Sunday, December 11, 2005

Out of the Past (1947)

Dir. Jacques Tourneur
Writ. Daniel Mainwaring, James M. Cain, and Frank Fenton, based on the novel by Mainwaring
w/ Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, and Paul Valentine

Robert Mitchum operates tepidly as private investigator Jeff Bailey, hired by a muddled Kirk Douglas to retrieve the sultry Jane Greer who has shot him and taken $40,000 from him, adding insult to injury. Bailey tracks down the lone gunwoman only to end up trysting with her on a secluded beach, in a beach house, and at other hideaways. Everything goes swimmingly until the boss shows up, expecting results, and things turn convoluted and considerably less than thrilling.

Crisp pictures and nicely varied settings provide more writing than the writer felt obligated to; the plot - even with the narrative aid - is so disjointed that the story's just not compelling. Depending upon the viewer's school of cinematic thought, it seems likely that a more linear approach to the events would have at least given Out of the Past the advantage of common sense. Ironically, though, its use of flashback also serves as one of the few aspects keeping the viewer awake.

As backstory, Bailey had already retired at the opening of the film, running an independent garage in the middle of nowhere with nobody besides a deaf and dumb sidekick to help him. His relationship with "the Kid", as he was dubbed, holds some endearment. They trust each other and, when needed most, the Kid proves instrumental in saving Bailey's life. For several moments, it almost feels like you're watching a real crime drama instead of a stab at one.

The combination of Mitchum's relaxed, almost limpid approach to acting, a strangled storyline, and some pretty poor directing create a general atmosphere of ennui. Despite lots of sex it isn't very sexy, and more like film blah than film noir. If for one moment, the awol lovers had been convincing; or, the bad guys had been truly bad instead of mildly annoying; or, the sets hadn't been more interesting than anything going on inside of them, this could've been a watchable film. Instead, it exists as a fully edited, intact relic to what should have been a vaguely noticeable crunchy sound on the cutting room floor.

Probably only for hardcore Greer, Mitchum, or Douglas fans (although it will help unspeakably if you happen to like all three), this remains a question mark on Time magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Films" of all time. After turning Out of the Past off, you may breathe a sigh of relief that you can return to normal, exciting life. It begs the question of whether the list's compiler somehow momentarily forgot the title of his assignment. An obscure entry into the noir genre, it stands out in neither its own class nor in the wider sphere of the fim universe as anything beyond a passing fancy...view at your own risk.

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