Out of the Past


Out of the Past

Bitter, cynical, fatalistic and peppered with some of the best tough-guy dialogue in the genre, Out of the Past (1947) is a consummate example of film noir made during the movement's golden age in the '40s and '50s. Robert Mitchum stars as Jeff Bailey alongside Kirk Douglas as Whit Sterling, two shrewd, rock-hard individuals enthralled by the same mysterious, danger-courting woman, Kathie Moffat (played by Jane Greer).

Jacques Tourneur directed with an eye toward the baroque, the evocative, and the erotic. The son of French-born director Maurice Tourneur (The Last of the Mohicans, 1920), Jacques made his own memorable mark on the noir genre with a string of inspired choices, from the casting of the film to the use of real locations to enhance the film's gritty realism. Tourneur had handled equally macabre subject matter, though in a different genre, in such horror films as Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). The cynicism of Out of the Past was also well served by the taut, acerbic script by gifted novelist/screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (aka Geoffrey Homes). Mainwaring, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel Build My Gallows High, went on to write the equally gripping screenplay for the science fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Mitchum and Kirk Douglas are beautifully matched in Out of the Past. As with many film noirs, the relationship between the brutally cynical Whit and Jeff, who share a woman and a cynicism about human behavior, turns out to be more honest and affectionate than either man's love for Kathie, a woman with the face of an angel and the impulses of a viper. The two actors, who both became known for their idiosyncratic, combative temperaments, reportedly engaged in an extended power play for attention in their scenes together.

Out of the Past is most often remembered for capitalizing on Mitchum's uniquely laconic sexual allure and for transforming the actor - in his second starring role after Story of G.I. Joe (1945) - into an instant star. Though the role was initially offered to Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield and Dick Powell, all of whom turned it down, the gritty, stylish performance by Mitchum has become a classic in the noir canon. But Douglas delivers an equally memorable performance as the slick, smooth-talking Whit, who seems perpetually amused at the depths of human deviance. Newcomer Douglas fulfilled on the initial promise he had shown in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and went on to carve out a small but significant niche for himself playing a succession of noirish villains in films like I Walk Alone (1948), The Big Carnival (1951) and Champion (1949).

— Felicia Feaster & John Miller,

Out of the Past


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