There are many ways that you can tell you are watching a film noir e.g. cinematography and certain character types. Out Of The Past is a master class in what is possibly one of the most defining features: the convoluted and overly complex plot (The Big Sleep is another example of this). It gets to the point that, as you watch the final half hour, there are so many bluffs, double bluffs, double crosses and fishing-related deaths (okay one of those, but that’s a lot) that it becomes rather difficult to know what the hell is going on.
In a nutshell the film is about a former private investigator who has tried to escape his former life (and now lives as a petrol station owner) and is drawn back into the life by his old shady employer. That’s the least spoilerish (and clearest) way to describe the film and yet it misses out the femme fatale (and reason for the private investigator’s troubles).
I know that Rita Heyworth’s Gilda or Gene Tierney’s Laura are seen as the architypal femme fatales, but Jane Greer really takes the cake here. Right from the word go we, as the audience, don’t exactly trust her when she denies stealing the money from mob boss Whit (Kirk Douglas) and yet she still shot him 4 times. All this and yet the investigator (Robert Mitchum) strikes up a romance with her… what is it with men.
To be perfectly honest, I know that this is a film I need to see again to completely get all the minutiae of the plot (and even then I am not entirely sure I will get it all). Serious thanks to the world of Wikipedia for giving me a summary that I was able to get once I finished the movie.
One thing about this film for sure is that Robert Mitchum made for a perfect hardboiled detective (thank you Gintama for ruining that phrase for me) and Jane Greer just flies as the manipulative femme fatale.