Revisiting Out Of The Past
I had seen "Out of the Past", this romantic and gritty1947 film directed by Jacques Tourneur, at a film noir festival. The plot becomes entangled and difficult to follow at about the film's mid-point. It took some revisiting of the past by watching the film again to work out of the confusion. With the tangled story, "Out of the Past" is a superb film which deserves its place on the National Film Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Starring Robert Mitchum a tough, cynical private investigator Jeff Markham trying to make a quiet new life in a small California town under the name of Jeff Bailey and Jane Greer at Kathie, the irresistible femme fatale, "Out of the Past" suggests how difficult it is to escape one's past. The film includes an almost bewildering number of romantic stops and starts in an ill-fated triangle together with a series of murders and robberies with mutual betrayals. Kathie is at their center, as the mistress of the suave but deadly gangster, Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) and as the lover of Jeff.
Robert Mitchum captures the essence of the noir character in this film, with his tough exterior, witty, sharp repartee, dress, and ever-present cigarettes. Mitchum narrates in a voice-over through the first half of the film which is presented as a flashback. And the viewer can understand how Jane Greer is get her way with men. The cinematography of the film features shadows and different angles and long takes of the faces of the characters, including Mitchum's cigarettes and his hat. The three primary settings of the movie, in the town of Bridgeport, California, San Francisco, and Lake Tahoe are well differentiated and each plays a crucial role in the movie. The film has a lush orchestral score by Roy Webb.
The details of the story become clearer with repeated viewings, but the gist of it is clear. The film shows a sad, failed search for goodness and peace for its jaded characters. The movie succeeds through its characterizations and unfailing setting of moods and places more that through the convolutions of the plot.
I have become an admirer of film noir in recent years, "Out of the past" takes a sad, bittersweet look at the nature of the past and of how it forms the present. I was glad for the opportunity to see and then revisit this classic film noir.