Into the Flashback

27 Oct 2013: Out of the Past (DVD, 1947, Jacques Tourneur)

For a film noir – but not for Jacques Tourneur – this movie is surprisingly meditative and melancholy in its mood even when including the usual hard-edged conventions: the quick dialogue repartees are intoned and suggestive rather than shouted and barbed, as they are in the films of Howard Hawks or John Huston, and violence, other than a few ferocious slaps to the face, is largely offscreen or elided. The unusual depiction of outdoor, rural settings (such as the Lake Tahoe area) makes for beautiful shadowy compositions (fishing on a waterfall, walking through a forest) that act as dreamlike counterpart to indoor scenes in black jazz clubs and gangsters’ offices. There are no cartoon caricatures here and none of the shorthands of strange accents and exaggerated body language to broadcast villainy, goodness or comic relief, but rather a subtle universal respect for the characters that treats every distinction as an earnest reflection of personality – people may be unctuous and traitorous but never one-dimensional. Robert Mitchum’s protagonist is somehow more hopeful and less embittered than a typical Bogart role, persisting even with repeated betrayals staring him in the face, with more of a resigned inexorability to his motivations. The tacked-on ending deflates a little the impact of the conclusion, but also in a way returns the film to the more contemplative atmosphere it favors throughout, where human fate is a sort of small perturbation of a calmer order to things.

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