Out Of The Past (1947) – Original NY Times Review

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

Type: Features
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

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 hurries—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

Kiss Them Deadly: Get Cool & Sweaty with the Great Femmes Fatales of Noir

Sunday Features (O!) GRANT BUTLER in The Oregonian:

In the opening minutes of 1944’s film noir classic Double Indemnity, sultry Barbara Stanwyck crosses her shapely legs and in one sexy move sends poor Fred MacMurray careening toward his inevitable doom.

A small ankle bracelet has caught his eye, and the mere sight of the bauble is enough for him to toss whatever good sense he has into the heart of the black widow’s web.

“That’s a honey of an anklet you’re wearing,” he growls lasciviously.

Stanwyck demurely tussles the hem of her blue dress, covering the jewelry. But it’s too late. MacMurray’s trapped, a willing pawn who will obey every treacherous word as she hatches a plot to kill her abusive husband, then make his death appear an accident so she can cash in on a secret life insurance policy. She has MacMurray by the neck –or an anatomical ZIP code a bit farther south –and in the nasty game of premeditated murder, there’s no letting go.

Moments later, he inquires whether she’ll be at home the next time he comes calling: “Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?”

“I wonder if I know what you mean,” she answers with feigned innocence.

“I wonder if you wonder.”

He might as well turn himself over to the coppers. He’s a goner.

All because of an anklet.

Raging tension

Double Indemnity - Femme Fatale and Sucker

That bit of raging sexual tension is just one of the terrific moments that makes Double Indemnity easily one of the best American movies ever made. With its taut script co-written by Raymond Chandler and director Billy Wilder (based on the potboiler novel by James M. Cain), and a career-topping supporting performance by Edward G. Robinson, there’s not a second that’s anything less than perfection.

The film is just one of the delicious high points of the Northwest Film Center’s “Killer Ladies” series, which begins Friday at the Whitsell Auditorium of the Portland Art Museum. Running four consecutive weekends, it’s a showcase of 10 must-sees from the golden age of film noir, all of them featuring femmes fatales the likes of which should send men both brave and cowardly running in the opposite direction.

With the exception of Fritz Lang’s obscure Woman in the Window, all of the films are readily available on DVD. But seeing these moody black-and-white gems on the big screen is a rare treat. With noir, demons lurk in shadows and shades of mysterious gray that even the finest home theater systems can’t distinguish.

And there are shades of feminine deceit you may pick up only by catching these movies side by side.


Take the opening weekend double-header of Mildred Pierce and The Manchurian Candidate. At once, they have nothing and everything to do with each other. 1945’s “Pierce” stars Joan Crawford, who won an Oscar for her performance as a working woman who will do anything for her spoiled daughter. “Candidate” from 1962, is a political thriller about a secret assassination plot involving brainwashed Korean War veterans.

What makes the two films kindred spirits is their portrayal of warped motherhood. In “Candidate,” Angela Lansbury is a scheming harridan with a lust for power so intense she makes Lady Macbeth seem as threatening as a meadow of petunias.

“We have come almost to the end,” Lansbury says to her patsy son as she sends him off on a bloody assignment. “One last step. And then when I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into dirt for what they did to you. And what they did in so contemptuously underestimating me.

Mildred Pierce

Compare those viper’s fangs with Crawford’s tortured martyr complex in “Pierce.” She’s a total doormat for her daughter Veda, and one of Mildred’s chums doesn’t like what she sees: “Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.”

Yet when gunfire erupts, Mildred shows that no one should underestimate her, either.

A repeat victim

Moms aren’t the only women with a deadly streak in this series. Home wreckers, hussies and harlots also prove lethal, with Robert Mitchum a repeat victim. In 1947’s Out of the Past, a gangster’s mistress sends him careening out of control. Then in 1952’s Angel Face, lives hang in the balance because of Mitchum’s obsession with a young woman.

The art of seduction takes a lot more than a pretty face. In many of these films, the femme fatale is dressed in wildly elaborate gowns just as the pistol is drawn, juxtaposing the brutality of the gun with the beauty of beads and spangles. It’s as if the director has taken the movie’s costume designer aside: “This is when she pulls a gun. That dress you have her in? Make it 10 times more gaudy!”

Another recurring theme is the feline analogy. In several films, house cats pop up symbolically to hint at conniving games of cat and mouse. It’s never more overt than in 1955’s gripping Kiss Me Deadly, a hard-boiled detective story played out against the paranoid canvas of the Cold War. Cats are everywhere – on a secretary’s desk, sleeping on top of a telephone operator’s panel, in an old maid’s apartment.

“You have the feline perceptions that all women have,” one bad guy barks at a murderous gal, before learning that there are also claws that go with those perceptions.

A wild bobcat

If Kiss Me Deadly’s femme fatale is a housecat, Gun Crazy‘s Annie Starr is a wild bobcat. She’s a carnival sharpshooter whose bullets are so accurate they can light a cigarette held in an assistant’s clenched teeth. When she meets a man who’s just as good a shot, a Bonnie and Clyde-like crime spree ensues. First they’re knocking off gas stations and liquor stores, but their targets get progressively bigger. It’s a rampage out of control but rooted in a fella’s lust for a cute lady in a cowgirl suit.

Through history, men have committed crimes for far less. The ancients went to war over stolen glances. Empires have fallen because of whispers in the night. Who wouldn’t go over the edge because of a cowgirl hat tilted just the right way?

Or a golden anklet on a golden gam?

It did Fred MacMurray in. Don’t let it be your undoing.”

