Thursday, June 9, 2011

Out Of The Past (1947)

"Baby, I don't care...."

- Out Of The Past is one of those rare films that I want to re-watch the moment it finishes. Featuring everything that I love in a film - an interesting and exciting story, clever dialogue, memorable scenes, a cool and relatable main character, strong and dimensional supporting characters, a great and artistic look, a good soundtrack, and a powerful cinematic atmosphere - Out Of The Past is a truly fantastic film noir.

The film's story is an intricate and captivating one: A one-time private investigator, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), is trying to escape a past life and make a fresh start in a quiet country town with the beautiful Ann (Virginia Huston). Unfortunately, Jeff cannot escape his past and is roped back into the life he tried to leave behind. At the forefront of Jeff's troubles is the fact that he is once again entangled with the people he wanted more than anything to never see again: former lover Kathie Moffit (Jane Greer), who long ago bretrayed him and broke his heart, and former client gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), who is blackmailing him to complete a new job. Danger follows Jeff from the Mexican beaches to the streets of San Francisco - and he has to find a way to survive the ever-darkening chain of events that transpire....

Written by Daniel Mainwaring (credited as Geoffrey Homes; adapting the screenplay from his own novel "Build My Gallows High"), Out Of The Past is an enigmatic and dark tale of the twisted and inescapable hands of love and fate. The script is incredibly rich; a very intelligent and with an ever thickening plot, surprising outcomes, and plenty of meat to the story and characters. Out Of The Past might be a generally dark, mysterious, and suspenseful story but its bleakness is also offset by the wonderfully placed witty and tender moments throughout. Also, just about every line of dialogue heard in the film is unequivocally adept and memorable, livening and enriching the film considerably.

No different than other film noirs, themes are dark here in Out Of The Past; however, the film is quite unique with the many thematic layers that constitute a moving and powerful feel. But with these dark themes come a stylish dark look that almost makes the film all by itself. Director Jacques Tourneur and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca create one of the most visually brilliant pictures in the history of film. The use of shadowing is exquisite and every movement and angle of the camera is expertly decided; this potent style is almost a physical entity in the film. The majority of screen shots are so stunning - and, well, cool - that they could, literally, be framed and hung on a wall.

The cast is absolutely wonderful - everyone is naturally well-suited for their part and is eminently memorable. Jane Greer is great as the maybe devious but definitely lovely Kathie Moffit, a quintessential film noir character. Greer was a fairly inexperienced actress in Hollywood at the time but, from the moment she enters the hole-in-the-wall Mexican cantina, she is a forceful presence throughout the film. Unfortunately, Out Of The Past would be the lone great credit to Greer's career after Howard Hughes blackballed her from Hollywood for refusing his advances. The ladies really shine in Out Of The Past, none of whom are reduced to eye-candy roles: in addition to Greer, Rhonda Fleming co-stars as the sultry Meta Carson and Virginia Huston as the angelic Ann.

Kirk Douglas also gives an impressive performance - in this, only his second film appearance - as crime kingpin Whit Sterling. Whit is very weasel-like and cruel, and Douglas really commands the character well. Known as one of the most egotistical actors in Hollywood, Douglas' natural arrogance really serves the hot-headed Whit Sterling character well. According to Greer, upon realizing how impressive an underplaying actor Robert Mitchum was at the first rehearsal for the film, Douglas decided to try to out-underplay Robert Mitchum until "they were both on the floor." Douglas gave up and returned to his method acting style, which works better for the colorful Whit Sterling part anyway.

Of course, no one can underplay Robert Mitchum, who gives an especially excellent performance here in Out Of The Past. With an Oscar nomination (Best Supporting Actor for The Story Of G.I. Joe (1945)) and a few minor hits to his name, Mitchum was one of the more recognizable members of the cast; however, he was, at the time, far from being a bankable mega-star. But all that was about to change with Out Of The Past as Mitchum's performance designated him as a first-rate actor of the era and would later distinguish him as an icon of the film noir genre.

Mitchum's lethargic demeanor would serve the Jeff Bailey character particularly well, defining Jeff as a sleep-walking slave to his fate. A certain confidence and toughness shines through Mitchum's laid-back delivery in the face of an inevitable bad time ("If I have to die, I'm gonna die last") but there is also a wounded vulnerability in every step he takes on screen; Jeff always does what he has to but he is also an individual torn by his choices. This fascinating performance from Robert Mitchum makes Jeff Bailey a complex and interesting character and the absolute fixture of the film. Out Of The Past was the beginning of Mitchum's super-star status, his cool disposition, laid back cynicism, and strong attention summoning screen presence finally recognized for what it was: powerful and one of a kind.

Out Of The Past never ceases to knock my cinematic socks off! The power of the film's story, visuals, and performances resonates with the same intensity after every viewing. When revisiting the film, I often discover new elements to appreciate that are reveled through subtle parts of the dialogue, performances, set decoration, or cinematography. Needless to say, Out Of The Past is a great film experience that always leaves me in a state of marvel, mulling the film over in my head well after it has concluded. Out Of The Past, for me, is simply an all-around fantastic film.

CBC Rating: 10/10

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