Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Screen -- Out of the Past (1947)

  If you watch only one film from the noir genre in your lifetime, make sure that one film is "Out of the Past" (1947).  Every fundamental element used in the making of a great noir film is present in the production of this classic.  Viewers are introduced to a dark and gritty atmosphere with the directors' superb use of light and shadow, and to the seemingly never-ending nights which contrast with the few bright and picturesque countryside scenes that make the characters seem as though they exist in two separate worlds.  Also, thrown in for good measure are the usual staples of any good noir film including the obligatory private eyes and hoodlums in trenchcoats and the story being told in retrospect and flashbacks as "Jeff Bailey" attempts to explain to his girlfriend "Ann" about his mysterious and questionable past.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not the biggest Robert Mitchum fan around, but after watching Out of the Past again I'm probably going to have to rewatch some of his other films and rethink my position.  Mitchum gives a rock-solid performance as private eye "Jeff Bailey aka Jeff Markham" and seems to be a natural for the part.  Jane Greer sparkles like a diamond with her portrayal of "Kathie Moffat" the quintessential femme fatale who made me wonder throughout the film what I would do if I were in Mitchums' place.  I came to the conclusion that I would probably do the exact same thing,  Greer is just too irresistible. 
When costar Virginia Hustons' character "Ann" tells Jeff  "She can't be all bad, no one is ...", Bailey replies "Well, she comes the closest ..."

The story grabs you and doesn't let go, right from the beginning when a mysterious stranger with a message arrives in a small town looking for Jeff Bailey who has changed his name and established a small business in order to try to escape his past.  Former business associate, boss, and gambler "Whit Sterling", played by Kirk Douglas, wants to hire Bailey to track down and bring back the woman who shot him and stole a large sum of money.  Bailey accepts the job with great skepticism and right from the beginning has a feeling as though he's being set up.  With this acceptance Baileys' spiral down into a deadly game of cat and mouse begins as he searches for, and finally finds Kathie and the tension between everyone involved builds like a rubber band being slowly stretched to its limit.

The film has some of the best writing and dialogue that I've ever heard. With lines like "A dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle ...", and "You're like a leaf the wind blows from one gutter to another ...", anyone who's seen Out of the Past doesn't soon forget it.  And if you haven't seen it yet, I envy you because you're in for a real treat.

If you enjoy the moody atmosphere of Out of the Past, you might want to check out director Jacques Tourneurs' collaboration with legendary producer Val Lewton in "Cat People"  (1942) and "I Walked With A Zombie" (1943), I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

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