Plot: Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) operates a small gas station and seems to live an upstanding lifestyle, but under the veneer of that straight arrow existence lurks an all too dark past. He was once a private detective in New York, where he worked on cases for some less than ideal clients, such as gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), who hired him to track down a woman. Bailey was to find Kathie (Jane Greer), who he was told had attacked Sterling, shot him multiple times, and made off with a stack of cash, but she was to be returned alive. Later in his new life, Bailey once again finds himself summoned by Sterling, an event that forces him to come clean about his past with his current beloved, Ann (Virginia Huston). He is drawn back into the ways of his past, this time to look into an accountant who is causing problems. But can Bailey just jump back into that dark lifestyle and if so, what toll will it take?
Entertainment Value: One of the most acclaimed and beloved film noirs , Out of the Past hits pretty much all the desired notes and does so with great skill. The narrative is classic film noir, with dark pasts, betrayals, tough guys, nihilism, and of course, beautiful, but deadly women. The movie has dark, but beautiful black & white visuals that just shine and draw you into this dangerous world. Those visuals also help bolster the mood and atmosphere of the entire movie, so this fog of dread always seem to loom, ideal for this kind of material. As well as the technical aspects of the movie are executed, the real heart of the picture has to be the cast. Robert Mitchum is just pure bad ass here, with a cool and never concerned presence. Even as he feels the noose tighten, he refuses to panic and simply acknowledges that he is in trouble, then marches forward and does what he needs to do. His scenes with Kirk Douglas are fun to watch, but it is his scenes with Jane Greer that really burn here. The banter is fantastic and nails the kind of sharp dialogue film noir is famous for. Also here are Rhonda Fleming, Virginia Huston, and Richard Webb, among others. This movie has earned its reputation as one of film noir’s crown jewels, but it has appeal beyond the genre and should satisfy anyone who has an interest in classic cinema.
No nakedness. No blood. This was a big studio production in the 40s, so to expect much sleaze or violence would be a reach. The movie does have some bursts of violence, including some of the ladies being slapped around, but nothing too graphic or outside the film noir norms. The movie leans on atmosphere and characters to provide the dread, so the lack of violence is not an issue. The dialogue here is all you could want from a film noir experience and more, with so many great exchanges and one liners, they’re hard to keep track of. A lot of smaller, more subtle lines are also here, but the movie brings the heat with big, quotable lines pretty often, as the banter never ceases to be top notch. Mitchum is a machine here, able to rattle off memorable lines with ease, while Greer is able to keep pace herself. I just love the writing here, so much drama and dysfunction baked into the dialogue. As the movie sticks close to film noir conventions, the movie doesn’t offer much craziness beyond the bleak outlooks and sharp dialogue, but that’s a small price to pay here.
Overall Insanity: 1/10