Favorite Films: Out of the Past (1947)

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in RKO’s Out of the Past

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.

Favorite Films: His Kind of Woman (1951)

A Film Noir That Just Happens to Be Wildly Entertaining

A Film Noir That Just Happens to Be Wildly Entertaining

Most film noir productions take themselves pretty seriously, but His Kind of Woman is an exception. Robert Mitchum (as Dan Milner) is hanging out at a Mexican resort with Jane Russell (as Lenore Brent) after having been advanced fifteen thousand dollars for some unknown reason. No one seems to know what is going on, until the word is about that mafioso Raymond Burr (as Nick Ferraro) is on his way to meet him. Ferraro has been banned from the U.S. and is tired of his Italian exile, so he plans to return to the States—as Dan Milner.

About midway through the film, Vincent Price (as Mark Cardigan) pretty much steals the show, playing an actor who likes to hunt, fish, and collect mistresses, including Jane Russell. When it comes time for the shooting, however, Price dons a cape, begins spouting Shakespeare, commandeers a Mexican police squadron, and takes on Ferraro and his goons with his hunting rifles.

His Kind of Woman was directed by John Farrow and (uncredited) Richard Fleischer. Although there was a lot of re-shooting to please executive producer Howard Hughes, the film isn’t as jagged as it might have been. It alternates between a film noir grimness and goofy satire.

I had seen he end several times, but last night was the first time I sat through the entire picture.