It seems the most unlikely place to open one of the greatest film noir productions that Hollywood ever made: the bright sunny town of Bridgeport, California, within view of the Eastern Sierras. (But then, didn’t Warner Brothers’ High Sierra end up with Humphrey Bogart’s death in the same general area?)
I have seen Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past approximately half a dozen times now and am nowhere near tired of the film. It contains early performances by Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas, and a sockdollager femme fatale performance by Jane Greer. Jane would have had a brilliant career if Howard Hughes hadn’t fallen in love with her and gotten the brush-off when she married someone else: She remained on contract to RKO, but she was not chosen for many roles.
The plot concerns a gas station operator in Bridgeport who has, in the past, worked for a sleazy gangster played by Kirk Douglas. Though he changed his name and disappeared to a small town, Douglas has him tracked down and sucks him into his criminal schemes. In this, he is abetted by the devious Jane Greer, who, it seems, is unable to tell the truth, even when she and Mitchum fall for each other.
It’s strange that so soon after the glorious victory of World War Two by the so-called Greatest Generation, Hollywood produced so many great films noted for their pessimism. And this is one of the most pessimistic, with the message that if you should stray ever so slightly off the straight and narrow path, you are an irredeemable goner.
This is a film that never grows old. I may have aged since the first time I viewed it, but the film is still as fresh as an Eastern Sierra field full of wildflowers.
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