Movies You Might Have Missed: Out of the Past

TitleOut of the Past
Release Date: 1947
Rating: N/A
Length: 97 minutes
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas
Language: English
Country: USA

This noir deserves to be much better known. It’s hard to go wrong with Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas. Most of the first half is told as a flashback. Jacques Tourneur does a masterful job balancing the complicated plot and bringing an interesting French sensibility to a very American noir tale.

Mitchum has been hiding out in a small town running a gas station and pitching woo at an innocent local girl played by Virginia Huston. The movie opens on this as his past catches up to him. Douglas sends his henchman Joe to summon Mitchum. He goes to see Douglas with Huston and tells her his sad tale along the way which we see as the flashback. In sum, it’s the tale of how he got tangled up with Greer and Douglas and how that ended with him living in a small town under an assumed name.

The second half of the movie is all about how he gets tangled up again and his efforts to extricate himself. It’s a bit complex, but the story is well-told and sweeps along with a sort of irresistible inevitability that makes you feel it couldn’t possibly turn out other than how it does. In the end, as in any good noir, everyone pays a price related to their flaws and in a suitable degree.

This is one of the movies that I would cite to support my contention that tragedy was at a high point in the 1930s and 40s in American film. The gods are not punishing Mitchum’s character maybe, but he is caught in the jaws of an inimitable fate and could not extricate himself even if he had sought to do so. The same applies to Greer and Douglas, the latter of which comes across as so indifferent to his fellow man it’s downright frightening.

Even the bit parts are great; Steve Brodie, Paul Valentine, Rhonda Fleming, and especially Dickie Moore as The Kid. There’s’ an excellent portrayal of a deaf character who is deaf without it being used as a crutch or a necessary plot point. Sure, it affects the story, but it feels like that’s because the character was first written as deaf and then that characteristic was allowed to naturally affect the working out of the plot.

It’s solid from top to bottom and if I’ve been rather vague about the details of the story it’s because I think you’ll enjoy it more experiencing it as a discovery for yourself. I mean just that, try to lose yourself in the story and get swept along with Mitchum’s character. You won’t regret it.

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