Out of the Past: My Favorite Classic Film Noir
Updated: Apr 7
Out of the Past is a 1947 classic film noir starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. Film noir is my favorite genre of film. I wrote a piece last year discussing why I love the genre. I love the boozed up protagonist, smoky neon filled nights, and double crossing dames. This film has all of that and more. In my opinion, it’s the perfect film noir.
The story is about a private eye named Jeff Markham who escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger. I love the story and the way it’s told. The first half is a flashback to the past with Jeff narrating with a voiceover. The voiceover is well utilized because he’s telling his story to his current lover. The second half of the film is Jeff trying to square up with certain individuals from his past while trying to
save his neck.
Robert Mitchum plays Jeff Markham and he is the man. Mitchum brings so much charisma and charm to the role. Jeff is the perfect film noir protagonist. My favorite type of film noir protagonists are the private investigators. He isn’t good nor bad. He’s in the gray. He loves to drink whiskey and smoke cigarettes. His main flaw is falling for the femme fatal. It’s one of my favorite performances.
Jane Greer as Kathie is the perfect femme fatal. Kathie is the foil to Jeff’s life. She does what she wants and she’ll manipulate or destroy anyone who gets in her way. She isn’t all bad though. Her past is kept a secret which is interesting. We never know how she ended up in this kind of life. Greer’s performance feels so real and she nails the part beautifully.
The other characters are also great. I guess Kirk Douglas would be labeled the antagonist but really he’s just a criminal. He adds a wimpy charm to his character that makes me laugh but I do like his performance. Rhonda Fleming plays a minor role in this and she is also good.
This film is technically flawless. The direction by Jacques Tourneur is top notch. The cinematography is gorgeous. This is one of the best looking films I’ve ever seen. I love the script. The dialogue is so snappy and there are so many great lines in this. The perfect noir dialogue. My only complaint is the music isn’t that memorable. I wish it had a jazz score like The Big Combo (1955) but it doesn’t ruin the film for me.
I love the ending. I’ve seen a lot of classic film noirs and a lot of them have happy endings… not this one. Film noirs are dark films, literally and figuratively, so it only makes sense that the endings are grim. Out of the Past ends with the protagonist and femme fatal meeting there ends with bullets. It fits the film well and it’s one of my favorite film endings.
If anyone ever asked me to recommend a classic film noir to watch, it would be this one. It has everything I love about the genre and more. It’s not only a perfect film noir, but a perfect film.