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Out of the Past(1947)

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teaser Out of the Past (1947)

SYNOPSIS

Jeff Bailey is working anonymously as the owner of a small-town gas station in Bridgeport, California, and courting a local beauty, Ann, when a sinister man from Jeff's past comes calling. Soon Jeff and Ann are on the road and heading toward the hideaway of Whit Sterling, an underworld figure. On their way, Jeff describes his disastrous past involvement with the diabolical but irresistible Kathie. A street-wise but financially strapped New York City detective, Jeff was hired by gambler Whit to retrieve his wayward girlfriend Kathie, who absconded to Mexico with $40,000 of his money. Upon meeting the runaway in a Mexican barroom, Jeff begins to doubt Whit's version of the truth and runs off with this enchantress for a new life in San Francisco. A remarkable string of double crosses and shocking revelations follow, bringing the story full circle to Jeff's rendezvous with Whit Sterling.

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Producer: Warren Duff
Executive Producer: Robert Sparks
Screenplay: Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes), James M. Cain (uncredited), Frank Fenton (uncredited)
Based on the novel Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: Samuel E. Beetley
Music: Roy Webb
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera
Costumes: Edward Stevenson
Makeup: Gordon Bau
Assistant Director: Harry Mancke
Sound: Clem Portman, Francis M. Sarver
Special Effects: Russell A. Cully
Cast: Robert Mitchum (Jeff Bailey), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffat), Kirk Douglas (Whit Sterling), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Richard Webb (Jim "Jimmy"), Steve Brodie (Jack Fisher), Virginia Huston (Ann Miller), Paul Valentine (Joe Stephanos), Dickie Moore (The Kid), Ken Niles (Leonard Eels).
BW-97m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.

Why OUT OF THE PAST Is Essential

Bitter, cynical, fatalistic and peppered with some of the best tough-guy dialogue in the genre, Out of the Past (1947) is a consummate example of film noir made during the movement's golden age in the '40s and '50s. Robert Mitchum stars as Jeff Bailey alongside Kirk Douglas as Whit Sterling, two shrewd, rock-hard individuals enthralled by the same mysterious, danger-courting woman, Kathie Moffat (played by Jane Greer).

Jacques Tourneur directed with an eye toward the baroque, the evocative, and the erotic. The son of French-born director Maurice Tourneur (The Last of the Mohicans, 1920), Jacques made his own memorable mark on the noir genre with a string of inspired choices, from the casting of the film to the use of real locations to enhance the film's gritty realism. Tourneur had handled equally macabre subject matter, though in a different genre, in such horror films as Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). The cynicism of Out of the Past was also well served by the taut, acerbic script by gifted novelist/screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (aka Geoffrey Homes). Mainwaring, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel Build My Gallows High, went on to write the equally gripping screenplay for the science fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Mitchum and Kirk Douglas are beautifully matched in Out of the Past. As with many film noirs, the relationship between the brutally cynical Whit and Jeff, who share a woman and a cynicism about human behavior, turns out to be more honest and affectionate than either man's love for Kathie, a woman with the face of an angel and the impulses of a viper. The two actors, who both became known for their idiosyncratic, combative temperaments, reportedly engaged in an extended power play for attention in their scenes together.

Out of the Past is most often remembered for capitalizing on Mitchum's uniquely laconic sexual allure and for transforming the actor - in his second starring role after Story of G.I. Joe (1945) - into an instant star. Though the role was initially offered to Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield and Dick Powell, all of whom turned it down, the gritty, stylish performance by Mitchum has become a classic in the noir canon. But Douglas delivers an equally memorable performance as the slick, smooth-talking Whit, who seems perpetually amused at the depths of human deviance. Newcomer Douglas fulfilled on the initial promise he had shown in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and went on to carve out a small but significant niche for himself playing a succession of noirish villains in films like I Walk Alone (1948), The Big Carnival (1951) and Champion (1949).

by Felicia Feaster & John Miller

back to top
teaser Out of the Past (1947)

SYNOPSIS

Jeff Bailey is working anonymously as the owner of a small-town gas station in Bridgeport, California, and courting a local beauty, Ann, when a sinister man from Jeff's past comes calling. Soon Jeff and Ann are on the road and heading toward the hideaway of Whit Sterling, an underworld figure. On their way, Jeff describes his disastrous past involvement with the diabolical but irresistible Kathie. A street-wise but financially strapped New York City detective, Jeff was hired by gambler Whit to retrieve his wayward girlfriend Kathie, who absconded to Mexico with $40,000 of his money. Upon meeting the runaway in a Mexican barroom, Jeff begins to doubt Whit's version of the truth and runs off with this enchantress for a new life in San Francisco. A remarkable string of double crosses and shocking revelations follow, bringing the story full circle to Jeff's rendezvous with Whit Sterling.

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Producer: Warren Duff
Executive Producer: Robert Sparks
Screenplay: Daniel Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes), James M. Cain (uncredited), Frank Fenton (uncredited)
Based on the novel Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editing: Samuel E. Beetley
Music: Roy Webb
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera
Costumes: Edward Stevenson
Makeup: Gordon Bau
Assistant Director: Harry Mancke
Sound: Clem Portman, Francis M. Sarver
Special Effects: Russell A. Cully
Cast: Robert Mitchum (Jeff Bailey), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffat), Kirk Douglas (Whit Sterling), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Richard Webb (Jim "Jimmy"), Steve Brodie (Jack Fisher), Virginia Huston (Ann Miller), Paul Valentine (Joe Stephanos), Dickie Moore (The Kid), Ken Niles (Leonard Eels).
BW-97m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.

