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Out of the Past (1947)

I love watching The Essentials with Robert Osborne and Alec Baldwin on TCM, if you’re not watching it you’re not my friend!  The thing I love is they give me their thoughts on these movies that I should have already seen before.  It’s like watching movies with really knowledgeable friends…kind of like me!  Anyway, the film I caught their discussion on was the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past.  I’m still far behind on my noirs, I’ve seen the Bogart film noirs but this and Detour were on my list.  I still need to see Detour but damn did Out of the Past set the bar high.  The movie establishes everything that film noir stands for and really knocked me back wit the performance by Robert Mitchum.

Private eye Jeff Bailey (Mitchum) tells the tale of how he was assigned a job by tough guy Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find Sterling’s girlfriend Kathie (Jane Greer) and $40,000.  Jeff finds Kathie and falls in love but things become complicated when Whit finds them.  Thinking he’s gotten away with things Jeff starts a new life, but again Whit comes calling and this time it seems he’s trying to frame Jeff for murder.

I originally heard of this in regards to the remake, Against All Odds, with Jeff Bridges.  I’m oddly intrigued to watch that now just to see if it’s any good in comparison to its predecessor.  I’ve only ever seen Mitchum play evil in fantastic films like Night of the Hunter or Cape Fear, but here you fear him in a different way.  Mitchum has always had a highly sexual presence in movies and here he’s almost a romantic leading man, especially when Kathie tries to justify her actions and Mitchum coolly replies “Baby, I don’t care.”  That’s another thing, this movie has a phenomenal script compliments of Daniel Mainwaring.  There’s some fantastic noirish one-liners that show the duplicity in the genre as people reply how easily they can forget faces.

Mitchum has phenomenal chemistry with the beautiful Jane Greer as Kathie.  Greer is more of a femme fatale to me than Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.  Where Stanwyck was selfish, here Kathie is greedy and controlling.  She wants to control the sequence of events as a means of having any control in her life.  She’s cared for by men, purchased by men, that it’s not surprising when she snaps she tells Jeff “I run the show.”  She’s not a character to hate, she’s a character you pity because this is the only way she can have any control over her life, even if it’s for nefarious purposes.

Kirk Douglas is also great, in his second role, as the crime boss Whit Sterling (such a great character name by the way!).  He’s smiley, he’s charming, he’s a total backstabber.  He’s the man who will smile at you as he shoots you in the face.  He’s a bit hammy at times but he revels in the bad guy role.

The movie has twists, turns, a strong story and amazing characters.  It’s the quintessential film noir and a stepping stone in your film education!

Grade: B+

Also, if you enjoy my reviews be sure to listen to my weekly podcast, The Midnight Matinee Podcast.  The latest episode looks at race in film and can be download here or via the official website at

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

16 thoughts on “Out of the Past (1947) Leave a comment

  1. I don’t know if I can narrow down a film to my all-time favorite, but if I could, it would likely be this one.

  2. What do you think about Drew Barrymore as the new co-host of The Essentials with Robert Osborne? I really liked Alec Baldwin, but I know they were repeating his appearances while RO was out. TCM is always on at my house!!

    • I swear, I don’t check their website once and everything changes! I’d have to see her taking it on to really judge but on first glance I’d say…that’s odd. I mean Baldwin wasn’t who I’d think was a film historian but the way he discussed the films, I truly believe he had a lot of knowledge. Here, it just seems like their cashing in because of Barrymore’s Hollywood legacy. I’ll have to find a film on their schedule and see her discuss but I’m sad Baldwin’s gone but Bob Osborne is King so I won’t be too sad. They really need to bring Bill Hader back to do something (his Essentials Jr. intros were great) or Ben Mankiewicz needs to do more!

  3. Definitely a favorite Noir. If you haven’t seen The Killers, with Burt Lancaster, it is of the same high calibre, you may want to catch that one next. Ditto what you said about TCM Essentials with Robert Osborne.

    • I added The Killers to the Listener Request list so look for it in the future, thanks for the recommend! Yeah, I haven’t gotten out to watching the Essentials with our new co-host (although they’re planning on doing Sullivan’s Travels soon so I might check it out)

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