Film Noir Classic DVD Collection Vol4 Out July 31

Press Release 16 April:

BURBANK, Calif. – (BUSINESS WIRE) – Warner Home Video (WHV) doubles the stakes in The Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 4, debuting July 31, with legendary Hollywood tough guys and femme fatales once again colliding, this time in ten smoldering suspense classics, all new to DVD. Titles include Act of Violence/Mystery Street; Crime Wave/Decoy; Illegal/The Big Steal; They Live By Night/Side Street; and Where Danger Lives/Tension.

The new movies, which have all been digitally remastered for this collection, star film noir icons Robert Mitchum, Edward G. Robinson, Robert Ryan, Van Heflin, Ricardo Montalban, Claude Rains and Farley Granger, among others. The five-disc collection will be available for $59.92 SRP and single titles will sell for $20.97 SRP.

Mystery Street

Act of Violence/Mystery Street

This melodrama stars Van Heflin as former World War II pilot Frank Enley, a respected contractor and family man, whose wife is played by Janet Leigh. When his troubled, crippled bombardier (Robert Ryan) shows up with a gun and a score to settle, it becomes apparent that perhaps neither man is what he seems to be.

Murder lives on Mystery Street. John Sturges directs a revealing film about a Boston cop (Ricardo Montalban) called upon to solve the mystery surrounding a skeleton found on a Cape Cod beach with the help of a Harvard forensic expert (Bruce Bennett).

Crime Wave

Crime Wave/Decoy

Legendary director Andre de Toth was at the helm of this outstanding, but little-known L.A. noir about three escaped convicts from San Quentin who rob a gas station and kill a motorcycle cop. The hardboiled cop heading the manhunt is Sterling Hayden.

Decoy – Drop-dead gorgeous dame Margo Shelby (Jean Gille) revives her gangster boyfriend after he dies in the gas chamber, not because she’s so fond of him, but because he knows where the loot is buried.

Illegal/The Big Steal

When his career as a D.A. unexpectedly collapses, tenacious Victor Scott turns to defending criminal lowlifes. Edward G. Robinson plays Scott in this snappy remake of The Mouthpiece.


Out of the Past’s Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer reteam in The Big Steal, speeding along Mexican roadways in pursuit of a grifter who has a suitcase that may be stuffed with cash.


They Live By Night/Side Street

Young escaped convict Bowie (Farley Granger) and Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell) just want to let their new love blossom. But thugs like Chicamaw ‘One-Eye’ Mobley (Howard da Silva) have other ideas, forcing Bowie to be their accomplice.

In Side Street, Granger and O’Donnell team again as struggling marrieds in an unforgiving Manhattan. In a moment of weakness, the letter carrier gives in to temptation and steals what he thinks is a few hundred dollars. But it’s $30,000, tied to some ruthless blackmailers, and Granger’s attempt to return it puts him in deeper peril.

Where Danger Lives/Tension

Robert Mitchum plays a doctor smitten with desire for a beautiful patient (Faith Domergue) who’s brought in after an attempted suicide. The would-be lovebirds go on the lam. Ahead is Mexico, miles back is the husband’s (Claude Rains) corpse.

Noir favorite Audrey Totter leaves her mousy but devoted spouse (Richard Basehart) for another man, and the Tension mounts as he plots revenge, then sees his plan take an unexpected turn.

Act of Violence (1948) DVD Review

Act of Violence (1948)

Act of Violence

The New York Times Review 6 May 2007 by Charles Taylor:

“This trim, tense, little-known 1948 noir, one of 10 included in the Warner Brothers set ”Film Noir, Volume 4,” is an anomaly among the more prestigious pictures directed by Fred Zinnemann (whose best and best known include ”From Here to Eternity” and ”The Nun’s Story”). In the wordless sequences when the lead, Van Heflin (right, with Mary Astor), wanders deserted Los Angeles alleys and back streets, the shadows and seemingly abandoned buildings hovering over him (the movie was shot by Robert Surtees), ”Act of Violence” becomes a distillation of noir itself.

Even if Mr. Heflin were the last man on earth, he’d still be pursued by his own guilt. This fine, underrated actor plays a family man, successful building contractor and decorated war pilot who spent a year in a German prison camp. His life, the picture of middle-class success, begins to crumble when a tall, limping stranger (the great Robert Ryan, evoking terror and pity in the way only he could) shows up in his small California town. The man was Mr. Heflin’s closest Army buddy, and the possessor of the secret that gives the lie to his model-citizen persona.

Mr. Zinnemann’s precise, pointed direction suggests that postwar boosterism was the mask for the unspeakable things the war had taught veterans about themselves, about humanity. Hiding behind drawn curtains in his darkened suburban home, Mr. Heflin is a man who, at least in his head, has traded one prison camp for another. (Warner Brothers, July 31, US$59.92; also available on a double-feature disc with ”Mystery Street,” July 31, US$20.97) “

The Best Film Noir Trailers on DVD (2000 120mins)

The Best Of Film Noir DVD

From All Movie Guide:

“The films about the tough guys and the femme fatales. Films like The Maltese Falcon. Kiss Me Deadly, Double Indemnity, This Gun for Hire, Mildred Pierce, DOA, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Bad and the Beautiful, Detour, Touch of Evil, Out ot the Past, including the original coming attraction trailers for Rear Window, Notoruius, and Vertigo. Stars such as Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bsrbara Stanwyck, Cary Grant, John Garfield, Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Lee Marving, Orson Welles, Charlton Heston, Ingrid Bergman, Fred MacMurray, Alan Ladd, Jane Greer, Ralph Meeker, and Cloris Leachmand.”

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