Why OUT OF THE PAST Is Essential

Bitter, cynical, fatalistic and peppered with some of the best tough-guy dialogue in the genre, Out of the Past (1947) is a consummate example of film noir made during the movement's golden age in the '40s and '50s. Robert Mitchum stars as Jeff Bailey alongside Kirk Douglas as Whit Sterling, two shrewd, rock-hard individuals enthralled by the same mysterious, danger-courting woman, Kathie Moffat (played by Jane Greer).

Jacques Tourneur directed with an eye toward the baroque, the evocative, and the erotic. The son of French-born director Maurice Tourneur (The Last of the Mohicans, 1920), Jacques made his own memorable mark on the noir genre with a string of inspired choices, from the casting of the film to the use of real locations to enhance the film's gritty realism. Tourneur had handled equally macabre subject matter, though in a different genre, in such horror films as Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). The cynicism of Out of the Past was also well served by the taut, acerbic script by gifted novelist/screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring (aka Geoffrey Homes). Mainwaring, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel Build My Gallows High, went on to write the equally gripping screenplay for the science fiction classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).

Mitchum and Kirk Douglas are beautifully matched in Out of the Past. As with many film noirs, the relationship between the brutally cynical Whit and Jeff, who share a woman and a cynicism about human behavior, turns out to be more honest and affectionate than either man's love for Kathie, a woman with the face of an angel and the impulses of a viper. The two actors, who both became known for their idiosyncratic, combative temperaments, reportedly engaged in an extended power play for attention in their scenes together.

Out of the Past is most often remembered for capitalizing on Mitchum's uniquely laconic sexual allure and for transforming the actor - in his second starring role after Story of G.I. Joe (1945) - into an instant star. Though the role was initially offered to Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield and Dick Powell, all of whom turned it down, the gritty, stylish performance by Mitchum has become a classic in the noir canon. But Douglas delivers an equally memorable performance as the slick, smooth-talking Whit, who seems perpetually amused at the depths of human deviance. Newcomer Douglas fulfilled on the initial promise he had shown in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and went on to carve out a small but significant niche for himself playing a succession of noirish villains in films like I Walk Alone (1948), The Big Carnival (1951) and Champion (1949).

by Felicia Feaster & John Miller

back to top
teaser Out of the Past (1947)

Pop Culture 101 - OUT OF THE PAST

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer were teamed again for the 1949 RKO Film Noir The Big Steal. While at first glance it might seem like a natural follow-up to the success of Out of the Past, Mitchum and Greer were paired up again only after very trying circumstances. Originally, Lizabeth Scott, on loan from Paramount and Hal B. Wallis, was to star opposite Mitchum in the film, which had been set to start production in October of 1948. On August 31st, however, Mitchum was arrested in Los Angeles on marijuana possession charges. Howard Hughes had acquired RKO just a month prior and decided to rush production, and start shooting The Big Steal as soon as Mitchum was out on bail. Then Lizabeth Scott dropped out of the film, so Greer was brought in only at the last minute. Later, production on the film was halted for two months as Mitchum served his sentence. Daniel Mainwaring worked on the script for the film, which was directed by Don Siegel.

Jeff Bailey's mute assistant at the gas station was played by former child actor Dickie Moore, in one of his later adult roles. Moore had a long career which included an early 1930s stint as one of the kids in Hal Roach's Our Gang series of shorts. He was one of the few kids of the Our Gang cast that also made regular appearances in sizable roles in feature films, such as the title role in the 1933 version of Oliver Twist.

On November 14, 1987, Robert Mitchum was the guest host on Saturday Night Live, broadcast from the NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. One of the sketches he participated in was a black-and-white spoof of Out of the Past called "Out of Gas." The sketch featured an unbilled guest appearance by none other than Jane Greer!

In the mid-1970s, producer Jerry Bick, who had already produced the Neo-Noir movies The Long Goodbye (1973) and Farewell, My Lovely (1975, staring Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe) announced plans for a new adaptation of Build My Gallows High. He had a screenplay and a director lined up, but the project fell through.

Out of the Past was loosely remade in 1984 as Against All Odds staring Jeff Bridges, Rachel Ward, and James Woods in (roughly) the Mitchum, Greer, and Douglas roles. Several aspects of the story were altered, however (Bridges plays a former football player, not a gumshoe). Taylor Hackford directed from a script by Eric Hughes. In a nod to the original film, Jane Greer appears as Rachel Ward's mother, and Paul Valentine (henchman Joe Stephanos in Out of the Past) has a cameo.

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Out of the Past (1947)

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer were teamed again for the 1949 RKO Film Noir The Big Steal. While at first glance it might seem like a natural follow-up to the success of Out of the Past, Mitchum and Greer were paired up again only after very trying circumstances. Originally, Lizabeth Scott, on loan from Paramount and Hal B. Wallis, was to star opposite Mitchum in the film, which had been set to start production in October of 1948. On August 31st, however, Mitchum was arrested in Los Angeles on marijuana possession charges. Howard Hughes had acquired RKO just a month prior and decided to rush production, and start shooting The Big Steal as soon as Mitchum was out on bail. Then Lizabeth Scott dropped out of the film, so Greer was brought in only at the last minute. Later, production on the film was halted for two months as Mitchum served his sentence. Daniel Mainwaring worked on the script for the film, which was directed by Don Siegel.

Jeff Bailey's mute assistant at the gas station was played by former child actor Dickie Moore, in one of his later adult roles. Moore had a long career which included an early 1930s stint as one of the kids in Hal Roach's Our Gang series of shorts. He was one of the few kids of the Our Gang cast that also made regular appearances in sizable roles in feature films, such as the title role in the 1933 version of Oliver Twist.

On November 14, 1987, Robert Mitchum was the guest host on Saturday Night Live, broadcast from the NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York. One of the sketches he participated in was a black-and-white spoof of Out of the Past called "Out of Gas." The sketch featured an unbilled guest appearance by none other than Jane Greer!

