Monday, August 21, 2006

Out of the Past

This is one of the best film-noirs ever made and I think I should have seen it before. Sometime last year in Chicago a double bill of Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, both directed by the same Jacques Tourneur, played at the music box theatre which I missed. I am going to hunt them down now. I hope they are available on DVD. Though a movie so moody and atmospheric like Out of the Past should only be seen on big screen. This is really a fantastic film.

Robert Mitchum plays the archetypical hero with such effortless abandon that it seems that he is sleepwalking through his role. His trademark droopy eyes (look at the picture above) and his lethargic, laid-back persona were made for playing these kinds of roles. Kirk Douglas, the other hyper-masculine long-nosed hero, is electrifying too. He doesn't have much of a role, it was only his second film, but the way he delivers those crackling trade-mark noir dialogues just sizzles on screen. And of course the best of the lot is Jane Greer in what must be the greatest femme fatale ever in a noir. Just look at how the poster maker has painted her in the portrait. I don't think it is from the movie but it captures her personality so well, specially the way she is holding the gun and the way she is looking. In my opinion, she handsomely beats Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. She is unbelievably beautiful and so alluring is her persona, that you think perhaps doom is all worth it!

Very entertaining and not only that, it is the kind of film which carries with it an entire world-view, a way of looking at the world, and convinces you that it is indeed the right way to look at it. Rent the DVD today if you haven't already seen it. I think it is much better than Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon or even some other top-notch noirs. I still have to see a lot of films from that period though.

P.S. A Deluxe edition DVD of Double Indemnity is out this week. Enthusiastic thumbs up from Green Cine and some qualified praise from New York Times:

Wilder, who had as little interest in visual expressiveness as Jackson Pollock had in figure painting, remained a literary filmmaker to the end of his career, relying on such stock techniques here as endlessly repeated lines and situations (how many times will MacMurray light Robinson's cigar for him before the gesture has a dramatic payoff?) and a condescending approach to his audience that led him to spell out everything in large capital letters (compare Stanwyck's blatant, vulgar sexuality in Double Indemnity to Jane Greer's elusive femme fatality in Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past).


ventilatorblues said...

Notwithstanding the New Wave's reworking of the genre (and especially the films of Jean-Pierre Melville), I think the classic Hollywood noir films are right up there amongst the best movies ever made. Mitchum looks so young and handsome in that photo. Thanks for the tip. I will have to check this one out soon. Another classic I would highly recommend is Gilda. I would kill for a date with Rita Hayworth!

Alok said...

Oh I have seen Gilda. I have yet to see Lady from Shanghai though. I understand that about Rita Hayworth, she has another of those iconic images associated with her... of the old school Hollywood glamour.

I don't know if it is just the passage of time or something else... I can't find a single actress or even actors who can match those people. They had such electrifying screen presence.

Out of the Past is really very good, almost a text book example of noir. And a really great one at that.

km said...

Anybody seen D.O.A? Another good early noir.

(Have heard great things about a new film called "Brick" - a noir film set in a high school!)

Alok said...

No, haven't seen DOA. The premise sounds great...

Don't know about Brick either. It got some good reviews though.

There was something in those early movies of 40's which I think is difficult to recreate now. It wasn't just about style or genre but something deeper.

Dipanjan said...

Late comment. Not sure if you will find it but can not resist. Big noir fan here, but like you somehow missed Out of the Past for the longest time. Finally in this year's noir festival at SF, OOTP was the unannounced "director's choice". It was an unforgettable experience.

Sean Penn was present and he introduced the film. It was a double bill with his own Pledge. I would strongly recommend the noir fest if it is possible for you to be around SF bay area in January.

You are on to something with "something deeper" in 40s movies, noir in particular. I have not read a whole lot of noir theory and history. I am not sure I want to do that either. I am scared of deconstructing and diminishing the strength of the visceral emotions the best noirs repeatedly extract out of me.

Still I would just say that the depth you are alluding to probably owes quite a bit to the turbulence of the period - the memories of an extremely painful transition from roaring 20s to a depressing 30s, stock market crash, world war, emancipation of women, European immigrants, distrust of capitalism and the scare of socialism. Best noirs have that I-have-seen-it-all and I-know-it-will-end-in-doom pragmatism and cynicism in their core, and yet at the same time they are not at all scared to be moved by the beauty and thrilled by the journey and they have an unshakable confidence and dignity about them while they are at it.

Alok said...

yes it is indeed strange how all those factors came together at the same in a single unified vision and expressed itself in the noir iconography, and expressed so well!

thanks for that link to the noir film festival. I am in the other side of the country, alas :(

btw, last year I read parts of the book by Eddie Muller called Noir City. I think it is Muller himself who runs that festival. It is not a great book but informative and very glossy. though i agree with you, i hesistate to read analytical pieces about noir myself too :)