Day 18 of Noirvember: Inside Out of the Past

Ask any noir fan to name their top 10 movies from the film noir era, and chances are very good that Out of the Past (1947) would be among them. Some would even call it the quintessential noir, with its flashback structure, exquisite use of lights and shadow, one of the era’s most dangerous femme fatales, Kathie Moffat, and a cynical private detective turned small-town gas station owner, who falls for the femme like the proverbial ton of bricks. The stellar cast includes Jane Greer, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Steve Brodie, Rhonda Fleming, and Dickie Moore.

Today’s Noirvember post serves up my Top 10 trivial tidbits about this well-loved noir.

Three writers worked on the screenplay for Out of the Past. Novelist James M. Cain – author of such gems as Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity – wrote two drafts, but few of his contributions made it into the final film. Next up was screenwriter Frank Fenton, who was responsible for several key plot points and much of the film’s excellent dialogue. The script was finished by Daniel Mainwaring, the author of the 1946 book on which the film was based, Build My Gallows High. Mainwairing was credited in the movie with the same pseudonym he used for the novel, Geoffrey Homes.

Speaking of Mainwairing, he once said that the film and the book were “entirely different. The film is better, a lot less confused.”

Greer was a model at the start of her career.

A native of Washington, D.C., Jane Greer began cultivating her acting career at an early age, participating in talent contests, beauty pageants, and professional modeling. Her budding interest in the arts appeared to be forever thwarted at the age of 15 when she was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a neurological disorder that paralyzed the left side of her face. She overcame the disorder through strenuous physical therapy and resumed her modeling activities the following year.

The plane carrying cast and crew members from L.A. to Bridgeport, California, crashed while attempting to land. Mitchum got out, hitched a ride into town, and headed for the nearest bar.

Boyd Cabeen was the stand-in for Robert Mitchum, and in later movies he stood in for Lee Marvin. Noir was a family affair; Boyd’s wife Carmen was a stand-in for Katharine Hepburn in Undercurrent, and for Jane Russell in His Kind of Woman.

Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and John Garfield were all considered for the role of Jeff Markham/Bailey before Mitchum was chosen.

Dickie Moore learned sign language for his role.

Dickie Moore learned sign language for his part as The Kid, Jeff’s deaf-mute gas-station helper. (Incidentally, Moore was married for nearly 30 years to actress Jane Powell, from 1988 to Moore’s death in 2005 at the age of 89.)

Out of the Past was remade in 1984 as Against All Odds, starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward as the woman who flees to Mexico. Jane Greer was in the remake, playing Ward’s mother.

Paul Valentine made his screen debut in the film as Joe Stephanos. Previously, he made his living as a classical ballet dancer. He also had a cameo appearance in Against All Odds.

In 1987, Robert Mitchum served as the guest host on NBC’s long-running comedy show Saturday Night Live. During the broadcast, a short comedy film aired called Out of Gas – a mock sequel to Out of the Past that was written and directed by Mitchum’s daughter, Trina. In the comedy short, Jane Greer reprised her role from the original film.

Join me tomorrow for Day 19 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 18, 2019.

3 Responses to “Day 18 of Noirvember: Inside Out of the Past”

  1. A lot less confused than the book, eh? Well, that’s saying a lot.

    I can’t imagine anyone but Mitchum as Jeff, but that’s where my head will be for the rest of the day.

  2. Still no clearer on how highly this film is regarded. For me it’s definitely ‘quintessential’, a word I have no doubt overused to a casual extent in describing it, but there are swathes of people who have barely heard of it, like it’s in that second tier of noirs behind the obvious best known titles and you just need to work a bit harder to discover it. Of course once that’s done it’s a wonder, and I think it should be amongst many people’s favourites, yet it isn’t quite as ‘front row’ as the Double Indemnities of this world, is it?

    Loving Noirvember as always – keep up the good work!

    • I’m not sure I agree — I think that Out of the Past is on most people’s “front row” lists. It’s not always on mine, but I think it’s universally very highly regarded.

      Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment, Mike — and for your kind words!

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