Out of the Past

October 11th, 2010

            It is ironic that “Out of the Past” is considered one of the greatest film noirs of all time, because at certain points in the movie, it does not feel like a film noir. During the opening credits, it has a kind of “Gone with the Wind” feel to it; the credits are played over clips of the peaceful mountain community (very reminiscent of the southern plantation clips used in “Gone with the Wind”), and there’s a very beautiful, somewhat romantic soundtrack.

            However, for the majority of the film, it is exactly what I would imagine a film noir to be like. It employs all of the stylistics mentioned in Paul Schrader’s article, including the majority of scenes being lit for night, a large number of scenes involving water (There’s a scene at the beach, a scene where it’s raining, and the scene where Joe falls into the river.), a romantic narration, and a complex chronological order (there’s a use of flashbacks).

            Also, I found several points from Jenny Place’s article interesting. Whenever we see Anne, the ‘good girl’, there always seems to be a light on her (for example, watch “Out of the Past (1947) – Robert Mitchum” starting at about 1:15; notice how there’s a light on Anne’s face, whereas Jeff’s face is in shadow). On the other hand, when we first see Kathie, the ‘femme fatale’, she’s completely bathed in darkness, and you can only see her silhouette (as you can see at 0:20 of “Out of the Past 1947 introduction of Jane Greer”). The filmmaker clearly sends the message of good versus evil with his use of lighting.

            In my opinion, black and white is essential in making a good film noir. It really highlights the use of shadows, and it helps to illustrate the film’s dark themes.

            I also found one of the Professor’s points very interesting, about how the deaf-mute boy was an interesting framing device. As some of you may know, a framing device is the same single action, scene, event, setting, or any element of significance at both the beginning and end of a movie. It is interesting that a character that cannot talk is used as a framing device, because most of the film’s dialogue is lies. In that way, he is the one “truthful” character as he is unable to lie.

            Typically, I prefer films with happy endings. Though this film did not have a happy ending, I really enjoyed “Out of the Past”. It felt to me that the ending was the correct one, which matched some of the darker theme of the film. Do you agree or disagree with my opinions? Do you think that a good film noir has to be completely dark, or can there be some beautiful scenes?

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One Response to “Out of the Past”

  1. Amy Herzog on October 12, 2010 5:40 PM

    Some really astute observations here, Steven. I agree that this film stands out for its incredibly beautiful daytime photography and pastoral outdoor scenery. While uncommon in noir films, these scenes make the darker moments that much more resonant.

    And I had a very different reading of the deaf/mute character at the end of the film. My impression was that he DID lie to Anne. He told her Jeff was running off with Kathy, when in fact he knew he was leading both himself and Kathy to a certain death. But Jeff would have wanted Anne to be able to move on, and to find love in her life, rather than pining away for him. So the boy told her a lie to set her free (and then saluted Jeff’s sign, to signal that he knew what he would have wanted).

    But it is pretty ambiguous, like much of the film, and open to more than one interpretation, to be certain….

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