film will seek out his movies, which cover all the different genres of film. His father was one of the creators of film style, and he has a striking sense of visual composition himself, which he puts to excellent use in this, possibly his best film.
Tremendously stylish, brilliantly scripted and wonderfully directed noir
classic about a man who cannot escape from his past. Rarely does the genre
get away from the grimy city streets with it's dark corridors and alleyways
only partially lit by un-realistic streams of bright light. In this film we
not only see the underworld gangs, the bars and floozies, the heavies and
the fatales, but we also see the bright beautiful countryside, the streams
and the rocks - a complete otherworld.
Mitchum is superb as the man who has escaped the city to live a new life in the country only to be dragged back by powerful forces. This broadening of the cinematic landscape makes the movie more affecting than your assorted Bogarts' & Ladds'. As with 'I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang' I feel much more sympathy for the lead actor who gets dragged back into the bear pit to wrestle for his life and soul.
'Out of the Past' also has some of the finest dialogue and narration I have ever heard, probably matched only by 'The Maltese Falcon'. 'She was like an autumn leaf blowing from gutter to gutter', is one gem that sticks in my mind.
The mood of the film is pleasantly melancholic and the portrayal of the fatale figure (Jane Greer) is particularly sympathetic. In most noir movies the male perspective of the double-crossing woman predominates (not that there's anything wrong with that, it's usually very funny). Here however, whilst Greer presents one of the blackest of women you at least know why she does what she does and can sympathise with her plight. She is trapped too.
Tourneur, tragically made few films but was a master at getting messages deep into your psyche, into your soul. 'Cat People 'and 'I Walked With a Zombie' both had otherworlds where the demons lived. We all have otherworlds too, places we'd rather not go very often, but as with Mitchum we are sometimes confronted with those demons and have to do battle once again. When I go next I hope to be wearing my hat at an exquisite angle and have my trench coat well belted.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There was Siodmax' "The Killers" in 1946! There was Huston's "The
Asphalt Jungle" in 1950 and in between was RKO's OUT OF THE PAST in
1947. Together these three films represent the very best film noirs
that ever was to come out of Hollywood or ever would again. Of the
three however OUT OF THE PAST arguably stands a toe in front of the
others as the all time favourite. Why is this? Perhaps it's because of
its meatier narrative and story line with its palpable unrelenting
dramatic thrust together with its extraordinary camera setups and its
remarkable use of light and shadow or perhaps because of its faultless
screenplay matched in interpretation by inspired casting. No matter
what the reason OUT OF THE PAST simply manages to stand out as the most
sublime and mesmerizing thriller ever made. Produced for RKO by Warren
Duff it was splendidly written for the screen by Geoffrey Holmes which
derived from his novel "Build My Gallows High" (the picture's title in
England). Stunningly photographed in Black & White by Nicholas Musuraca
it was arrestingly scored by Roy Webb (The best thing he ever did) and
the picture was directed with a positive flair by Jacques Tourneur.
Jeff Markham, alias Jeff Bailey, (Robert Mitchum) a man with a past ekes out a living running a filling station outside Bakersfield. One day out of the blue - and out of Jeff's past - arrives Joe Stafanos (Paul Valentine) the strong-arm henchman of shady businessman Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). He's here with a message for Jeff that Whit wants to see him again. Some time ago Jeff was a private eye and Whit had engaged him to go to Mexico and hunt down his girlfriend Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) who had absconded with $40,000. In flashback we see Jeff finding her but unwittingly the vulnerable Jeff falls in love with her and they go on the run together. But not for long, Whit sends Jeff's estranged detective partner Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie) to find them both but when he does Kathie shoots and kills him and disappears leaving Jeff to return to the states alone. He gives up the detective business and buries himself in Bakersfield running a gas station. Now Whit has located him and wants to see him. But it's only a ruse to have Jeff framed for Fisher's murder in retaliation for his disloyalty. Jeff goes anyhow to meet Whit at his mansion on Lake Tahoe and is astonished to find Kathie there ("Kathie's back in the fold again" declares a weaselly Whit). Later Kathie gets Stafanos to kill Jeff who fails in the attempt. Then she double crosses Whit and kills him. And the picture ends with Kathie making up to Jeff and wanting him to go away with her and start over again where they had left off in Mexico. Jeff pretends to agree but unbeknown to her he calls the police who set up a roadblock in which tragically they both perish. Jeff Bailey had finally gotten even with the woman who had lied, cheated, murdered and double crossed just about everyone for her own devious ends but in doing so he paid the ultimate price.
