Sunday, February 8, 2015
OUT OF THE PAST
(November 1947, U.S.)
During the 1980s, when I was seeing many films for the first time that I considered to be original, what I should have really been doing was researching the films to see if they were, in fact, remakes. But this was before the ease of the internet, so how could I be expected to perform such a task? The point being, when I first saw the Taylor Hackford film of AGAINST ALL ODDS (1984) on HBO, I had absolutely no idea it was a remake of OUT OF THE PAST. More than thirty years later, Hackford's film is all but forgotten by me and the original film of OUT OF THE PAST is what reigns true as the genuine film noir classic. To be fair, though, I still love the Phil Collins song, "Against All Odds". Heard it lately?
Broken down to its bare textbook elements, OUT OF THE PAST has everything that black and white film noir is expected to have, including the antagonistic hero private "dick" (detective) as played by Robert Mitchum, the deliciously-tempting femme fatale as played by Jane Greer, the secondary policeman who tries to keep things in order, the "bad guy" sitting way on top and controlling all things, as played by Kirk Douglas and of course, the bad guy's gun-toting goon squad for necessary tough support. Visually, the film is also filled with the elements of light, shadow and darkness that make film noir an irresistible genre for those of us who love classic cinema.
As Jeff Bailey, Mitchum plays the character with the traditional self-assured toughness one would expect, and yet displays a certain sensitivity and vulnerability in the presence of the femme fatale he's fallen in love with. Though I've always questioned just how seriously the word "love" can be taken in these sort of cinematic relationships. Yes, this is the 1940s, so the sexual temptations of the hot woman (or "dame", as they were called) involved is governed by its limitations of the era's film sensors. Still, when your dealing with a female character that's all about pure sexual gratifications, emotional deceptions and good 'ol fashioned back stabbing, one can't help but wonder exactly what there is to fall in love with. For our own generation, we may recall Michael Douglas claiming that he'd fallen in love with Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT (1992). Really, though, did he fall in love with the woman herself or as his detective partner in the film called it, "That magna-cum-laude pussy on her that done fried up your brain!" Yet, like Douglas decades earlier, Mitchum simply can't help but fall deeper into the emotional and sexual pit he's in with this woman, despite that fact that he knows damn well she'll very likely screw him (not in a good way) or kill him in the end. This is simply the rules, if not the sacred pleasures, of film noir!
In its simplest terms, OUT OF THE PAST is just how it sounds - the story of a man trying to break free from his unpleasant past and start over in a new town with a new love interest. As expected, though, the past comes looking for him and brings inevitable trouble with it. Robert Mitchum, with his trademark sense of indifference toward unpleasant circumstances, reveals himself as the perfect, traditional archetypal noir actor. One can truly believe that no matter how much we long to empathize with his character and his destiny, ultimately Mitchum will embrace whatever the future holds for him and at whatever the cost may be, even his own death. And speaking of death, you've perhaps heard the old saying, "They all die in the end."? Well, let's just say that by the time OUT OF THE PAST is concluded, the only ones left standing are the new girl in the new town who had never-ending faith in our hero and the somewhat secondary policeman who tried to keep things in order. We're finally left to believe that it's just these two that will have some sort of hopeful future in the end, because no one else in the film ever stood a chance!
Oh, and one final thing to point out about this film - though we live in a time where cigarette smoking is considered a taboo to be issued with a warning in its rating system, there was a time, especially during the dark film noir era, that smoking was all the cool, all the glamour and all the sexiness of motion pictures. That being said, OUT OF THE PAST may well be considered one of the best "smoking films" ever made! That may sound quite un-PC today, but fuck it, it still looked real damn good on film!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Kathie Moffat: "Can't you even feel sorry for me?"
Jeff Bailey: "I'm not going to try."