In the mid-1970s, producer Jerry Bick, who had already produced the Neo-Noir movies The Long Goodbye (1973) and Farewell, My Lovely (1975, staring Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe) announced plans for a new adaptation of Build My Gallows High. He had a screenplay and a director lined up, but the project fell through.

Out of the Past was loosely remade in 1984 as Against All Odds staring Jeff Bridges, Rachel Ward, and James Woods in (roughly) the Mitchum, Greer, and Douglas roles. Several aspects of the story were altered, however (Bridges plays a former football player, not a gumshoe). Taylor Hackford directed from a script by Eric Hughes. In a nod to the original film, Jane Greer appears as Rachel Ward's mother, and Paul Valentine (henchman Joe Stephanos in Out of the Past) has a cameo.

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Out of the Past (1947)

Trivia & Other Fun Stuff

The American movie posters for Out of the Past contained artwork showing a large head-and-shoulders close-up of Mitchum, cigarette dangling from his lips, and a smaller full-figure drawing of Greer. The advertising taglines used were: "A MAN - Trying to run away from his past... A WOMAN - Trying to escape her future! When they clash it's WILDFIRE!" and "A guy without a fortune! A girl with too much past!"

When asked in later years about the confusing storyline of Out of the Past, Robert Mitchum's standard response was that "two or three pages were lost in the mimeo department."

In England, the film was known as Build My Gallows High, the title of the novel on which it was based.

One of the memorable lines of the film, "Baby, I don't care," was used by author Lee Server for his 2001 biography of Robert Mitchum.

FAMOUS QUOTES from OUT OF THE PAST (1947)

Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum): I sell gasoline, I make a small profit. With that I buy groceries. The grocer makes a profit. We call it earning a living. You may have heard of it somewhere.

Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie): Ya know, a dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle.

Jeff Bailey: How big a chump can you get to be? I was finding out.

Jeff Bailey: You say to yourself, "How hot can it get?" Then, in Acapulco, you find out.

Jeff Bailey: Maybe love is like luck: you have to go all the way to find it.

Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas): My feelings? About ten years ago, I hid them somewhere and haven't been able to find them.

Whit Sterling: Joe couldn't find a prayer in the Bible.

Jeff Bailey: You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.

Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer): Oh, Jeff, I don't want to die!
Jeff Bailey: Neither do I, baby, but if I have to I'm going to be the one who dies last.

Jeff Bailey: It was the bottom of the barrel, and I was scraping it.
(Kathie is gambling at the roulette wheel)
Jeff Bailey: That's not the way to win.
Kathie Moffat: Is there a way to win?
Jeff Bailey: There's a way to lose more slowly.

Kathie Moffat: Don't you see you've only me to make deals with now?
Jeff Bailey: Build my gallows high, baby.

Ann Miller (Virginia Huston): She can't be all bad. No one is.
Jeff Bailey: Well, she comes the closest.

Jeff Bailey: I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live by night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoked. I didn't know where she lived. I never followed her. All I ever had to go on was a place and time to see her again. I don't know what we were waiting for. Maybe we thought the world would end.

Ann Miller: They say the day you die your name is written in the clouds.

Kathie Moffat: I didn't know what I was doing. I I didn't know anything except how much I hated him. But I didn't take anything. I didn't, Jeff. Don't you believe me?
Jeff Bailey: Baby, I don't care.

Compiled by John Miller

back to top
teaser Out of the Past (1947)

The American movie posters for Out of the Past contained artwork showing a large head-and-shoulders close-up of Mitchum, cigarette dangling from his lips, and a smaller full-figure drawing of Greer. The advertising taglines used were: "A MAN - Trying to run away from his past... A WOMAN - Trying to escape her future! When they clash it's WILDFIRE!" and "A guy without a fortune! A girl with too much past!"

When asked in later years about the confusing storyline of Out of the Past, Robert Mitchum's standard response was that "two or three pages were lost in the mimeo department."

In England, the film was known as Build My Gallows High, the title of the novel on which it was based.

One of the memorable lines of the film, "Baby, I don't care," was used by author Lee Server for his 2001 biography of Robert Mitchum.

FAMOUS QUOTES from OUT OF THE PAST (1947)

Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum): I sell gasoline, I make a small profit. With that I buy groceries. The grocer makes a profit. We call it earning a living. You may have heard of it somewhere.

Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie): Ya know, a dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle.

Jeff Bailey: How big a chump can you get to be? I was finding out.

Jeff Bailey: You say to yourself, "How hot can it get?" Then, in Acapulco, you find out.

Jeff Bailey: Maybe love is like luck: you have to go all the way to find it.

Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas): My feelings? About ten years ago, I hid them somewhere and haven't been able to find them.

Whit Sterling: Joe couldn't find a prayer in the Bible.

Jeff Bailey: You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.

Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer): Oh, Jeff, I don't want to die!
Jeff Bailey: Neither do I, baby, but if I have to I'm going to be the one who dies last.

Jeff Bailey: It was the bottom of the barrel, and I was scraping it.
(Kathie is gambling at the roulette wheel)
Jeff Bailey: That's not the way to win.
Kathie Moffat: Is there a way to win?
Jeff Bailey: There's a way to lose more slowly.

Kathie Moffat: Don't you see you've only me to make deals with now?
Jeff Bailey: Build my gallows high, baby.

Ann Miller (Virginia Huston): She can't be all bad. No one is.
Jeff Bailey: Well, she comes the closest.

Jeff Bailey: I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live by night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoked. I didn't know where she lived. I never followed her. All I ever had to go on was a place and time to see her again. I don't know what we were waiting for. Maybe we thought the world would end.

Ann Miller: They say the day you die your name is written in the clouds.

