Saturday, November 23, 2013
NOIRVEMBER: OUT OF THE PAST
OUT OF THE PAST (1947) Dir. Jacques Tourneur
Starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming
One of the reasons I put together my own Noirvember list was frustration. For years I've been attending noir festivals that are constantly stretching the bounds of noir in order to provide fresh content. As a result, programmers often resort to lousy movies that in some way fit the noir bill. I wanted to put together a a set of movies that includes some of the undeniable classics of the genre along with lesser known and lesser seen (by me anyway) entries. I figured watching these classics all in a row might bring some insight that watching them alone wouldn't. This is the insight I've gleaned from my Noirvember festival so far:
"Out of the Past" is the greatest film noir of all time.
Director Jacques Tourneur and director of photography Nicholas Musuraca had perviously collaborated on on the low budget, Val Lewton producer masterpiece "Cat People". "Out of the Past" was an opportunity for them bring the smart and stylish sensibilities of the Lewton films to a project with better actors and a bigger budget. Musuraca's photography in particular is outstanding. It's not lacking in stark, expressionistic source lighting but the style never gets in the way. The lighting isn't an end in and of itself, it's always serving the story and the performances. I think this makes Musuraca's work here superior even to that of DP John Alton (T-Men, Raw Deal). Alton is an undisputed master stylist but his work can occasionally be showy and overwhelm the narrative. That never happens in "Out of the Past."
The cast is perfect. I know I don't need to tell you how great Mitchum is in this movie. It was made for him. The same for Jane Greer. Watching the film this time, it was Kirk Douglas that really impressed me. This movie came along at exactly the right time to take advantage of his talents. He gives an inspired performance in a supporting role that would have been too small for him just a few years later. "Out of the Past" is full of situations like this. The perfect cast, the perfect material and the perfect filmmakers.
Any schmuck or film critic can tell you that "Out of the Past" has all the tropes that define the genre. The femme fatale, doomed protagonist and obviously the past coming back to get you. All that is true. But "Out of the Past" isn't a superficial exercise that ticks boxes on a genre list. It's a movie you care about, not just appreciate.