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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Out Of The Past (1947)

How I lived so long without having seen this film is a really really good question. I have always had a deep love of film noir and all of its trappings and I cannot readily think of a film that really sets the bar for the rest more than this one. I know that is a bit of a blanket statement considering how many really terrific titles there are in this genre but I am not the only one who feels this way. I wish movies still had snappy hard boiled dialogue like this today, I would be more likely to shell out the pocket money for a ticket.

The film is all about the past of Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), a seemingly normal bloke, and how it catches up with him. He operates a gas station in a small town of little significance, and leads a simple life with his fiancee' Ann Miller (Virginia Huston) until a man from out of town starts asking questions. A major flashback (involving 40,000 dollars and a dame to end all dames) through Jeff's seedy past reveals all to Ann as they drive toward a fateful meeting. Sensing a setup but with no choice left but to finish business he would rather forget, Jeff must confront his past love (Jane Greer) and her maniacal lover (Kirk Douglas) and finally put things to bed.

This movie is a great deal more complex than this of course. What I give you above sounds a great deal like most other noir films but trust me there is far more than that to chew on. Not all films that fit into film noir can boast that, as with anything there are 50 B grade trash fests for every A lister like what we have here. I think that is something that helps the film the most. RKO Radio Pictures had been focusing on the all to lucrative market of B movies for a good while and someone decided it would be a good idea to give Out Of The Past an A budget, and it shows. Director Jacques Tourneur made one hell of a masterpiece with the money they gave him.

But of course flashy cinematography and good casting simply are not enough, the script is what is really important here. Daniel Mainwaring (who later went on to write the screenplay for the original 1956 version of Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers) pulled out all the stops to deliver a screenplay so full of hard hitting dialogue and intrigue it makes my head spin. It is no surprise either, considering he also wrote the novel that the film is based on which was titled Build My Gallows High. The colorful speech used in movies like this has always been a major point of interest for me, and sometimes I wonder if everyone talked this way at one point in time and everyone was magically wittier in the 40's but somehow I doubt it. It's up to us clever folks to make sure that witty comebacks like the ones Robert Mitchum uses constantly in this film never go the way of the Dodo.

In case you have the memory of a goldfish, I mentioned a major flashback during the plot synopsis. The flashback is so major it actually takes up a vast majority of the running time. Much like an over extensive voiceover (think Apocalypse Now for an example of where it actually worked), a flashback of such epic length can be hard pressed to carry a movie. It happens so seamlessly that unless you stop and think about it you forget that a flashback is even happening. Try to think of another movie where this was done and done so very well, I bet you can't. Such a showcase of screenwriting skill is a rare occurrence indeed.

Most of the films I have seen lately have really incredible casting choices, and I have to say this is one more to add on the pile. Not a single dud to be seen anywhere. Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas' talents need no introduction. Seeing Kirk Douglas so young however was a real treat (he was around 30 or 31 at the time of release), due to the fact I didn't even read the DVD case to see who was in it in order to achieve maximum surprise. Jane Greer is a supreme femme fatale, displaying both fragility and also deadly cunning. Virginia Huston does an amazing job with the relatively small part she has, and it is a shame that she never got more successful. A car accident broke her back at the height of her fame, and by the time she was healed all she could muster were B level movie roles. A true shame indeed.

There is always so much more to tell with any film I choose to review, but I can never seem to bring myself to go all out (unless the movie in question is a stinker). Besides, part of the fun is letting you discover at least a little bit about a movie yourself. I can't find a single thing wrong with this movie, and I hope you feel the same way too. Color film is great but sometimes black and white can do more than any amount of Technicolor could ever hope for.


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