Kathie Moffat: I didn't know what I was doing. I I didn't know anything except how much I hated him. But I didn't take anything. I didn't, Jeff. Don't you believe me?
Jeff Bailey: Baby, I don't care.

Compiled by John Miller

back to top
teaser Out of the Past (1947)

The Big Idea Behind OUT OF THE PAST

Out of the Past is a quintessential Film Noir that could easily serve as a model for the genre. The term was not in use in the late 1940s, of course, but all of the elements that went into such a film - the complex plot, the fated protagonist, the destructive femme fatale, the atmospheric look - were already established in previous films. The genius of Out of the Past is the convergence of talents - director Jacques Tourneur, screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, and actors Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer - who had a single-minded goal: to make the hard-boiled detective drama to end all hard-boiled detective dramas.

By 1946 Jacques Tourneur was primed to direct a film like Out of the Past. He cut his teeth as Val Lewton's first choice as director for his Horror unit at RKO in the early 1940s. With director of photography Nick Musuraca, Tourneur shot the very atmospheric Cat People, Lewton's inaugural effort, in 1942. This was followed by the classics I Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard Man in 1943. Tourneur, the son of famed French director Maurice Tourneur, had a classical eye for composition and an innate sense of texture and atmosphere - perfect for the thriller genre and the cinema of suggestion that Lewton's films demanded. Following these pictures, RKO began assigning bigger budget films to Tourneur.

Robert Mitchum was more than ready for a breakout movie role by 1946. He was in a unique situation having a talent contract split between a studio - RKO - and an independent producer - David O. Selznick (through his Vanguard Films). Due to recent successes, particularly his good notices as the lead in Story of G. I. Joe (1945), Mitchum had a loyal fan following and was able to renegotiate for a salary hike. What he needed at this point was a strong, identifying role to solidify his standing as an A-list leading man.

In 1946 Dore Schary became executive vice-president in charge of production at RKO Pictures. As one of the "major minors" they were able to turn out lower budget pictures efficiently, and produce the occasional "A" picture to compete with the major studios. Jane Greer was a contract player that RKO was anxious to groom into stardom. Greer had been discovered while modeling a WAC uniform for Life magazine in 1942. After shooting screen tests for Paramount and for Selznick, she was signed by Howard Hughes in 1943, but shortly bought out her contract from the billionaire. She appeared in several low-budget RKO pictures beginning in 1945, and finally scored a prominent role (and good reviews) in the Film Noir They Won't Believe Me (1947). Though a standout in the cast, she was one of three women in the life of the male lead, played by Robert Young. RKO would now seek to feature her in the lead female role of her next picture.

Daniel Mainwaring was a prolific writer, having turned out many mysteries and crime novels since 1936 (using the pen name Geoffrey Homes). He turned to screenwriting in the 1940s and worked on minor action and crime films such as Crime by Night (1944) and They Made Me a Killer (1946). In 1946 he was in the midst of writing a series of low-budget programmers being made at Paramount (Big Town, based on a popular radio show of the same name). Brought in to adapt his novel Build My Gallows High at RKO, he found a sympathetic producer in Warren Duff, who was himself a screenwriter.

So for Out of the Past, several talents came together in a fortuitous convergence - all intending to make their mark with a picture that would define their role in the industry - and contrary to common assumption, Out of the Past was not a B-movie as far as RKO was concerned. Mitchum and Greer were being groomed for "A" stardom, Kirk Douglas was borrowed from Paramount for the film, and location shooting in San Francisco and Acapulco was planned. Other writers were brought in for script polishing: novelist and Noir icon James M. Cain (Double Indemnity) contributed the famous flashback structure, while writer/actor Frank Fenton added some of the crackling dialogue. Filming on Out of the Past began in October of 1946.

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Out of the Past (1947)

Out of the Past is a quintessential Film Noir that could easily serve as a model for the genre. The term was not in use in the late 1940s, of course, but all of the elements that went into such a film - the complex plot, the fated protagonist, the destructive femme fatale, the atmospheric look - were already established in previous films. The genius of Out of the Past is the convergence of talents - director Jacques Tourneur, screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, and actors Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer - who had a single-minded goal: to make the hard-boiled detective drama to end all hard-boiled detective dramas.

By 1946 Jacques Tourneur was primed to direct a film like Out of the Past. He cut his teeth as Val Lewton's first choice as director for his Horror unit at RKO in the early 1940s. With director of photography Nick Musuraca, Tourneur shot the very atmospheric Cat People, Lewton's inaugural effort, in 1942. This was followed by the classics I Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard Man in 1943. Tourneur, the son of famed French director Maurice Tourneur, had a classical eye for composition and an innate sense of texture and atmosphere - perfect for the thriller genre and the cinema of suggestion that Lewton's films demanded. Following these pictures, RKO began assigning bigger budget films to Tourneur.

Robert Mitchum was more than ready for a breakout movie role by 1946. He was in a unique situation having a talent contract split between a studio - RKO - and an independent producer - David O. Selznick (through his Vanguard Films). Due to recent successes, particularly his good notices as the lead in Story of G. I. Joe (1945), Mitchum had a loyal fan following and was able to renegotiate for a salary hike. What he needed at this point was a strong, identifying role to solidify his standing as an A-list leading man.

In 1946 Dore Schary became executive vice-president in charge of production at RKO Pictures. As one of the "major minors" they were able to turn out lower budget pictures efficiently, and produce the occasional "A" picture to compete with the major studios. Jane Greer was a contract player that RKO was anxious to groom into stardom. Greer had been discovered while modeling a WAC uniform for Life magazine in 1942. After shooting screen tests for Paramount and for Selznick, she was signed by Howard Hughes in 1943, but shortly bought out her contract from the billionaire. She appeared in several low-budget RKO pictures beginning in 1945, and finally scored a prominent role (and good reviews) in the Film Noir They Won't Believe Me (1947). Though a standout in the cast, she was one of three women in the life of the male lead, played by Robert Young. RKO would now seek to feature her in the lead female role of her next picture.

