“All women are wonders, because they reduce all men to the obvious.”
My favorite studio during the Golden Age of Hollywood is MGM but in an extremely close second is RKO. RKO had all the Fred and Ginger films, they had Katharine Hepburn during the 1930s where she made Bringing Up Baby with Cary Grant, they made the enduring King Kong and had Max Steiner on hand to compose the first great dramatic score for the film, they had Hitchcock in the 1940s when first came to America, they signed Ingrid Bergman, they had Citizen Kane, and so much more. RKO had my heart first before I really became a fan of classic films and they will always have a special place. When I think of noirs my mind immediately goes to Warner Bros. or 20th Century-Fox who had Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney on their payrolls. I never would have thought that RKO in 1947 made one of the best noirs with Out of the Past.
Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) has been living in a small town running his own gas station for the past few years. One day he gets a call from someone telling him they need to meet near Utah. Jeff has his girlfriend Ann drive along so he can tell her why he is going where he is.
A few years back he was a private eye who was hired by gangster named Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find his girlfriend Kathie (Jane Greer). Kathie shot him and ran off with forty-thousand dollars. Jeff tracked her down to Acapulco, Mexico. From the moment Jeff sees this outrageously beautiful woman he falls in love. They always meet at a bar at night. He explains that the day dragged until nighttime came when he could see Kathie again. One night she takes him back her place and they plan to run away together.
Whit becomes impatient and goes down to Mexico himself to check on what progress has been made. Jeff lies saying he needs more time that he has not found Kathie yet. The new couple return to the States and are eventually tracked down by Jeff’s former partner Fisher. The former partners break out into a brawl. Kathie stands by watching and when she gets her chance she shoots Fisher. She darts out of the house leaving Jeff to bury the body. They never see each other again after that.
Whit has a plan for Jeff to investigate a lawyer that has something against him. From another room Kathie walks in; she and Whit have apparently made up. From the moment Jeff begins his assignment for Whit he knows he is being framed for a murder since he never completed his first one for the gangster.
With White trying to frame him and Kathie back in his life begging them to go away together for real, nothing good will come out Jeff’s situation in the end.
Jane Greer as Kathie has now become my favorite femme fatale. The scene where Kathie shoots Fisher Greer looked so evil just coolly standing in the shadows of the room with the gun in her hand. She has like zero emotion on her face. From the moment she first walks on screen I was just mesmerized by her she was gorgeous. You have absolutely no problem believing that Jeff could fall madly in love with her and that Whit, even though she shot him, would go through great lengths to find her. Robert Mitchum I was on the fence about. I thought he was awesome in Night of the Hunter but I did not think anything of him but after seeing him in this film I can see why he is considered one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. He was so smooth and did not over act. Mitchum had the look of a tough guy but at the same time you can believe he is a completely innocent man wrapped up in Whit’s scheme. Kirk Douglas has to be one of the most sinister looking and acting antagonist I have ever seen. He had such a great possessive and evil look to him. I wanted to punch him in the face he was so good!
I think the title and the plot of Out of the Past is genius. Of all the noirs I have seen so far this is by far one of the cleverest and best put together. This is one of the best examples of Film Noir with a complicated yet fantastic plot, a good guy detective completely over his head with the case and the girl, and the femme fatale who is amoral. It also has incredible cinematography and direction, the light and shadows are what make some of the scenes like Kathie shooting Fisher so chilling and great. Out of the Past takes the devices of noir then takes them to next level. Not bad for little old RKO studios.