Hollywood titans Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas are adversaries bamboozled by Jane Greer in the 1947 film noir classic “Out of the Past,” currently available at home through Roanoke Cox Cable’s TCM On DEMAND. If you like film noir, this one’s got all the elements you’re looking for rolled up in a nifty little package that offers something kind of different. Mitchum looks great in a trench coat. Douglas is a terrific oily scoundrel in expensive suits you don’t trust right off the bat. And Jane Greer is a treacherous bad girl that you’ll love to hate.
French director Jacques Tourneur, who previously helmed the atmospheric horror flicks “Cat People,” “I Walked with a Zombie,” and “The Leopard Man,” tells this duplicitous tale with an even pace that never drags but is also not quite as fast as its characters. A tough talking mystery man (Paul Valentine) starts the ball rolling when he asks The Kid (Dickie Moore), a deaf mute at a small town filling station, where he can find the owner. The owner, a seeming good guy named Jeff Bailey (Mitchum), discovers mystery man to be a guy named Joe from a forgotten past.
Bailey used to call himself a detective and once went after a missing dame named Kathie (Greer) for a bad character named Whit (Douglas). Joe’s visit prompts a flashback that takes Bailey from his quiet California town to the sands of Mexico. It was there he fell for Kathy and got himself into a mess he hoped he had now escaped. But the old days have come calling and they place Bailey into some dirty business with every man and woman being out for his or herself.
There’s some great stuff here with a lot of tricky double crosses that boil down to jealousy, greed, and some always important files. There’s plenty of cool and zippy dialogue such as when Mitchum tells a guy looking to get tough “I wouldn’t; I told you I’m tired of getting pushed around. You’ll only get yourself out of breath.” The exchange elicits an instantly satisfying chuckle. And when the lazy eyed big Bob Mitchum says it, you know he means it.
His earnest lovey-dovey chats with small town good girl Ann (Virginia Huston) don’t ring as true and certainly lack the zip and zing. But they serve as a nice counterpoint, put us firmly in Bailey’s corner and give poignancy to his tarnished tragic hero. You will be left, however, wishing Mitchum and Douglas had a big showdown or at least tangled more directly. The focus instead is on their playing people off of each other while being unavoidably driven to ruin by the scheming temptress. It’s still fun to watch.