Daniel Mainwaring was a prolific writer, having turned out many mysteries and crime novels since 1936 (using the pen name Geoffrey Homes). He turned to screenwriting in the 1940s and worked on minor action and crime films such as Crime by Night (1944) and They Made Me a Killer (1946). In 1946 he was in the midst of writing a series of low-budget programmers being made at Paramount (Big Town, based on a popular radio show of the same name). Brought in to adapt his novel Build My Gallows High at RKO, he found a sympathetic producer in Warren Duff, who was himself a screenwriter.

So for Out of the Past, several talents came together in a fortuitous convergence - all intending to make their mark with a picture that would define their role in the industry - and contrary to common assumption, Out of the Past was not a B-movie as far as RKO was concerned. Mitchum and Greer were being groomed for "A" stardom, Kirk Douglas was borrowed from Paramount for the film, and location shooting in San Francisco and Acapulco was planned. Other writers were brought in for script polishing: novelist and Noir icon James M. Cain (Double Indemnity) contributed the famous flashback structure, while writer/actor Frank Fenton added some of the crackling dialogue. Filming on Out of the Past began in October of 1946.

by John Miller

back to top
teaser Out of the Past (1947)

Behind the Camera on OUT OF THE PAST

The filming of Out of the Past got off to a rocky start with a near-fatal plane accident at the Bridgeport, California airport landing field. The pilot, accompanied by Robert Mitchum, a studio accountant and an assistant to executive Walter Duff, realized his brakes didn't work when they touched down, causing the plane to crash through a fence, over a ditch, and through an outhouse before coming to a stop. Although the two men in the back seat were knocked unconscious, Mitchum and the pilot were not hurt. Typical of Mitchum's nonchalant attitude, he quickly crawled out of the wreckage, dusted off his clothes and thumbed a ride into town to begin filming.

Jane Greer recalled that the laconic Robert Mitchum projected an equally cavalier attitude off camera. She got the impression that he came to the set of Out of the Past unprepared, in order to give a more spontaneous performance. She explained, "I remember him saying 'What are the lyrics?' to the script person. 'I never know the lyrics,' he'd say, and she would give him the lines. I said, 'You don't learn your lines beforehand?' and he'd said, 'Naah.' Gosh, I learned mine a week ahead of time. I thought that might be part of why he seemed so much more spontaneous, why he was so easy and underplayed. I decided I'd do that, not be letter perfect. So I tried learning my lines under the dryer in the morning. I hoped I'd look as though I was thinking. But I blew take after take, and he was letter perfect. Well, I figured out later that, of course, he knew the lines."

Greer's first scene in the movie with Mitchum was the famous kissing scene on the beach. According to the Lee Server biography of Robert Mitchum, Baby, I Don't Care, the actress remembered shooting the scene and said, "I'm looking at Bob and I see he has something on his mouth and it looked funny. Finally I got courage enough to say, 'Excuse me, Bob, but they've done something with your makeup; I think they messed it up. Your lips, that brown lip liner, or whatever it is, is smeared." Mitchum said, "What are you talking about?" He yelled for the makeup man. "They bring him a mirror," said Greer, "he takes a look into the mirror, and he says, "Oh, honey, that's just chawin' tabbacky." Bob wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and resumed kissing position. Greer thought, "Well, this movie is going to be different."

In terms of developing her character, Greer got helpful but minimal direction from Jacques Tourneur, according to the Lee Server biography of Mitchum. "Zzjjane, do you know what ahm-pahs-eeve mean?" he asked the actress. "Impassive? Yes." "No 'big eyes'' No expressive. In the beginning you act like a nice girl. But then, after you kill the man you meet in the little house, you become a bad girl. Yes? First half, good girl. Second half, bad." "I get you," she said. That was his direction, Greer recalled. "But I did throw in a few big eyes anyway. I couldn't help myself." Tourneur also discussed with her his plan for the character's wardrobe, something typical of his films' subtle, insidious visual design. "At first you wear light colors. After you kill the man, darker colors. In the end, black."

By all accounts, it was obvious that an undeniable tension developed between Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum early on during the filming. Certainly the acting styles of the two men could not have been more different. Mitchum's relaxed, laconic manner contrasted with the aggressive, grandstanding Douglas. In the first scenes to be shot with the two actors, Douglas attempted some scene stealing by manipulating distracting props, such as swinging a key chain or flipping a coin, George Raft style. Director Tourneur saw through these ploys and put a stop to them. For his part, Mitchum would retaliate by making faces when the camera was behind his head, so as to throw off Douglas' reaction shots. Eventually the one-upmanship faded, and the two let their natural styles compliment each other.

Jane Greer also took notice of the differing personalities and styles of her leading men. She found that Mitchum was protective on the set. She said that he 'was just terrific to me and just took care of me. Even the way I looked. One costume I wore was a little too large - Bob was the one who noticed it was bulging around the waist. So he stopped everything, borrowed a pin from the wardrobe lady and gathered it in and pinned me up in the back.' On the other hand, Greer said, 'Kirk is a more physical actor. He bruised my arms grabbing me, and my face was roundly slapped. How he did Champion [1949] without maiming his partner is a miracle.'

by John Miller & Jeff Stafford

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teaser Out of the Past (1947)

The filming of Out of the Past got off to a rocky start with a near-fatal plane accident at the Bridgeport, California airport landing field. The pilot, accompanied by Robert Mitchum, a studio accountant and an assistant to executive Walter Duff, realized his brakes didn't work when they touched down, causing the plane to crash through a fence, over a ditch, and through an outhouse before coming to a stop. Although the two men in the back seat were knocked unconscious, Mitchum and the pilot were not hurt. Typical of Mitchum's nonchalant attitude, he quickly crawled out of the wreckage, dusted off his clothes and thumbed a ride into town to begin filming.

