Out of the Past

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Out of the Past (1947 poster - retouched).jpg

Out of the Past (billed in the United Kingdom as Build My Gallows High) is a 1947 film noir directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas. The film was adapted by Daniel Mainwaring (using the pseudonym Geoffrey Homes) from his 1946 novel Build My Gallows High (also written as Homes), with uncredited revisions by Frank Fenton and James M. Cain.

Why It Rocks

  1. It's a classic example of 1940s film noir and it's one of the greatest, multi-layered film noirs of all time, partly because it's not only adapted from a crime novel, but the writer of the novel (Daniel Mainwaring) was then contracted to adapt his own book to the screen. Plus the final draft was done by James M. Cain of Double Indemnity fame.
  2. The film not only smartly adapted the novel the film was based on, it managed to keep Jeff Bailey, Kathie Moffat, and other characters completely faithful as their literature selves and with amazing performances to go with it.
  3. While the film displays many characteristics of the usual film noir, this film manages to stand out by virtue of its striking settings and its unusually convincing characters. Every major character is hiding something, forcing each of them to erase emotions and freeze expressions. It makes the characters surprisingly very compelling.
  4. The film features strong female supporting member in the form of Ann Miller that tears apart the concept of film noirs being misogynistic, as Ann represents a unique archetype: the "angelic other girl" who stands as a foil to the femme fatale (Kathie Moffat in this case).
  5. Considering a good chunk of the film is told in flashbacks where Jeff takes Ann along on an all-night drive to Tahoe, using the trip to tell her his story and inexorable past he's left to reckon with prior deeds that will forever haunt their lives. This opens up the gates to a lot of imaginative plot techniques, like how a lot of the events of the second half of the film mirror the flashback from the first half.
  6. Whit Sterling is a very memorable villain who steals in show when he's onscreen.
  7. Tourneur's masterful ability to create a doom-laden, dark, shadowy mood of terror, assisted by black and white cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, is perfectly blended into this tragic classic.
  8. This film introduced the famous Robert Mitchum screen persona of sleepy-eyed cynic ready to toss out a line like "Baby, I don't care" with nonchalant sex appeal. Jane Greer is equally effective, a combination of erotic fire and cool detachment.
  9. It features some of the genre's best and most memorable dialogue that rival the great film noirs of their time such as:
    • "That isn't the way to play it" "Why not?" "'Cause it isn't the way to win" "Is there a way to win?" "Well, there's a way to lose more slowly."
    • "You just sit and stay inside yourself. You wait for me to talk. I like that." "I never found out much listening to myself."
    • "Oh, Jeff. You ought to have killed me for what I did a moment ago." "There's time."
  10. Amazingly memorable soundtrack.