Film Review: Out of the Past (1947)

Also known as: Build My Gallows High (UK)
Release Date: November 25th, 1947
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Daniel Mainwaring
Based on: Build My Gallows High by Daniel Mainwaring
Music by: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming

RKO Radio Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“My feelings? About ten years ago, I hid them somewhere and haven’t been able to find them.” – Whit

Up until now, I had never seen Out of the Past. It was one of those film-noir thrillers I was really excited to check out though, as I always heard about how good it was and it starred Robert Mitchum. It also gives us Kirk Douglas in only his second film role, following his success in his debut, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Add in noir beauty Jane Greer, in probably her most memorable role, and you’ve got a pretty solid recipe.

Also, this is directed by Jacques Tourneur, whose work was always pretty stellar in the horror genre. In fact, his horror-noir hybrid pictures under Val Lewton at RKO were superb. As was 1957’s Night of the Demon and the two films he did with Vincent Price in the 1960s.

Out of the Past is a solid picture and definitely at the high end of the spectrum that is Tourneur’s oeuvre. I prefer his horror-noir movies that came out a few years before this: Cat PeopleI Walked With a Zombie and The Leopard Man but this is still quite a good film. It is top notch as a straight up film-noir tale.

Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas command the screen when they are present but both are slightly overshadowed by Jane Greer, a true femme fatale and arguably one of the all-time best. I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from Mitchum or Douglas; both men bring an intense bravado and gravitas to this picture. Greer just has an enchanting quality that permeates and makes her transcend the celluloid that has captured her.

The cinematography is handled by Nicholas Musuraca, a veteran that worked on several noir-esque pictures before. He worked with Tourneur on Cat People and continued on at RKO with the fabulous The Seventh Victim, as well as The Curse of the Cat PeopleBedlamThe Spiral Staircase and the psychological horror film The Ghost Ship. Musuracsa was a favorite of Val Lewton and was a key contributor to the look of the highly respected Lewton produced films for RKO.

Out of the Past has a very layered story that is difficult to describe without getting too detailed. In a nutshell, it showcases a man who has a hidden past. He opens up and tells his story to his girlfriend, as he drives to meet with an old rival. His story involves a femme fatale, his time as a private eye and the events that lead to him seeking out a new life, far away from his old one.

I really liked Out of the Past. It is a real testament to how skilled Jacques Tourneur and Nicholas Musuraca were. I don’t quite consider it to be their magnum opus but it makes a strong case. The film also helped to propel Mitchum, Greer and Douglas to legendary Hollywood status.

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