OUT OF THE PAST

For Hicksflicks.com, Aug. 8, 2014

The 1947 black-and-white thriller "Out of the Past" is often cited as perhaps the best film noir of all time, with all of the components we associate with the genre's classical tropes coming together in a confection of perfection: A hapless sap (often a private eye), a self-interested femme fatale, smart and dumb gangsters; a pervading sense of both despair and, eventually, doom; and perhaps most important, a self-aware sense of humor.

There are some great films that fit this description, or most aspects of it: "The Maltese Falcon" (1941), "Laura" (1944), "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945), "The Big Sleep" (1946), "Chinatown" (1974), etc.

But for some of us, "Out of the Past" seems to transcend even these.

With a new Blu-ray upgrade from Warner Archive, it's a fine time for a recommendation to those who may be unfamiliar with this enormously entertaining film.

           

                Jane Greer, Robert Mitchum, 'Out of the Past'

Robert Mitchum stars as former private eye Jeff Markham, who is in hiding, living a quiet life in a small Northern California town where he runs a gas station and has a local girlfriend, Ann Miller (Virginia Huston).

One day, a thug who has been searching for Mitchum finds him and passes on a message: He's to pay a visit to gambler Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) at his Lake Tahoe home.

Jeff makes the drive the next day and brings Ann along so he can tell her the truth about himself. A lengthy middle section of the film is devoted to a flashback as he explains that he was a private eye in New York when Whit hired him to find Katie Moffat (Jane Greer), who shot him and stole $40,000. Jeff tracks down Katie but unexpectedly falls for her, so they go on the lam, ending up in San Francisco. But ultimately, Greer double-crosses Mitchum, forcing him to go underground.

As he finishes his story, Jeff tells Ann that he knows he must now pay the piper, so he has her drop him off and he confronts Whit. To Jeff's surprise, Whit seems pleased to see him and says he has another job for him. To his even greater surprise, Kathie's with Whit again. More cynical now, Jeff sees the wheels turning and realizes he's about to be set up. And he is.

It's a great story, wonderfully directed by Jacques Tourneur  ("Cat People," "Easy Living"), but it's the actors' delivery of the crackling screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring ("The Big Steal," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers") that brings it to life.

     

       Lobby card: Robert Mitchum, left, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas

Here's a sampling of some of the great dialogue uttered by Mitchum:

During his flashback narration: "How big a chump can you get to be? I was finding out."

After Kathie says she doesn't want to die: "Neither do I, baby, but if I have to I'm gonna die last."

As Kathie tries to manipulate him: "Build my gallows high, baby."

And the phrase that became most closely associated with Mitchum (and was the title of a 2004 biography): "Baby, I don't care."