Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tuesday’s Film: Out of the Past

“Out of the Past,” the 1947 noir film starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas, is one of those great, atmospheric, black and white crime pictures that leaves a permanent image on the mind even if the story is nearly impossible to recount.

It all starts off simply enough when somewhere in rural America a sinister city guy arrives in a big car and starts asking around for the owner of the local gas station. The owner, played by Mitchum, knows his past has caught up with him and so goes to correct things with a gangster played by Douglas.

For some unfathomable reason, Mitchum takes his current girlfriend along on the ride and tells her the tangled story of how Douglas once hired him to find the woman Douglas lived with, played by Greer. Douglas says Greer shot and wounded him and ran off with sizable amount of his money. Douglas wanted the girl and the cash back.

Mitchum tracks Greer to a Mexican seaside village where he not only finds her, but falls in love with her. They decide to duck Douglas and live together. During all this, there is sleuthing and snappy dialogue and scares when Douglas and his henchmen almost catch up with them.

From that point, about half way through the movie, the plot goes wild with double and triple crosses, beatings, killings and a subplot that, like a dream, would take far longer to explain than to see.

It somehow all adds up and concludes with a big violent finish that also, like a dream, would take too long to explain.

And what a dream “Out of the Past” is, with three young movie stars at the start of their careers. Mitchum at age 30 is the cool, confident anti-hero. Douglas, then 31, is the charming and dangerous bad guy. And the stunning, 23-year-old Jane Greer is the girl they both want. Greer is given one of the greatest introductions any screen character ever had when she ends Mitchum’s long search for her by walking out of the hot Mexican sunlight into a cool, shadowy café wearing a sleek summer dress and a wide-brimmed hat.

Director Jacques Tourneur, the son of a silent film director, was a master of composition, tone and pacing, and this may be his best picture. Credit for the dark yet smooth look of the movie also goes to cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, RKO's go-to guy for film noir. 


  1. "Atmospheric, black and white crime pictures" — Elgin, those are the kind of films I enjoy watching. I have watched some on YouTube including a nice noirish film called DETOUR. I'm more familiar with Kirk Douglas' films than Robert Mitchum's.

    1. Prashant – I would put this one near the top of any top 10 list of great noir films. And DETOUR would be up there, too.

  2. Sounds great, another one for the list!