Jane Greer recalled that the laconic Robert Mitchum projected an equally cavalier attitude off camera. She got the impression that he came to the set of Out of the Past unprepared, in order to give a more spontaneous performance. She explained, "I remember him saying 'What are the lyrics?' to the script person. 'I never know the lyrics,' he'd say, and she would give him the lines. I said, 'You don't learn your lines beforehand?' and he'd said, 'Naah.' Gosh, I learned mine a week ahead of time. I thought that might be part of why he seemed so much more spontaneous, why he was so easy and underplayed. I decided I'd do that, not be letter perfect. So I tried learning my lines under the dryer in the morning. I hoped I'd look as though I was thinking. But I blew take after take, and he was letter perfect. Well, I figured out later that, of course, he knew the lines."

Greer's first scene in the movie with Mitchum was the famous kissing scene on the beach. According to the Lee Server biography of Robert Mitchum, Baby, I Don't Care, the actress remembered shooting the scene and said, "I'm looking at Bob and I see he has something on his mouth and it looked funny. Finally I got courage enough to say, 'Excuse me, Bob, but they've done something with your makeup; I think they messed it up. Your lips, that brown lip liner, or whatever it is, is smeared." Mitchum said, "What are you talking about?" He yelled for the makeup man. "They bring him a mirror," said Greer, "he takes a look into the mirror, and he says, "Oh, honey, that's just chawin' tabbacky." Bob wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and resumed kissing position. Greer thought, "Well, this movie is going to be different."

In terms of developing her character, Greer got helpful but minimal direction from Jacques Tourneur, according to the Lee Server biography of Mitchum. "Zzjjane, do you know what ahm-pahs-eeve mean?" he asked the actress. "Impassive? Yes." "No 'big eyes'' No expressive. In the beginning you act like a nice girl. But then, after you kill the man you meet in the little house, you become a bad girl. Yes? First half, good girl. Second half, bad." "I get you," she said. That was his direction, Greer recalled. "But I did throw in a few big eyes anyway. I couldn't help myself." Tourneur also discussed with her his plan for the character's wardrobe, something typical of his films' subtle, insidious visual design. "At first you wear light colors. After you kill the man, darker colors. In the end, black."

By all accounts, it was obvious that an undeniable tension developed between Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum early on during the filming. Certainly the acting styles of the two men could not have been more different. Mitchum's relaxed, laconic manner contrasted with the aggressive, grandstanding Douglas. In the first scenes to be shot with the two actors, Douglas attempted some scene stealing by manipulating distracting props, such as swinging a key chain or flipping a coin, George Raft style. Director Tourneur saw through these ploys and put a stop to them. For his part, Mitchum would retaliate by making faces when the camera was behind his head, so as to throw off Douglas' reaction shots. Eventually the one-upmanship faded, and the two let their natural styles compliment each other.

Jane Greer also took notice of the differing personalities and styles of her leading men. She found that Mitchum was protective on the set. She said that he 'was just terrific to me and just took care of me. Even the way I looked. One costume I wore was a little too large - Bob was the one who noticed it was bulging around the waist. So he stopped everything, borrowed a pin from the wardrobe lady and gathered it in and pinned me up in the back.' On the other hand, Greer said, 'Kirk is a more physical actor. He bruised my arms grabbing me, and my face was roundly slapped. How he did Champion [1949] without maiming his partner is a miracle.'

by John Miller & Jeff Stafford

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teaser Out of the Past (1947)

The Critics' Corner on OUT OF THE PAST

Out of the Past is a medium-grade thriller about a not-so-very-smart young man (Robert Mitchum) who is hired to hound down the runaway mistress (Jane Greer) of a hard guy (Kirk Douglas). Mitchum finds the girl, sets up housekeeping with her, and lets himself in for no end of melodramatic consequences. Fairly well played, and very well photographed (by Nicholas Musuraca), the action develops a routine kind of pseudo-tension. When he performs with other men (most memorably in Story of G. I. Joe, 1945), Robert Mitchum is a believable actor. But it seems to be a mistake to let him tangle - as a hero, anyhow - with the ladies. In love scenes his curious languor, which suggests Bing Crosby supersaturated with barbiturates, becomes a brand of sexual complacency that is not endearing. Jane Greer, on the other hand, can best be described, in an ancient idiom, as a hot number. - James Agee, Time, December 15, 1947.

Out of the Past is a hardboiled melodrama strong on characterization. Considerable production polish, effective direction and compelling mood slot it for attention of ticket buyers who go for violence and help overcome tendency towards choppiness in story unfoldment. It's sturdy film fodder for twin bill situations. Direction by Jacques Tourneur pays close attention to mood development, achieving realistic flavor that is emphasized by real life settings and topnotch lensing by Nicholas Musuraca. Players groove themselves into the assorted characters with an easy naturalness that abets the melodrama. - Brog, Variety, November 19, 1947.

There have been double-and-triple-crosses in many of these tough detective films - But the sum of deceitful complications that occur in Out of the Past must be reckoned by logarithmic tables, so numerous and involved do they become...The style is still sharp and realistic, the dialogue still crackles with verbal sparks and the action is still crisp and muscular, not to mention slightly wanton in spots. But the pattern and purpose of it is beyond our pedestrian ken. People get killed, the tough guys browbeat, the hero hurries - but we can't tell you why. However, as we say, it's very snappy and quite intriguingly played by a cast that has been well and smartly directed by Jacques Tourneur. Robert Mitchum is magnificently cheeky and self-assured as the tangled "private eye," consuming an astronomical number of cigarettes in displaying his nonchalance. ...If only we had some way of knowing what's going on in the last half of this film, we might get more pleasure from it. As it is, the challenge is worth a try. - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, November 26, 1947.