Performances are superb throughout. Here the dozy eyed Mitchum - in his first starring role - solidifies his playing of the private eye. But he also shows he could cut a wholly acceptable romantic lead helped along by his mellifluous and soft voiced atmospheric narration. One scene in particular is very effective where he is waiting for her on the beach at night and when she arrives Mitchum's voice is heard gently on the soundtrack ...."Then she'd come along.....just like school was out and everything else was just a stone by the sea". The wonderful Jane Greer is the quintessential femme fatale. Her gentle saintly beauty belying her treacherous, underhanded and calculating evil. And a young Kirk Douglas - here just feeling his way in movies - is fine as the courtly but odious villain. Adding greatly to the whole thing is the marvellous score by RKO resident composer Roy Webb which features a memorable and lingering main cue that becomes a tender love theme for the love scenes and is transformed into an exciting big band jazz number for the black nightclub sequence.
OUT OF THE PAST is the archetypal film noir! An outstanding document of what Hollywood could achieve in their golden past. Unfortunately they now seem to have taken a wrong turn off that road that so often led to greatness.
Classic Mitchum adage from OUT OF THE PAST............... "If anyone's gonna to die baby......I'm gonna die last".
Full of atmosphere and heat, "Out of the Past" is a classic film noir,
directed by a master, Jacques Tourneur. Although considered only an
above-average B movie at the time of release, it's doubtful anyone
thinks of it that way today, as it is superior to many "A" films. With
a top-notch cast and a deceptively easy pace that belies the tension
and danger underneath, "Out of the Past" makes for an intriguing,
Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer make a great pair - both are sultry, sexy, hard to read, and gorgeous. I found Greer's performance quite interesting. In the beginning, she appears quite warm, frightened, and sincere, as opposed to, say, Lizabeth Scott in "Dead Reckoning." When she turns hardboiled, it's subtle, with only a change in her eyes and voice, when she comments that Fisher isn't going to say anything to anybody. I love the way Mitchum sizes up women. He absolutely smolders, and 40 years later, in "The Winds of War," he was still smoldering.
Kirk Douglas is appropriately edgy in his supporting role as Whit. Rhonda Fleming has a small role, but no one that incredibly beautiful was going to go unnoticed for long.
What a wonderful film, what a perfect example of a genre.
This is an extremely stylish film noir with a balanced, touching performance by Robert Mitchum. I was not expecting to be as moved by this film as I ultimately was. It has the snappy banter that one would expect of a film from the 40s, but the dialogue transcends mere wit and left me more than a little emotional. Mitchum is remarkably understated and cool, making his self-destructive behavior all the more entrancing. Kirk Douglas also adds a really light touch to his role, keeping his slick gangster more genuine than one might expect. I would have to say that while it is in many ways a typical film noir (and a fine example of the style), I have never seen anything quite like it. There are locations you would never expect to see in a film noir and a surprising bittersweet ending. Fantastic film.
Out of the Past came at a time for Robert Mitchum after one of the
worst films in his career, Desire Me which he did on a loan out to MGM.
He must have been grateful to get back to RKO studios and to do one of
the best noir films ever done.
Mitchum plays the luckless Jeff Bailey, private eye who has the ill fortune to fall under the feminine charms of Jane Greer after gambler/racketeer Kirk Douglas hires him to find her and $40,000.00 she stole from him after shooting him. Mitchum trails her to Mexico, but when he meets her, let's just say he easily sees why Kirk Douglas wants her back so bad. It's one piece of intrigue after another at this point until there's tragedy all around.
This was Kirk Douglas's second picture and he showed his range as a player after playing a weakling in his debut film, The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers. Douglas and Mitchum got good notices, but this film really belongs to Jane Greer. The sheer scope of this woman's evil will leave you gasping. Out of the Past gave Jane Greer her career role and she made the most of it. Two of post World War II Hollywood's biggest leading men and several others in tow. It's breathtaking when you think of it.
Out of the Past is a real downer of a film, but mesmerizing as a study of how a man can get hooked on feminine charms applied right.
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