Out of the Past

In his first starring role, Robert Mitchum is already “Robert Mitchum”: world-weary, laconic, and life-worn, effortlessly masculine yet appealingly wounded, with a boxer's build and a poet's (or a drunk's) sad eyes. Out of the Past is one of the most exquisite and intriguing of noirs, expertly crafted into a complex narrative in which past, present, and future are linked as in a Möbius strip. Mitchum, hiding out behind a small-town identity, is forced to relive his onetime and future career as a private eye when an unresolved case opens up again like a chasm. The film provided the signature Mitchum role: terse and smitten at the same time. Is it love, sex, or a sucker's game? Jane Greer may be the quintessential femme fatale, but then again, she may not. Her presence (and past), out of the shadows into light and then back again, echoes an obsession with the unknown, the refusal of any kind of sanctuary, that is central to director Jacques Tourneur's worldview. Preserved from nitrate negative.

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