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Out of the Past (1947)

Not Rated | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | December 1947 (USA)
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.

Director:

Jacques Tourneur

Writers:

Daniel Mainwaring (screen play by) (as Geoffrey Homes), Daniel Mainwaring (based on his novel "Build My Gallows High") (as Geoffrey Homes)
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1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Robert Mitchum ... Jeff
Jane Greer ... Kathie
Kirk Douglas ... Whit
Rhonda Fleming ... Meta Carson
Richard Webb ... Jim
Steve Brodie ... Fisher
Virginia Huston ... Ann
Paul Valentine ... Joe
Dickie Moore ... The Kid
Ken Niles Ken Niles ... Eels
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Storyline

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... Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

A MAN - Trying to run away from his past... A WOMAN - Trying to escape her future! See more »


Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The story takes place in Bridgeport, CA. Robert Mitchum was born in Bridgeport, CT. See more »

Goofs

When Jeff drives up to the cabin to meet Kathie, he says it's getting dark, and as he turns off the main road into the forest, headlights are shining on Kathie. However, minutes later, after Fisher is dead, Kathie leaves with the car and there are no headlights on to guide her through a supposedly dark forest. In actuality, it was probably filmed in daylight then filtered to look dark, but someone forgot to show the headlights that were needed in the false evening. See more »

Quotes

Jeff: I don't like playing games when I'm the fall guy. You might remember that, Whit.
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Alternate Versions

Also available in a computer colorized version. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Scorsese on Scorsese (2004) See more »

Soundtracks

The First Time I Saw You
(uncredited)
Music by Nathaniel Shilkret
From The Toast of New York (1937)
Used as main theme in score
See more »

User Reviews

 
A desert island movie
21 March 2007 | by imogensara_smithSee all my reviews

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, Mitchum—in a reaction shot lasting all of two seconds—shows 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 gesture—ordering a cup of coffee, checking a briefcase—has 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.


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Frequently Asked Questions

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Details

Country:

USA

Release Date:

December 1947 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Build My Gallows High See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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