Saturday, December 31, 2005

OUT OF THE PAST (1947) - Jacques Tourneur

As much as I hate to agree with one-time film director turned full-time talking head Peter Bogdanovich (“When I used to dine with Orson Welles, John Ford, and Alfred Hitchcock blah, blah, blah..."), Out of the Past may be the ultimate textbook film noir, the genre in its purest and most effective form. It’s got everything you love best about noir: the starkly beautiful black and white cinematography, the tough-as-nails dialogue, the flashback-infused narrative, a pessimistic world view, a flawed hero who succumbs to temptation, and, of course, a beautiful dame with a heart as black as tar. Its only rival for the title may be Double Indemnity, which I would probably defer to because its plot is a little more tight and the casting of Fred McMurray was truly inspired.
The plot in a nutshell: Robert Mitchum is a gas pump jockey trying to live the honest life in a small town with his pure-as-the-driven-snow girlfriend. But, this being noir, he has a past which soon catches up to him in the form of Kirk Douglas, a raconteur who once hired Mitchum as a private eye to track down HIS old girlfriend, Jane Greer, who broke his heart and hightailed it to Mexico with his money. Problem is, Mitchum fell in love with Greer upon finding her so he never finished the job. Now Douglas wants Mitchum to complete a new job for him involving a ledger and a tax evasion scam, one that may be a trap and one that will most certainly involve his sordid past with Greer and threaten his quiet, peaceful new life.
It’s hard not to watch this movie without pinpointing scenes that so obviously inspired more recent movies -- A History of Violence, Body Heat, not to mention it’s “official remake” Against All Odds. Practically the entire mystery-thriller section of your local Blockbuster could be said to be owe a debt to this one movie.
I was on a major film noir kick while in college but, for some reason, kept setting this one aside. Well, my past came back to haunt me in a very, very good way. I’ve finally seen Out of the Past. And it’s most certainly one of the very best.

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