Friday, December 24, 2010

Out of the Past

Film noir at its best. This 1947 noir classic stars Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas and Jane Greer. Mitchum plays small-town gas station owner Jeff Bailey. Mitchum makes a few bucks, fishes often and has a lovely girlfriend. A seemingly idyllic life. Then his past catches up with him. The past in the persona of Whit Sterling. Sterling is played, with his usual aplomb, by Kirk Douglas. Douglas has summoned Mitchum to his Lake Tahoe home for a "chat".

As with most film noirs, Mitchum spends his time on the way to this chat telling his story in the past tense. Whether it is Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity or Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce noir uses the lead character telling the story in flashback as a main device. Out of the Past is no exception. We learn of Mitchum's hiring by Douglas to locate Douglas's love Kathie Moffat. Kathie is played to evil temptress perfection by Jane Greer. Mitchum follows Greer to Mexico with the intent to bring her back to Douglas for a big payday. But, of course, plans go awry. Mitchum falls hard for Greer's feminine wiles and instead goes on the run with her. But that soon falls apart. Years later Douglas and Greer re-enter Mitchum's now Norman Rockwell' life with the intent to bring harm. But can Mitchum foil their plans?

Director Jacques Tourneur does a fantastic job with the simple noir plot. Greer's evil temptations pull good guy Mitchum over to the dark side. Douglas and his money are the bait, but it is the fabulous Greer that seals the deal. But it is the script, by Daniel Mainwaring from his own novel, that is the most important part of Out of the Past. It is biting, dripping in sarcasm and wit, and filled with classic film noir emotion. It seems that each sentence was crafted for maximum impact with minimum words. The script almost reaches out and grabs the viewer on its own. It is powerful and moves a simple story along to keep the viewer riveted.

Filmed in 1947, directed by Jacques Tourneur, written by Daniel Mainwaring with uncredited help from noir master James Cain, starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Jane Greer and Rhonda Fleming. If you like film noir, and I do, this is must-see! I have previously written about other noir classics like Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, The Big Clock and Chinatown.

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