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OUT OF THE PAST, 1947
Movie Review

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OUT OF THE PAST,      MOVIE POSTEROUT OF THE PAST, 1947
Movie Reviews

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Jane Greer, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Webb, Steve Brodie, Virginia Huston
Review by Josh Fischberg


SYNOPSIS:

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...

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REVIEW:

When asked to recommend a film from the noir genre, I always opt for Out of the Past (1947). It may not be a household name like other great noirs such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Double Indemnity (1944), but this Jacques Tourneur film utilizes all the elements of noir to make a perfect hardboiled drama. Out of the Past is more than a just plot driven film; it relies heavily on mood, style, and the phenomenal acting of its remarkable cast. Ultimately, this film is about one man’s attempt to break away from his jaded past.

The protagonist of the film, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is introduced to us immediately as a small town gas station owner in rural Bridgeport, California. At first glimpse, Bailey seems authentic: he owns a legit business, has an honest woman he loves, and even likes spending time by the lake. But when an associate from his past spots him pumping gas and rides into town, we soon find out Bailey isn’t who he appears to be. Bailey is summoned by his associate to meet with his formal employer Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) who has some business he’d like to discuss in Tahoe. It’s at this moment that our film transforms form rural California into the darkness of noir.

Through the use of flashback during his car ride to Tahoe, Bailey informs both his girlfriend Ann and the viewer who he really is. Before departing he says, “I wanna tell you something, you told me once id have to tell you sometime…well this is it” He explains that his name isn’t Bailey, it’s Markum and that he used to be a private detective in New York. Bailey was hired by Witt Sterling, the man in Tahoe, about three years ago to locate his girlfriend Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) who attempted to kill him and vanished to Mexico. Bailey tracks her down in Acapulco and soon falls for Moffat. In an effort to break away from Sterling, they move to San Francisco, but their plan is foiled when Sterling hires Bailey’s detective partner to locate the two of them. After a heated exchange, Bailey’s former partner is murdered and Moffat and Bailey part ways. There’s a flash-forward to present day and Bailey kisses Ann goodbye as they approach Sterling’s house. Without delving too far into the plot and giving away any intricate details, Bailey is once again hired by Sterling to deal with an accountant that’s blackmailing Sterling and of course, Kathie Moffat has been living with Sterling since her split from Bailey.

While the plot is important, the root of the film concerns Bailey’s inability to shed his dark past and settle down to normal life. He tasted the “good life” so to speak as we see at the start of the film, but like many of our noir heroes, does he really belong in rural America without guns and dames? Upon being reunited with Ann towards the end of the film he tells her that it’s she he loves, not Kathie Moffat, but I find it hard to swallow. No matter how often he’s double-crossed by this femme fatale it seems he can’t quite shake her. Towards the climax of the film Kathie remarks to him, “If you’re thinking of anyone else, don’t. It wouldn’t work. You’re no good for anyone but me. You’re no good and neither am I. That’s why we deserve each other.” I tend to agree with her; they belong together.

One of the other main characters (not literally) in Out of the Past that needs to be discussed is the mood. The film does a tremendous job integrating the use of shadows, lighting, and set decoration, specifically as it transitions from rural American to noir America. Our first glance of this comes when Bailey and Ann enter his car to travel to Tahoe. Bailey has traded in his gas station outfit for a trench coat and fedora. But this transformation doesn’t stop there. The woods and mountains are swapped for shadows and smoke filled rooms. This change happens a few times during the film as we travel back and froth from Bridgeport to San Francisco and it really gives us a sense of two totally different worlds.

All three leads do a wonderful job, but Douglas steals the show as the sinister gangster Whit Sterling. Unlike today’s films where we have to see our antagonist murder someone in graphic scenes, a menacing smile is more than enough to know Douglas means business. He’s a determined individual who will stop at nothing to retrieve Kathie Moffat and put and end to Jeff Bailey. When asked by Bailey if his feelings were hurt, Sterling replies, “My feelings? About 10 years ago I hid them somewhere and haven’t been able to find them”

Out of the Past is a must-see for any fan of the noir genre, but more importantly any fan of the classic film period. There is never a slow moment in this film and with each viewing you fall in love with another aspect. The language used by Mitchum during his voice-over narration is some of the best you’ll ever hear. Do yourself a favor, the next time it rains, think noir and watch Out of the Past.

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