"The definitive flashback movie, in which our fated hero Mitchum makes a rendezvous with death and his own past in the shape of Jane Greer...Superbly crafted pulp is revealed at every level: in the intricate script by Daniel Mainwaring (The Phenix City Story, 1955, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956), the almost abstract lighting patterns of Nicholas Musuraca (previously perfected in Cat People, 1942, and The Spiral Staircase, 1946), and the downbeat, tragic otherworldliness of Jacques Tourneur (only equalled in his I Walked with a Zombie, 1943)." - Don Macpherson, TimeOut Film Guide.

"...a classic B picture and a major Robert Mitchum film....That noir is a lasting joy - because of story structure, dialogue, the imagery, the playing. But isn't it actually nonsensical as an idea, the old genre given one more wicked twist? And isn't there a profound clash between Tourneur's grace (which always aspires to intelligence and taste) and the cynical deadendness of the project? So many of the allegedly great auteurs prompt this question. Out of the Past is terrific - and not good enough: it is like a brilliant palace made of matchsticks, by a prisoner on a life sentence." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.

"...exceptional "B" movie which has come to be regarded as the picture that best exemplifies film noir. Here you'll find all the ingredients: tainted characters, entangled relationships; events determined by chance; large sums of money; murder; a tough, morally ambiguous hero with a gun in his trench coat, a dark hat on his head, and a cigarette in his mouth; a lying, cheating, chameleon-like femme fatale...Significantly, film takes place mostly at night - and the darkness is used metaphorically to express that malignant evil spreads from character to character." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic.

"This is one of the most well-known noir melodramas, and deservedly so, because it's one of the best. The plot is overcomplicated but it works largely due to the smooth interplay of the cast and the deft manner in which director Tourneur runs them in and out like substitutions in a football game, always keeping a fresh back in to carry the ball." - Barry Gifford, The Devil Thumbs a Ride & Other Unforgettable Films.

"A thin but well-shot suspense melodrama, kept from collapsing by the suggestiveness and intensity that the director, Jacques Tourneur, pours on. It's empty trash, but you do keep watching it." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

Awards and Honors

Out of the Past was added to the National Film Registry in 1991.

by John Miller

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teaser Out of the Past (1947)

Bitter, cynical, fatalistic and peppered with some of the best crackling, tough-guy dialogue in the genre, Out of the Past (1947) is a consummate example of film noir made during the movement's golden age in the '40s and '50s. Robert Mitchum stars as Jeff Bailey alongside KirkDouglas as Whit Sterling, two shrewd, rock-hard individuals enthralled by the same mysterious, danger-courting woman, Kathie Moffett (played by Jane Greer).

Jeff is working anonymously as the owner of a small-town gas station in Bridgeport, California, and courting a local beauty, Ann (Virginia Huston), when a sinister man from Jeff's past, Joe (Paul Valentine), comes calling. Soon Jeff and Ann are on the road and heading toward the lair of Whit Sterling, an underworld figure. On their drive up to Lake Tahoe, Jeff is forced to delve into his sordid past and reveal the reason for the trip to the innocent Ann. As the film moves to an extended flashback sequence, Jeff describes his disastrous involvement with a classic noir femme fatale, the diabolical but irresistible Kathie.

A savvy, world-wise but financially strapped New York City detective, Jeff is hired by gambler Whit to retrieve his wayward girlfriend Kathie, who has shot at Whit and absconded to Mexico with $40,000 of his money. Upon meeting the apparently guileless runaway in a Mexican barroom, Jeff begins to doubt Whit's version of the truth and runs off with this enchantress for a new life in San Francisco. In a plot that quickly becomes remarkably twisting - even for a genre known for complicated crime plotlines - Jeff and Kathie are tracked down by his former detective cohort Fisher (Steve Brodie), who blackmails the couple to keep their whereabouts hidden. A remarkable string of double crosses and shocking revelations soon follow in Jacques Tourneur's typically grim noir universe, in which love stories are rarely allowed to turn out happily and no character is allowed to function without a dark side.

The son of French-born director Maurice Tourneur (The Last of the Mohicans, 1920), Jacques made his own memorable mark on the noir genre with a string of inspired choices, from the casting of the film to the use of real locations to enhance the film's gritty realism. Tourneur had handled equally macabre subject matter, though in a different genre, in such horror films as Cat People (1942) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). The cynicism of Out of the Past was also well served by the taut, acerbic script by gifted novelist/screenwriter Geoffrey Homes (The Phenix City Story, 1955; The Hitchhiker, 1953). Homes, who adapted the screenplay from his own novel Build My Gallows High, went on to write the equally gripping horror classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1957). One piece of typically raw, tough-guy dialogue spoken by Mitchum to Greer, "Baby, I don't care," would become the title of Lee Server's 2001 biography of the actor.

Mitchum and Kirk Douglas are - despite some actorly competitiveness behind the scenes - beautifully matched in Out of the Past. As with many films noir, the relationship between the brutally cynical Whit and Jeff, who share a woman and a cynicism about human behavior, turns out to be more honest and affectionate than either man's love for Kathie, a woman with the face of an angel and the impulses of a viper. The two actors, who both became known for their idiosyncratic, combative temperaments, reportedly engaged in an extended power play for attention in their scenes together, with Mitchum cracking funny faces to disrupt Douglas' performance, or Douglas insisting in one scene on flipping a coin as he spoke - effectively stealing the scene from Mitchum - until Tourneur vetoed the distracting coin gimmick.

