Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Out of the PaszzZzZzzZz

Out of the Past is one of those beloved, but mostly forgotten, film noirs that came out of Hollywood in the late 40s. I had heard of it before, but didn't have too much of a reason to see it. After all, there was no famous line or scene it was known for widely, unless I'm mistaken. Also, the director, Jacques Tourneur, has not really done anything else very memorable. Case in point, the movie seemed to be a bit of a one-hit-wonder. But what better way to go into a film than with no expectations!

I must say I wasn't disappointed, but I also wasn't impressed. I thought the film was merely a very average studio film noir. As I said before, there really are no memorable shots or plot lines to this film among the many that flood Cinema History textbooks. If you could say one thing, it would be Robert Mitchum. This film is probably the peak of his extensive use by directors in film noir. His character fits the very classic innocent criminal archetype used in that era. The female lead, Jane Greer, plays another film noir archetype, the "innocent until proven guilty" dame. A young Kirk Douglas really carries the acting in this film. His subtle performance goes from innocent to guilty to innocent so we never really have a firm stance on how to view his character. He does an amazing job of keeping the audience on their toes in his scenes. The film follows so many of the standard rules of classic noir, but is lost within the many other forgettable noirs that flooded the industry in that day.

I guess I'm ripping on the film a bit. But it is worth noting that I did enjoy it. It wasn't anything amazing, but to its credit, it did everything it set out to do. I'm very particular about film noir. When it's good, it's good. The most successful film noir strikes this perfect balance between over-stylized production and narrative. It wows you with canted angles and far-reaching shadows but is anchored by a very standard plot with golden dialogue. Films like The Concrete Jungle and The Third Man have an acute awareness of the genre. They play within the rules, but dazzle us with their amazing suspense and style in all the right scenes. I think it's a true testament to the director when a film noir works. I would go so far as saying that the film noir genre is one of the most director-heavy genres out there. The creative strokes of the director can be so evident in the genre. This is because of how overtly stylized every element is; saturated with the directors vision.

Out of the Past goes down the film noir checklist but doesn't have that taut subtext that drives noirs like Touch of Evil.

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