Everyone knows The Maltese Falcon. We’ve all heard about The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, and we all know that noir sensibilities are synonymous with Bogart. But the 1940s, as we’ve been exploring over the past few years (just type noir in the search box on the right for a recap), are as deep a mine for this type of film as the 1930s were for screwball comedy (still my favorite kind of funny film, even eighty-odd years later).
An aside here. I’m pretty sure that younger generations, say people 30 years old in 2018 are not really familiar with any of the classics listed above. Why? I’d say that the internet has made it unnecessary to watch the kind of Saturday afternoon classic TV screening that introduced their elders to these movies. Invariably, though, whenever they do get past their aversion to black and white and actually give these (or the screwball comedies) a chance, they come away shocked and pale and say things like… “I thought all old movies sucked. What was that actress called again?”
That’s Lauren Bacall, young fellow.
Anyway, the film that brings us here today, though considered a masterpiece of the noir form, and re-filmed as Against all Odds in 1984 is not one that is familiar to the casual film watcher. Out of the Past has no Bogart, no Bacall, and doesn’t suffer because of it. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a great film whose plot is so intricate that too many stars to pander to and give screen time to would have diluted its greatest strength.
Essentially, a man trying to make a clean break from a seamy former life, gets pulled back into it by both a man he’d double crossed and the classical film noir Dalilah figure he’d loved and lost. It gets really bad for everyone from there on out…
Like The Big Sleep, the entertainment value in this picture comes from following the twists and turns of the plot. Double and triple crosses. A woman whose intentions you can never guess, who is always playing both sides against the middle. A bad guy who isn’t senselessly violent, but cold, calculating and knows when to cut his loses.
It’s nearly perfect in the genre.
What’s missing? Well, the star power. Though Robert Mitchum is great, he will never be Bogart. And don’t even get me started in comparisons between Jane Greer and the aforemntioned Miss Bacall… Or Ingrid Bergman or, god help us, Rita Hayworth in Gilda. Just not on the cards.
So it isn’t quite as impactful, not as spectacularly memorable. The set pieces don’t stick in the mind the same way. It’s a quieter film (if a film about sex, crima and violence can really be called quiet), an even moodier one and definitely a darker one.
Even in a decade awash with noir, where everything had to include the sensibilities of that genre, this one stands out. But that’s only logical: when everything is noir, some of it is bound to be good. Some even great.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author with several novels to his credit. His latest is The Malakiad, which most definitely isn’t noir. He is also a husband and father of a young duaghter… with another on the way.