A consummate example of RKO’s ability to produce A-list films at a decidedly B-list studio, Jacque Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947) is a classy classic film noir. It ranks among the best, as a turgid whirlpool of spurious characters becomes trapped by circumstance and destiny.
The film stars brooding Robert Mitchum as Jeff Bailey/Jeff Markham. Seems Jeff once knew an unstoppably vial slim customer named Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). Whit hired Jeff to bring back his ex-lover, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), a woman who jus tried to kill him.
After persuading Jeff that she isn’t all bad, Kathie and Jeff get together in Mexico. But the lovers are doomed to a life on the run unless they can free themselves of Whit’s diabolical hold. Preventing the obvious, of course, leads them both to disaster. For Jeff, the affair is genuine. For Kathie, it’s just a means to an end – and not a very glamorous one.
As Moffat, Greer is the archetypal femme fatale, murderous, lustful, driven and luring Jeff onto his pending doom with her own self-destruction. Director, Jacques Tourneur populates the rest of his cast with stellar actors: Paul Valentine as the cold-blooded killer, Joe Stephanos; Rhonda Fleming as Jeff’s loyal love interest Meta Carson; and Dickie Moore, playing ‘the kid’ Jeff’s mute right hand.
What is remarkable about the film today is how fresh and vital its themes and performances have remained. There is a sense of immediacy peppered throughout the story that does not date under contemporary scrutiny. Selected in 1991 for preservation by the Library of Congress, Out of the Past endures as scathing, brutally honest entertainment. Like the noir style, the film hits its audience in the gut first and asks questions later.
Warner Home Video’s DVD is quite stunning. The B&W image exhibits a refined gray scale with deep solid blacks and very pristine whites. Contrast levels are very nicely realized. Age related artifacts are kept to a bare minimum. A hint of edge enhancement is the only drawback, but easily overlooked. The audio is mono but very nicely cleaned up. The only extra is a thorough audio commentary. Recommended.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)