Monday, March 07, 2011
#76: Out of the Past
The name is noir. Film noir.
A most undefinable yet an instantly recognizable genre. One that gets it's expression in low light, elusive women and bleak endings. Where mystery is a way of life and smart innocent men are chased for no fault. Like in The Maltese Falcon, there might be something invaluable to pursue or like in Chinatown there might be a massive cover up. Either way, the mysticism is meant to be gratifying. Out of the Past, a movie made in 1947, by Jacques Tourneur was the archetypical film noir of it's age and symbolized all the elements that go into making the movies of this genre, which if done well, are extremely absorbing to follow.
It begins sleepily with car mechanic Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) and his girlfriend Ann (Virginia Huston) daydreaming in a field in remote California. Just when it seems all's right with their world, we are soon made aware that Jeff used to be a private eye not so long ago and was involved in pursuing a lady called Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) at the behest of a client Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). Back then, Jeff's pursuits had given way to an ineseperable attraction towards Kathie - a fact Jeff tried best to keep away from Whit even as both Jeff and Kathie eloped to a faraway town to lead a life of happily ever after.
Fate strikes with the proverbial alternate plan when Whit's colleague, Joe lands up at the couple's doorstep in a hope to extract some money by blackmailing them. Kathie in a bid to thwart Joe ends up killing him. She flees before Jeff can gather his senses and leaves Jeff fending for himself as a murder accused. Jeff too flees from the scene of crime. Cut to present and Whit has not only tracked Jeff down but he has also called for him again. Will Jeff go to Whit? What could it be for? Will this lead to Kathie again? Will Jeff leave his current girlfriend for Kathie, a flame he stoked passionately in the past? Well, the name is noir. Film noir!
The genre can be so tantalizing, it can put sex to shame. And Out of the Past is as good as any in this genre. The plus point is clearly the story that comes across in multiple flashbacks and is narrated to us through Jeff's voice. The air of mystery is so generously engulfing Kathie, one has a hard time figuring if she is a femme fatale or a woman wronged. Writer Daniel Mainwaring, however reserves his best for the last, putting together a mean ending, one that's as ironic as stark. One that will fulfil your appetite as a viewer but still make you wish things could've turned differently for the characters.
Out of the Past is the kind of movie where the story is so perenially ahead of the characters actions that one can't pay much attention to 'how' an actor is performing. Because 'what' the character is doing assumes preeminence. And that is always a good thing. Let me just end this by saying, if film-noir is your thing, you must dig this 'Out of the Past'!