Saturday, May 5, 2012

198. Out of the Past (1947)

Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Jacques Tourneur
Written By: Daniel Mainwaring, from his novel Build My Gallows High
Main Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Paul Valentine


This is the only one of the “Seven Shadows” films that I had seen prior to this week. The only thing I remember about the last time I watched it was that I didn’t care for it. When finishing it this time around, I had only one question for myself – “What’s not to like?”.

Jeff Bailey a.k.a. Jeff Markham (Mitchum) is the proprietor of a small town gas station, where he makes enough to buy groceries. He’s in love with town sweetheart Ann Miller and for the most part he leads a contented life. That is, until Joe Stephanos (Valentine) rolls into town one afternoon and informs Jeff that his boss, Whit Sterling (Douglas), would like to have a word with Jeff. From there, we roll into our classic film noir flashback where we learn that Jeff used to be a private detective. One evening, long ago, he and his partner were called to meet wealthy gambler Whit Sterling. Sterling informs the two that his girl, Kathie Moffat (Greer) put four bullets into him and scrammed with $40,000. However, it’s the girl that Whit wants back, not necessarily the dough. When Whit offers Jeff a healthy sum for finding her, he’s on the case. Jeff travels to Mexico City and eventually to Acapulco, where he finds Kathie. The only hitch is that he falls in love with her himself and ultimately the two decide to flee to San Francisco and build a life for themselves, away from Sterling. They’re tailed everywhere they go and soon realize that their relationship will never be allowed to survive. It turns out that Jeff’s old detective partner was hired by Whit to track down Jeff and Kathie and when he finally finds them, Kathie puts holes in him and leaves him for dead, splitting town and abandoning Jeff. We snap back to the present as Jeff is being called to meet Whit again after years of being away.

Yeah, that’s all just the flashback and the flashback doesn’t even take up the majority of the movie. They manage to cram even more great stuff into these ninety minutes. Have you ever watched a film where the performance of one actor/actress was enough to make you forget everything else and embrace the film? That was my attitude toward this and actor Robert Mitchum. He was just so good and I’m not ashamed to admit that over the course of the movie I developed a very healthy man crush on him. He was just so damned cool and he played both sides of the fence so well. At the beginning, he was believable as this everyman type who liked to go fishing with his best girl and who ran a gas station to make ends meet and then later, when he dons the fedora and trench coat to become a hard ass gumshoe, he’s just perfect! On the other hand, I didn’t like Jane Greer here. It’s nothing against her acting skills or anything, I just thought she looked way too sweet and innocent to play a dirty dame. I realize that she was always going to be the leading female, but in a perfect world I would have switched her and Rhonda Fleming’s roles. Rhonda had that look of a femme fatale who would stoop to new lows get the right villainous reaction. She wasn’t quite as pretty as Greer though and maybe it wouldn’t have been believable that Jeff would turn his life upside down for her. The chemistry between Greer and Mitchum was right, I just didn’t like her playing that character.

And hey, the confusion in this noir is kept to a minimum, as the plot flows along very nicely and we’re not getting in over our heads trying to keep characters and their motivations in order. Everything is kept fairly simple and there aren’t any ridiculous sidetracks in the plot. Great cinematography is also present. The particular shot that I included above, of Jeff standing at the door to Sterling’s gated property says so much. It shows a man who wants to be free, a man who tried to be free, preparing to delve back into the underworld and become someone who he doesn’t necessarily want to become. Also, I have to mention the dialogue, as it was also quite great. Here’s just a taste of it and one of my favorite lines from the film:

Kathie: Love me?
(Jeff nods)
Kathie: Poco?
Jeff: What’s that?
Kathie: Little
Jeff: Mucho!

Just a great exchange between the two. Now I have to get some dough of my own and pick up “Baby, I Don’t Care” by Lee Server and find out more about Robert Mitchum.

RATING: 8/10  It didn’t give me that “so good it’s a 10” feeling, but it is damn good! Fans of the film and Mitchum might want to hop on over to YouTube and check out this video. It highlights Mitchum’s Saturday Night Live appearance in the 80s and has a parody of “Out of the Past” called “Out of Gas” and also features Jane Greer. Next up: “Gun Crazy”. 


April 7, 2012  12:52pm
PUBLISHED: May 5, 2012  12:00pm


  1. Fleming is way prettier than Greer imo. Check out Gunfight at the OK Corral. Surprised she didn't become a bigger star.
    thanks for the youtube clip, been looking for that parody for years.

  2. no thoughts on Douglas in this?

  3. Well, he was fine. Douglas was playing second fiddle to Mitchum though, and Douglas is just better as the leading man. However, in Out of the Past, Douglas only added to the greatness of the picture.


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