I finally got a chance to see the classic film noir Out of the Past this weekend (thank you, Turner Classic Movies!). This is another one I’ve been dying to see since Fox and other studios started issuing DVDs of their noir catalogs.
Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) has been living a quiet life as a gas station owner in the small town of Bridgeport, California. One day, a man from his past breezes into town and hints that an old friend of theirs wants to talk to Bailey. Bailey and his new girlfriend, who knows nothing of his past, head to Tahoe to meet the mystery man. During the drive, Bailey tells his girlfriend all about his history. The first half of the movie is a flashback. Bailey was a private investigator in New York City. Smooth gambler Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) hires Bailey and his partner to track down Whit’s runaway girlfriend, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer). Bailey tracks her down to Acapulco and, naturally, falls in love with her. They escape Acapulco together and live happily together for a period of time. I’m not going to spoil much of the plot, but things go awry and they end up going their separate ways.
The movie now comes back to the present. Bailey arrives at the Tahoe house, which is owned by his old client Whit Sterling. Whit tells Bailey he knows all about how he stole Whit’s girlfriend. He’s not going to hold a grudge, but Bailey has to make it up to him. Whit is in a bit of tax trouble with the government, so he wants Bailey to steal his tax records from Whit’s double-crossing accountant. Needless to say, there are double-, triple-, and possibly even quadruple-crosses before the movie ends.
It’s a great film noir. Mitchum is perfect as an unscrupulous private investigator caught in a tangled web of deception. Douglas’s Sterling is simultaneously smooth and sinister – possibly one of his greatest roles. The script is great, the direction by Jacques Tourneur is great, and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca does a fantastic job with lighting and shooting the picture.
Wikipedia entry: Out of the Past (here be spoilers)
Noir of the Week entry: Out of the Past (again...spoilers)