4.5, United States/Canada

Out of the Past

Out of the Past by Jacques Tourneur is the yearly favorite from 1947 as listed in Life as Fiction (Through Time): An Exercise in the Clockwork and Constriction of Cinematic History, a project to chronicle my favorite film for each year from 1921 to the present.

1947 / Jacques Tourneur > It’s pretty obvious why David Cronenberg paid homage to Out of the Past in A History of Violence: If you’re going to put a twist on a genre, why not pay respect to its standard-bearers? Tourneur’s take on classic film-noir is thoughtful and riveting. The directing is meticulous, setting up a moody atmosphere, taking time to play out scenes that would otherwise have been rushed and making sure each of our characters are aptly developed. I can also now finally understand why Robert Mitchum was such a big deal. His quiet poise calls upon him an honest appearance while underneath he has the ability to carry deeper, darker secrets. And in a film where Jane Greer counters him as a dame of great beauty and equally great villainy, both work together balancing each others’ brilliant performances.

But fundamentals aside, Out of the Past is more notable for its congruence of issues: Lies, murder, secret pasts, infidelity, love, hope, greed, happiness. Novelist and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring threw the kitchen sink plus some toiletry in the story’s mix of ingredients. But what amazes is how well it all works out. The final scene with the boy stands the test of time as one of those moments that leave you wondering the improbable quality of the film you’ve just witnessed. These days, the descendants of noir have simply too much cynicism or lack of storytelling skills to be this effective.

Originally posted on February 11, 2009 before inclusion into (Through Time).