Noir Side Street — “Out of the Past”

Incoming Day. Photo by Emanuele Toscano.

Today’s film is 1947’s “Out of the Past” from RKO Pictures, starring Robert Mitchum (Jeff Bailey), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffat), Kirk Douglas (Whit Sterling), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Virginia Huston (Ann), Richard Webb (Jim), Steve Brodie (Jack Fisher), Paul Valentine (Joe Stephanos), and Dickie Moore (the Kid). Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Director of Photography (Cinematographer) Nicholas Musuraca. Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring, from his novel “Build My Gallows High,” as well as Frank Fenton (uncredited).

“Out of the Past” is the quintessential film noir; it has everything you’d expect of the genre, packed into a trim 97 minutes. There are the expected stock characters, like the somewhat tarnished private investigator, the criminal mastermind along with his heavy, and the femme fatale. There’s the artful use of shadow and light to help tell the story. There’s the dangerous city, but there’s also the nod that danger also lurks in the exotic resort town, the small town, and even out in the woods. There’s the cross and double-cross, as well as the frame, often orchestrated by the femme fatale, who’s about as faithful as a rattlesnake. There’s a body count that would do a Shakespearean tragedy proud. And the smoking. Boy, is there a lot of smoking! As a matter of fact, at one point, Whit asks Jeff, “Cigarette?” Mitchum started the scene with one lit in his hand, and so ad libbed “Smoking.” Nice save!

Here are a couple of scenes, just to give you a taste of this noir delight. In the first, Jeff meets Kathie.

A turning point for the couple.

Back in the fold.

The dialogue in this film is topnotch. Check it out on the IMDB quotes page.

The locations really make this film; they aren’t just included to be visually interesting, but in at least one instance, they advance the plot. If you want to know more about them, you can visit this site. The courthouse which shows up in the film is the actual courthouse in Bridgeport, CA, which is the small town where Jeff has settled down.

As you can guess from the title, the plot involves a man (Jeff Bailey) who is suddenly confronted by a past he’d walked away from. He’s also torn between two women: Kathie, that woman from his past who’s very bad for him; and Ann, the good woman who hopes her love can save him. As with so many noir classics, at every turn, Jeff seems to make a wrong choice, which puts him deeper and deeper into trouble. What lifts this plot from the common is the stellar performances from the entire cast, the well-written screenplay, as well as the artful direction from Tourneur and the cinematography from his DP, Musuraca.

This is definitely a five unfiltered cigarette puffs flick! From the opening sequence to the close, there isn’t a false note in the entire production. Of course, there are open questions left to the viewers’ interpretation, and that’s certainly true of Ann’s question to the Kid at the end of the movie.

Next week’s film is a TCM premiere entitled “The Guilty.” The film’s been restored by Eddie Muller’s Film Noir Foundation, so it should be fun to experience something new. (Or new to all of us, anyway.)

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