Thursday, October 6, 2011
Out of the Past
So, today I watched Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur in 1947. When I started, it felt like I had seen it before, but I couldn't place the plot or anything. I finally, slowly, started to remember that I had watched this a while ago in a film noir class. How did I forget it? Once I recalled it, I remembered loving it. Watching it again, I felt the same way. I love Robert Mitchum. He's so weirdly attractive and so perfect for this role, for film noir. I think the story is fantastic, and is one of my favorite plots from any noir. Just an all-around great movie.
The story is basically about a guy trying to escape his past. Jeff Bailey is working at a gas station in a small town when someone from his past locates him. His old boss, Whit Sterling, a sleazy gambler dude, wants to meet with him. Jeff explains to his girlfriend Ann that he's not who she thinks he is, and on his way to the meeting, he tells her some of his past. He used to be a private eye, hired by Sterling to find his lover Kathie who shot him and stole his money. She flees to Mexico, but when Jeff finds her, he doesn't care so much about the money or getting her back to Sterling. Now, he's worried that his new gig with Sterling might be a trap - can he stay one step ahead?
Mitchum is seriously so perfect for noir. He looks so normal (to me, I guess) in some lighting, but then turns his head the right way and the right light is thrown on him and his face is full of these wonderful, eerie shadows. I totally buy him as Jeff Bailey. Of course he has a dark past. And I feel like we can relate to him. I can, at least. Don't we all want to re-invent ourselves sometime? Leave our pasts behind us and start fresh? It's sort of a fantasy for a lot of people, I think. We want to see if Jeff can actually escape his past, because maybe that means that we might be able to, as well. Some noir characters are so shady and familiar with the seedy side of life that viewers can't always relate to them. That's part of the appeal - to watch nasty, dirty, people, to see the side of life we can't experience. Here, we get to see that side of life, but we can relate so much more to Jeff than some other noir protagonists. It's so fascinating to watch Jeff pitted against the most ruthless femme fatale I've seen, too. Kathie doesn't care who she has to double cross, who she has to hurt - as long as she gets what she wants. She's a great match for Jeff, and I loved watching them together.
Ebert makes this awesome observation that the whole script is mostly one-liners. It really is, and the actors can handle it like no other. It sounds like it would be awful, like 24 or something, but it's amazing here. Mitchum just seems so badass, so when he coolly snipes out a line, it's 100% believable. Maybe it's my weird infatuation with him, but I never thought that the one-liners were too cheesy. They worked really well for his character, and to me, they just seemed to show his confidence and arrogance.
This is a really great movie, so if you have a little time, I highly recommend watching it. It's an easy and fun watch, and it's worth your time. Even for a noir, it doesn't feel that outdated. I guess because there are a lot of great movies about characters trying to escape their past. Maybe? I don't know. It didn't feel anything other than awesome to me. Let me know if you check this out!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Out of the Past
Buy it on Amazon