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Out of the Past

Out of the Past (1947)

November. 25,1947
| Thriller Crime Romance

Jeff Bailey seems to be a mundane gas station owner in remote Bridgeport, California. He is dating local girl Ann Miller and lives a quiet life. But Jeff has a secret past, and when a mysterious stranger arrives in town, Jeff is forced to return to the dark world he had tried to escape.


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In no particular order, the 4 greatest noirs are: Out of the Past, The Clock, Double Indemnity and Kiss Me Deadly. I know, I know, I'm skipping over Casablanca and some others, but these 4 are great because they are still rare enough they haven't been burned into our memory bank to risk boredom or parody. Each scene in OOTP is worth savoring, like a memory of a favorite vacation with your wife or girlfriend when you were young.Take the scene where Jeff (an odd name for Mitchum, but ok) is packing to leave, and is going to meet Kathy, when Whit (Kirk D.) shows up with his goons. Even though you know it's a movie, you are scared to death of Kathy knocking on the door and Whit realizing Jeff has lied to him about finding Kathy. The tension is agonizing, and yet it doesn't come from violence, it comes from our own fear of circumstances beyond our control revealing to others that we have lied about something. Powerful, powerful stuff.The movie has a little bit of corny dialogue, and there is some storyline confusion, but really, not much. Just lie back, eat your popcorn, and realize this movie is going to take you on the ride of your life.


If I liked the film better, I'd be curious to read the original novel entitled Build My Gallows High, written by Daniel Mainwaring. Mainwaring used a pseudonym and adapted his work for the screen, resulting in one of the most famous film noirs in screen history. The main problem I had with the film Out of the Past was the odd storyline and construction. I imagined a 4 hour running time, including every plot point and character development from an original 800-paged novel-the studios insisted that the film be shortened and the end result was a lack of character development for anyone and a haphazard story cut to bits. I've since learned the original book is only 160 pages, and I can't understand why the film's story was choppy scenes were so confusing.The "good guys" are the "good guys" and the "bad guys" are the "bad guys", with no explanation for anyone's behavior. The plot moves so quickly with such swift deviation that I kept pressing pause trying to figure out what was going on; by the end, I'd given up. I got the characters confused and had no idea what was happening.Here's what I was able to get out of the plot: Robert Mitchum runs a garage in a small town. His assistant is a deaf and dumb teenage boy, and his sweetheart is the innocent Virginia Huston. Then, Paul Valentine finds him, and he confesses his secret past to Virginia. His secret past includes being indebted to Kirk Douglas, a gangster who wanted Bob to find and retrieve his runaway girlfriend Jane Greer. If there was a reason why Bob and Kirk were thrown together in the first place, it went over my head. And I couldn't count how many times I got Jane Greer and Rhonda Fleming mixed up! And what was the reason why Dickie Moore was deaf and dumb and inexplicably loyal to Bob Mitchum?I watched the movie because I knew it was famous and I love to drool over Robert Mitchum. If you absolutely love film noir films, you might want to rent this one, but be forewarned. And be on the lookout for the very famous line, "Baby, I don't care," that inspired the title of Lee Server's famous biography of Robert Mitchum!


Robert Mitchum is Jeff Bailey, a man with a mysterious past. He owns a small gas station in the middle of nowhere. Along comes a guy who has an offer he can't refuse. Thus begins a series of twists and turns that will hold your attention for the entire movie. A few years earlier, Bailey was a private eye hired to track down Kathie (Jane Greer), the main squeeze of a mobster, Whit (Kirk Douglas). She wounded Whit with a gunshot and took off with $40,000. Bailey tracks Kathie in Mexico and she turns out to be a femme fatale. The cast is tremendous and I do not wish to spoil the plot and so I will just recommend this great 1947 film and hope that twenty first century viewers can overlook the fact that this is an old fashioned black and white classic.

Lee Eisenberg

A common theme in cinema is a person whose past comes back to haunt him/her. Even if you've seen a number of these, you can't afford to miss Jacques Tourneur's "Out of the Past". When you start it, you might be confused to see the setting in northern California. However, there's a lot in store. Robert Mitchum's gas station owner gets forced to confront gangsters, femme fatales, and corruption when it gets revealed that he's not who he says he is. There's a lot in store here.I don't know if I would call "Out of the Past" the best film noir ever - I haven't seen that many - but it's got everything that makes a movie great. I found Jane Greer's amoral lover of Kirk Douglas's slimy businessman to be the most interesting character. We pretty much assume that the men are going to be hard-boiled, but the women also have their own tough sides.The photography isn't as stylized as we're used to in this genre, but the plot and characters more than make up for that. The ending is a shock, but it's understood that this was the only possible outcome.An undeniable classic.