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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Out of the Past. Director: Jacques Tourneur. RKO Radio Pictures (1947)

A superb film noir with a great cast, cleverly constructed plot and a bruised romantic heart. Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) answers a summons from Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), a gambler he had done a job for and had hoped to have left behind. On the journey to see Whit, Bailey tells his girlfriend the story of how he had been a private investigator hired by Whit to find Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), who had robbed and shot Whit. Bailey found Kathie and fell in love with her, their attempt to escape together from Whit had ended very badly and now Whit had found Bailey again. Whit wants Bailey to recover some papers for him, when Bailey finds that Kathie had returned to Whit the job starts to look dangerous. The plot coils and twists thought carefully staged reveals and double-crosses down to the grim climax and nicely ambiguous conclusion.
Robert Mitchum is superb, he has an easy charm and self-awareness about how he landed himself in the situation he finds himself in. He is devoid of self-pity, reacting with a sardonic competence and assurance to the ever increasing danger. Kirk Douglas, with his wide smile and held in rage is smooth and compelling. When the rage is finally unleashed, it is a quiet fury that has a frighteningly sincere intensity to it.
The dark heart of the film is Jane Greer, a sinuous and subtle performance, as a woman who is hell bent on surviving regardless of what she needs to do so. The men in the film are her playthings, none of them have her willingness to take any step necessary. In the last scenes of the film she emerges as truly herself, holding all the cards ands and ready to play them, the power of the moment makes her sparkle like a blood covered diamond. Men are sentimental fools who fall for her lure of romance, the price they pay for this is betrayal and death. The division between the wholesome world of small town America and the bleak urban underworld of Whit and Bailey is cunningly evoked to sharpen the shadows in the story. Unmissable.

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