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 dupl... Read allA 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.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.
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.
- Mar 21, 2007