If you watch too many of the film noir genre, you are likely to get confused, because classic film noir has what is called a 'formula' - a rich and manipulative dame (goes by the name of 'femme fatale'), an anti-hero who is willing to go to any extent just for the pleasure of the 'femme fatale' and a final twist in the tale where 'the best-laid schemes of mice and of men often go awry!'.
But having watched a good chunk of them the past few years, if someone were to ask me to pick my favorite, I would say 'Out of the Past' without batting an eyelid.'The lady from Shanghai', 'Double Indemnity', 'Big Sleep', 'The postman always rings twice' are in the list of contenders but 'Out of the Past' wins hands-down.I think as film noirs go although Out of the Past sticks to the formula, it also provides a slight variant in the form of more sensitive characters and I am very partial to sensitive characterization.
Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) works at a small town gas-station and wants to live a quiet life with Ann but he is mistaken. His past catches up with him in the form of his wealthy former employer, Whit Stirling. This is where the narrative turns to the past; Jeff (a private investigator) was once employed by Whit to find the whereabouts of Kathie(Jane Greer), his girlfriend, who steals forty thousand dollars and escapes.Jeff’s pursuit of Kathie leads him to Mexico where he finds himself falling in love with her.
I think Jane Greer as Kathie Moffat, is the best femme fatale, film noir has ever produced. Her demurring smile and her look which oscillates between being crafty and innocent even had me fooled that she wasn’t the one who stole the forty thousand dollars!!! Like Jeff says ‘"... and then she'd come along like school's out..." But both Jeff and me were proved wrong. Kathie not only steals but also kills Jeff’s partner.Cut to the present, she is back with Whit and Jeff’s once again entangled in a mess with Kathie and Whit.
In between the muck, are two characters, Ann (Jeff’s current girlfriend) and a deaf and dumb helper at Jeff’s gas station. Ann is the opposite of Kathie, when she hears about Jeff’s past, she says (about Kathie) ‘: She can't be all bad. No one is.’
And when Jeff and Kathie get killed in the car accident, she asks the deaf and dumb kid if they were running away together and the kids nods his head in the affirmative so that Ann can move on with someone else without guilt.
I think another notable difference is that most of this film is shot in bright sunlight unlike most film noir flicks, driving home the point that 'noir' need not be shot in the dark to get the chills.
And don’t even get me started on why I like film noir, not only does it have crisp dialogue, it also does not go didactic about what is right and wrong! The hero is just someone caught in the twist of events in his attempts to please his lady love, even if it means murder!!!
Is this a good enough reason for you to watch this one?