blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Out of the Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur)

Out of the Past always has at least two things going on at once. Not just the double crossings, which is so prevalent lead Robert Mitchum even taunts the bad guys with it, but how the film itself works.

Daniel Mainwaring’s script–which gives Mitchum this lengthy narration over a flashback sequence–gives the impression of telling the viewer everything while it really leaves the most important elements out. The whole plot has the bad guys coming out of Mitchum’s past (hence the title), but the way he deals with them has all these elements from between that past and the present. It means Mainwaring and Past can surprise the viewer, but it also gives Mitchum this rich character. As much exposition (not to mention the flashback) as he gets about his past, the complications all come from the unexplained things.

And Tourneur’s direction matches this narrative style. He, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca and editor Samuel E. Beetley have foreground and background action. A scene will focus intensely one character, but in contrast to the scripted character emphasis. The visual disconnect pulls the viewer, causing a palpable, beautifully lighted edginess.

And Mitchum and his nemesis slash alter ego Kirk Douglas also have that edginess; they’re uncomfortable with one another but reluctantly. It’s wonderful.

All the acting is great–especially Paul Valentine and Rhonda Fleming–and, of course, femme fatale Jane Greer and good girl Virginia Huston.

The narrative tricks–while always beautifully executed–aren’t necessary. Past would be better without them.

This post is part of the 1947 Blogathon hosted by Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy.

4 responses to “Out of the Past (1947, Jacques Tourneur)”

  1. Nice take on this great film which would be my choice for best film of ’47. Jane Greer is such a great pit viper of a character it’s a shame she never had the opportunity at the really meaty roles her talent deserved. Mitchum and Douglas make great sparring partners as well. All three really deserved award recognition, maybe not wins but nominations for certain.

  2. I agree with the previous commenter. Mitchum and Douglas are fab-u-lous together on screen. Each scene is a real treat. As for Jane Greer, yes it’s too bad she didn’t have the roles that matched her talent.
    P.S. Great choice for the 1947 Blogathon!

  3. There’s a dreamy, almost hypnotic quality to “Out of the Past”. I think that comes from Musuraca and it is a beautiful juxtaposition to the pure evil in its nastiest characters.

  4. In this amazing year for noir, it’s a tough race for best one but this is it. Looks great, lasts and thanks for writing about it for the blogathon.

Leave a Reply

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: