TCM Pick for April: Film Noir
Unlike the sparseness of April’s pre-Code offerings on TCM, the channel is fairly bursting at the seams this month with first-rate film noir features! In fact, I was hard-pressed, initially, to come up with my pick. Would it be Gilda, a sentimental favorite as one of my first-seen and most-loved noirs? Or D.O.A., that fabulous Edmond O’Brien vehicle which brings new meaning to the term “dead man walking”? Or Detour – one of the best low-budget noirs around?
Ultimately, I decided to rely on an old standby, a tried-and-true classic, a great film that is often termed the “quintessential” noir – Out of the Past. Airing Friday, April 27th, Out of the Past has it all – superb performances by Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas (not to mention the supporting players), captivating employment of light and shadow, memorable dialogue, and a fittingly (but not overly) complex noir plot. It’s so good you could slap it between two pieces of rye bread and gobble it up.
Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) lives a solid, settled, small-town existence, complete with his own filling station and a devoted girlfriend, Ann (Virginia Huston) – until a man from his past shows up, forcing him out of his comfort zone and back into a world he thought he’d left behind. That world is populated by ruthless gambler Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), a beautiful femme, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), and a host of hoods, heels, and ne’er-do-wells.
It’s hard to describe a scene without giving away plot points, so I’ll pick one from early on in the film, when Jeff is hired by Whit to find his girl, Kathie, who – according to Whit – plugged him with his own gun and absconded with forty grand. The scene does a brilliant job with setting up the characters of Whit and Jeff. Whit, for the most part, is all smiles and compliments (“I know a lot of smart guys and a few honest ones – and you’re both,” he tells Jeff.). But he can abruptly turn that smile upside down – and does – as when he grimly assures Jeff of Kathie’s safety upon her return (“I won’t touch her.”) And Jeff is laissez-faire, dismissive, almost bored with the entire proposal – until Whit tells him how much he’s offering for the job. “Now that should have been the first thing you said,” Jeff replies. (You can read about some of my other favorite scenes here.)
Out of the Past is chock full of great lines. Like eating Lays’ potato chips, I couldn’t pick just one. Instead, I managed to narrow it down to four:
“A dame with a rod is like a guy with a knitting needle.” Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie)
“Do you always go around leaving your fingerprints on a girl’s shoulder? Not that I mind, particularly. You’ve got nice strong hands.” Meta Carson (Rhonda Fleming)
“You’re gonna take the rap and play along. You’re gonna make every exact move I tell you. If you don’t, I’ll kill you. And I’ll promise you one thing: it won’t be quick. I’ll break you first. You won’t be able to answer a telephone or open a door without thinking, ‘This is it.’ And it when it comes, it still won’t be quick. And it won’t be pretty. You can take your choice.” Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas)
- Out of the Past was directed by Jacques Tourneau, who also helmed two other noirs – Berlin Express (1948) and Nightfall (1957). Tourneau’s directions to Jane Greer in Out of the Past were brief and to the point: “First half, good girl; last half, bad girl.”
- Parts of the picture were filmed in Bridgeport, California. On one of the trips from L.A. to Bridgeport, the plane carrying cast and crew members crashed while attempting to land. Robert Mitchum got out, hitched a ride into town, and headed for the nearest bar.
- Jeff’s deaf-mute gas station helper, known as The Kid, was played by Dickie Moore, who learned sign language for his part. Five years earlier, Dickie Moore had the distinction of giving Shirley Temple her first screen kiss in Miss Annie Rooney.
- Watch for this goof: When Jeff goes to the office building of Leonard Eels, he approaches the directory in the lobby where the names are listed. In the long shot, there are five names under the letter “E.” But in the close-up seconds later, there are only two.
- In preparation for his fight scene with Robert Ryan, Steve Brodie took boxing lessons from his friend, actor Robert Ryan, who was a former amateur boxer.
- Out of the Past was based on Build My Gallows High, by Geoffrey Homes, who also was credited with adapting the novel into the screenplay. Homes’ real name was Daniel Mainwaring. As Homes, he penned the screenplay for several other noirs, including The Big Steal (which also starred Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer) and This Woman is Dangerous, and as Mainwaring, he wrote the script for The Phenix City Story.
Don’t miss Out of the Past, airing on TCM on April 27th! (To heighten your viewing pleasure, check out the special December 2010 issue of The Dark Pages newsletter, a GIANT 36-page edition totally devoted to all things Out of the Past. Copies are available for $10 – click here to order – see “Special Issues Available.” You’ll be glad you did!)