Sunday, September 07, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Out of the Past (1947) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

OUT OF THE PAST (1947), considered by many to be the quintessential film noir, is available in a beautiful new Blu-ray from the Warner Archive.

Longtime readers know that OUT OF THE PAST is special to me as much of it was filmed in my favorite town in the High Sierras, Bridgeport. I wrote about the movie's Bridgeport locations in 2010 and again this year. Director Jacques Tourneur liked the area so much that he returned to it a decade later and reused some of the same locations for NIGHTFALL (1957).

I hadn't seen the film for some time, and in fact I'd forgotten just how much of Bridgeport is in the movie. It had escaped my memory that the Bridgeport Inn can be clearly seen in some shots, and I'd also forgotten how much the courthouse was used -- you can even see the cannon on the front lawn. Here's the Bridgeport Inn, located across the street from the courthouse, as seen on Independence Day in 2010.

Daniel Mainwaring, writing as Geoffrey Homes, based the screenplay for OUT OF THE PAST on his book BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH. The film begins by introducing Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), a "man with a past" who runs a service station in the town of Bridgeport and loves a local girl, Ann (Virginia Huston).

In an extended flashback, Jeff tells Ann the story of his ill-fated romance with Kathie (Jane Greer), who initially seemed to be a sweet, loving woman on the run from gangster Whit (Kirk Douglas) -- but who proved to be as deadly a femme fatale as ever there was.

Whit and Kathie come back into Jeff's life, throwing into question whether he will ever be able to have the quiet future he dreams of sharing with Ann in Bridgeport.

OUT OF THE PAST is one of those movies you just let wash over you in a state of noir bliss. Watching the Blu-ray, I rediscovered not just the beautiful photography by the great Nicholas Musuraca, but the brilliant line deliveries; even a tiny moment like Mitchum turning down a cigarette by answering "Smoking!" and showing he already has one lingers in the memory.

I saw a review once where someone said that Mitchum's line readings in this are the equivalent of what Sinatra does with lyrics, and that's one of the best descriptions I've ever read about the film; I wish I'd thought of it!

As for Jane Greer, she's completely remarkable. She said in interviews that the director's instructions to her were simply "First half, good girl. Second half, bad girl," and boy does she nail both. The moment where she first shoots someone on camera is a total stunner. I love the way she's dressed in white for her "innocent" scenes, then appears in progressively darker clothing. There are so many wonderful nuances to this film, including not just the costumes but the way entrances and exits are filmed.

I've admitted here before that I'm not much of a Kirk Douglas fan, but his performance in this is restrained and works, not requiring him to play the role with much nuance. Huston is lovely as Ann, who stands for all the good things Jeff aspires to but possibly can never have. Dickie Moore, who plays Jeff's deaf young friend, will be 89 next week; he is married to Jane Powell.

The cast of this 97-minute film also includes a gorgeous young Rhonda Fleming, plus Steve Brodie, Richard Webb, Mary Field, Paul Valentine, Teresa Harris, and Wallace Scott.

As I watched I pondered that the film which comes closest to OUT OF THE PAST in tone and story is CRISS CROSS (1949), which similarly features an untrustworthy woman, Anna (Yvonne DeCarlo), trying to escape from a controlling man (Dan Duryea); like Robert Mitchum in OUT OF THE PAST, Burt Lancaster can't seem to keep away from Anna even though he knows deep down that it's not going to end well.

The OUT OF THE PAST Blu-ray includes the commentary by James Ursini which was part of an earlier DVD release. Please note that initial copies of this Blu-ray are traditionally replicated (pressed). In a recent interview the Warner Archive's George Feltenstein shared that the Blu-ray was such a big seller that by that point it had already gone through four pressings.

The movie and the Blu-ray are both very highly recommended.

September 2020 Update: For more on Bridgeport movie locations, please visit Photos From the Road: Bridgeport, Part 1 and Photos From the Road: Bridgeport, Part 2 in addition to the links in the second paragraph of this review.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


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