Out of the Past is most often remembered for capitalizing on Mitchum's uniquely laconic sexual allure and for transforming the actor - in his second starring role after The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) - into an instant star. Though the role was initially offered to Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield and Dick Powell, all of whom turned it down, the gritty, stylish performance by Mitchum has become a classic in the noir canon. But Douglas delivers an equally memorable performance as the slick, smooth-talking Whit, who seems perpetually amused at the depths of human deviance. Newcomer Douglas fulfilled on the initial promise he had shown in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and went on to carve out a small but significant niche for himself playing a succession of noirish villains in films like I Walk Alone (1947), The Big Carnival (1951) and Champion (1949).

Producer: Warren Duff, Robert Sparks
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenwriter: James M. Cain (uncredited), Frank Fenton (uncredited), Daniel Mainwaring
Geoffrey Homes, based on his novel Build My Gallows High
Director of Photography: Nicholas Musuraca
Production Design: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Music: Roy Webb
Costume Design: Edward Stevenson
Film Editing: Samuel E. Beetley
Principal Cast: Robert Mitchum (Jeff Bailey), Jane Greer (Kathie Moffett), Kirk Douglas (Whit Sterling), Rhonda Fleming (Meta Carson), Richard Webb (Jim), Steve Brodie (Fisher), Virginia Huston (Ann), Paul Valentine (Joe), Dickie Moore (The Kid).
BW-97m. Closed captioning. Descriptive video.

by Felicia Feaster

back to top
teaser Out of the Past (1947)

Out of the Past is a medium-grade thriller about a not-so-very-smart young man (Robert Mitchum) who is hired to hound down the runaway mistress (Jane Greer) of a hard guy (Kirk Douglas). Mitchum finds the girl, sets up housekeeping with her, and lets himself in for no end of melodramatic consequences. Fairly well played, and very well photographed (by Nicholas Musuraca), the action develops a routine kind of pseudo-tension. When he performs with other men (most memorably in Story of G. I. Joe, 1945), Robert Mitchum is a believable actor. But it seems to be a mistake to let him tangle - as a hero, anyhow - with the ladies. In love scenes his curious languor, which suggests Bing Crosby supersaturated with barbiturates, becomes a brand of sexual complacency that is not endearing. Jane Greer, on the other hand, can best be described, in an ancient idiom, as a hot number. - James Agee, Time, December 15, 1947.

Out of the Past is a hardboiled melodrama strong on characterization. Considerable production polish, effective direction and compelling mood slot it for attention of ticket buyers who go for violence and help overcome a tendency towards choppiness in story unfoldment. It's sturdy film fodder for twin bill situations. Direction by Jacques Tourneur pays close attention to mood development, achieving realistic flavor that is emphasized by real life settings and topnotch lensing by Nicholas Musuraca. Players groove themselves into the assorted characters with an easy naturalness that abets the melodrama. - Brog, Variety, November 19, 1947.

There have been double-and-triple-crosses in many of these tough detective films - But the sum of deceitful complications that occur in Out of the Past must be reckoned by logarithmic tables, so numerous and involved do they become...The style is still sharp and realistic, the dialogue still crackles with verbal sparks and the action is still crisp and muscular, not to mention slightly wanton in spots. But the pattern and purpose of it is beyond our pedestrian ken. People get killed, the tough guys browbeat, the hero hurries - but we can't tell you why. However, as we say, it's very snappy and quite intriguingly played by a cast that has been well and smartly directed by Jacques Tourneur. Robert Mitchum is magnificently cheeky and self-assured as the tangled "private eye," consuming an astronomical number of cigarettes in displaying his nonchalance. ...If only we had some way of knowing what's going on in the last half of this film, we might get more pleasure from it. As it is, the challenge is worth a try. - Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, November 26, 1947.

"The definitive flashback movie, in which our fated hero Mitchum makes a rendezvous with death and his own past in the shape of Jane Greer...Superbly crafted pulp is revealed at every level: in the intricate script by Daniel Mainwaring (The Phenix City Story, 1955, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956), the almost abstract lighting patterns of Nicholas Musuraca (previously perfected in Cat People, 1942, and The Spiral Staircase, 1946), and the downbeat, tragic otherworldliness of Jacques Tourneur (only equalled in his I Walked with a Zombie, 1943)." - Don Macpherson, TimeOut Film Guide.

"...a classic B picture and a major Robert Mitchum film....That noir is a lasting joy - because of story structure, dialogue, the imagery, the playing. But isn't it actually nonsensical as an idea, the old genre given one more wicked twist? And isn't there a profound clash between Tourneur's grace (which always aspires to intelligence and taste) and the cynical deadendness of the project? So many of the allegedly great auteurs prompt this question. Out of the Past is terrific - and not good enough: it is like a brilliant palace made of matchsticks, by a prisoner on a life sentence." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.

"...exceptional "B" movie which has come to be regarded as the picture that best exemplifies film noir. Here you'll find all the ingredients: tainted characters, entangled relationships; events determined by chance; large sums of money; murder; a tough, morally ambiguous hero with a gun in his trench coat, a dark hat on his head, and a cigarette in his mouth; a lying, cheating, chameleon-like femme fatale...Significantly, film takes place mostly at night - and the darkness is used metaphorically to express that malignant evil spreads from character to character." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic.

"This is one of the most well-known noir melodramas, and deservedly so, because it's one of the best. The plot is overcomplicated but it works largely due to the smooth interplay of the cast and the deft manner in which director Tourneur runs them in and out like substitutions in a football game, always keeping a fresh back in to carry the ball." - Barry Gifford, The Devil Thumbs a Ride & Other Unforgettable Films.

"A thin but well-shot suspense melodrama, kept from collapsing by the suggestiveness and intensity that the director, Jacques Tourneur, pours on. It's empty trash, but you do keep watching it." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies.

Awards and Honors

Out of the Past was added to the National Film Registry in 1991.

by John Miller

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