Out of the Past (aka Build My Gallows High) (1947)
NY Times Review by Bosley Crowther
A NY Times Best 1,000 film
Out of the Past is so perfect a film noir that it is considered practically a textbook example of the genre. In his first starring role (it had previously been offered to John Garfield and Dick Powell), Robert Mitchum plays Jeff Bailey, the friendly but secretive proprietor of a mountain-village gas station. As Jeff’s worshipful deaf-mute attendant (Dick Moore) looks on in curious fascination, an unsavory character named Joe (Paul Valentine) pulls up to the station, obviously looking for the owner. Jeff is all too aware of Joe’s identity; he’s been dreading this moment for quite some time, knowing full well that it will mean the end of his semi-idyllic existence, not to mention his engagement to local girl Ann (Virginia Huston). In a lengthy flashback, the audience is apprised of the reasons behind Jeff’s discomfort. Several years earlier, he’d been a private detective, hired by gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find his mistress Kathie Moffett (Jane Greer), who shot him and ran off with $40,000. Jeff traces Kathie to Mexico, but when he meets her he falls in love and willingly becomes involved in an increasingly complicated web of double-crosses, blackmail, and murder. The flashback over, Jeff agrees to meet Whit face to face in Lake Tahoe. Surprisingly, Whit apparently bears no malice, and even offers Jeff an opportunity to square himself by retrieving Whit’s tax records from mob attorney Eels (Ken Niles). Even more surprisingly, Kathie has returned to Whit on her own volition. When Jeff is taken to Eels’ apartment by the beautiful Meta Carson (Rhonda Fleming), he quickly figures out that he has been set up and tries to clue Eels into the plot, but Eels is later found murdered, and Jeff is accused of the crime. Worse yet, Whit has forced Kathie to sign an affadavit that also pins another murder on him. Crosses, double-crosses and triple-crosses abound for the next few reels, culminating in disaster for the oh-so-clever Whit, who has fatally underestimated the deceitful (and icewater-veined) Kathie. And in the end, it is Jeff who must resort to drastic measures to force Kathie to pay the price for her cold-hearted treachery. Out of the Past was remade in 1984 as Against All Odds, with Jane Greer cast as the mother of her original character.
– Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Original N.Y. Times Review November 26, 1947
Out of the Past
Distributor: RKO Radio Pictures
Rating: NR (Violence/Adult Situations/Questionable for Children)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Webb
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Out of the Past, RKO Mystery Starring Robert Mitchum, New Feature at Palace
By BOSLEY CROWTHER
There have been double- and triple-crosses in many of these tough detective films, and in one or two Humphrey Bogart specials they have run even higher than that. But the sum of deceitful complications that occur in “Out of the Past” must be reckoned by logarithmic tables, so numerous and involved do they become. The consequence is that the action of this new film, which came to the Palace yesterday, is likely to leave the napping or unmathematical customer far behind.
Frankly, that’s where it left us. We were with it, up to a point, and enjoying the rough-stuff and the romance with considerable delight and concern. For this story of an ex-private detective who is shanghaied from a quiet, prosaic life to get involved with his old criminal associates is intensely fascinating for a time. And it is made even more galvanic by a smooth realistic style, by fast dialogue and genuine settings in California and Mexican locales.
But after this private detective has re-encountered an old girl friend (who originally double-crossed him after luring him to double-cross his boss, whom she had shot) and the two get elaborately criss-crossed in a plot to triple-cross our boy again, the involutions of the story become much too complex for us. The style is still sharp and realistic, the dialogue still crackles with verbal sparks and the action is still crisp and muscular, not to mention slightly wanton in spots. But the pattern and purpose of it is beyond our pedestrian ken. People get killed, the tough guys browbeat, the hero hurriesâ€”but we can’t tell you why.
However, as we say, it’s very snappy and quite intriguingly played by a cast that has been well and smartly directed by Jacques Tourneur. Robert Mitchum is magnificently cheekly and self-assured as the tangled “private eye,” consuming an astronomical number of cigarettes in displaying his nonchalance. And Jane Greer is very sleek as his Delilah, Kirk Douglas is crisp as a big crook and Richard Webb, Virginia Huston, Rhonda Fleming and Dickie Moore are picturesque in other roles. If only we had some way of knowing what’s going on in the last half of this film, we might get more pleasure from it. As it is, the challenge is worth a try.
OUT OF THE PAST, screen play by Geoffrey Homes; directed by Jacques Tourneur; produced by Warren Duff for RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. At the RKO Palace.
Jeff . . . . . Robert Mitchum
Kathie . . . . . Jane Greer
Whit . . . . . Kirk Douglas
Meta Carson . . . . . Rhonda Fleming
Jim . . . . . Richard Webb
Fisher . . . . . Steve Brodie
Ann . . . . . Virginia Huston
Joe . . . . . Paul Valentine
The Kid . . . . . Dickie Moore
Eels . . . . . Ken Niles