Near the end of Jacques Tourneur’s classic noir, Out of the Past (1947), there is a scene that must be one of the greatest compositions in American cinema:
The lighting, and the placement of the central elements, from the sofa on which Robert Mitchum rests his hand to the archway that frames Jane Greer, is brilliant. The femme fatale, Kathie Moffat, is framed in the dark background, while Jeff Bailey is highlighted in the foreground. The elemental contrast between good and evil is perfectly balanced, with the natural perspective of the lens emphasising the distance between the two protagonists. The window lattice shadow falling across the floor in the background behind Kathie enforces the perspective established by the lighting and placement of the actors. To complete the tension Kathie is clothed in saintly garb and presents a demure demeanour.