Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Brunettes, Blondes, Disability, & Questions Out of the Past

I have long heard this film's praises which is why I added it to my 10 movies to see in 2015 list. Out of the Past (1947) turned out to be quite a treat. It almost seems morbid to say that with all the deaths in the movie, but you've got to appreciate a film that keeps you on your toes. 

I purposely avoided movie reviews and synopses so I could view the film with fresh eyes. I knew it was a noir and was fairly confident the brunette was going to double-cross the men. (I've watched The Maltese Falcon. I know to watch out for those sneaky brunettes...) Sure enough, the brunette is beautiful, but deadly. Her wardrobe is stunning and her role the juicier of the two female parts. 

The Brunette/Femme Fatale, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), in three of her gorgeous outfits

In contrast, the blonde, who plays little more than an audience surrogate (basic purpose: listen to the Mitchum character's past), is plain, but virtuous. She is the one we are to emulate. Go ahead and fall for the mysterious stranger, just don't marry him. 

The Blonde and not-so-glamorous Ann Miller (Virginia Huston)

The stranger in question is Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), who fights the good fight, but in the end makes the noble sacrifice expected of characters who must atone for sins of a past life. In this case, Jeff gives up the [blonde] woman he loves. And the catalyst for the events? Whit Sterling, a wealthy gambler played by Kirk Douglas, making the leading three a cleft-chinned bunch: 

Robert Mitchum ~ Jane Greer ~ Kirk Douglas

The movie has the standard set of supporting characters: the gambler's tough sidekick (Joe - played by Paul Valentine), the detective's partner (Steve Brodie), the sly secretary (Rhonda Fleming).  

Dickie Moore - Source
In the mix is a character referred to as "The Kid" (Dickie Moore). "The Kid" is a minor role, reminiscent of Dick Tracy's loyal orphan pal of the same name (Dick Tracy, 1990). He doesn't get much screen time, but his inclusion is significant because he gives a positive representation of a person with a disability during a time when it was not common (arguably, still isn't). He is deaf without the stereotypical labeling or depiction. He is not a tragic figure to be pitied like Tiny Tim or fixed like Emily Blair in And Now Tomorrow (1944). Rather, "The Kid" is portrayed as capable and treated with respect by the other characters--even by the antagonists. At the same time, it is unlikely the writer, Daniel Mainwaring*, casually included a character with a disability.  Since "The Kid" is the first person the audience meets in connection to Jeff's new life, his young friend might be meant to tip us off that Jeff is a likeable guy despite his checkered past. In other words, "The Kid" may exemplify what Mariam Nathan Lerner describes as a "representation of deafness [...] to provide a window into audience understanding and appreciation of the protagonist."

*Mainwaring used the pseudonym Geoffrey Holmes when he wrote Build My Gallows High, the novel on which Out of the Past is based. 

The lines--writing and delivery of--are solid. I love the insight into Jeff's character from this exchange -
Taxi Driver: Buddy, you look like you're in trouble.
Jeff: Why?
Taxi Driver: Because you don't act like it.
Mitchum's character doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. Another favorite -
Secretary: For a man who appears to be clever, you can certainly act like an idiot.
Jeff: That's one way to be clever. (Slight pause) To look like an idiot.
I've heard similar responses from Marilyn Monroe's and Ginger Roger's characters. It's interesting to hear it from a man. 

***Spoilers Ahead***
The twists compel the viewer to pay attention or lose track of who is crossing whom. After seeing it once, I feel there are parts that I missed. For example, when Ann's father reads the paper, he says that Jeff is wanted for two murders. I know about Eels. Who is the other victim? And what about the Kathie and Joe angle? Was she playing him like the other men? Or was he focused on not disappointing Whit or saving his neck? Is Whit and Joe's relationship more than platonic (Joe worried about disappointing Whit, Whit's extreme distress and anger at Joe's death)? Finally, Kathie had a remarkably accurate shot, why/how did she miss Whit at the beginning of the story--was there more going on?

These questions aside, the resolution was satisfying. I loved the irony of Kathie's last outfit. As she fully reveals how evil she is, her outfit gives her the appearance of a nun.

When Jeff tries to reason with her (like you can with this dame) that if they run off to Mexico, the police will find them, she responds:
I don't care. Just so they find us together.
Dang, I thought, She's ready to go out Bonnie-and-Clyde-style! I didn't know how close I had hit it.


Lerner, Mariam Nathan. "Narrative Function of Deafness and Deaf Characters in Film." Media/Culture Journal 13:2 (2010). Web. 15 July 2015. 

Williams, Tony. "Movies and the 'Enemy' Within." American Cinema of the 1940s: Themes and Variations. Ed. Wheeler Winston Dixon. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006. 182-199. Print.  


  1. I remember watching this movie with my dad in the room, and he was so confused. I was like "Dad! It's not supposed to make sense! It's just really cool!" You brought up an interesting point with Mitchum saying it's clever to act stupid--I never caught on to that.
    Good choice for the blogathon!

    1. Thanks to TCM's "Summer of Darkness," I've caught a few film noirs this year and find myself scratching my head more times than not. I guess we're not supposed to get it, just appreciate the cinematography as you mentioned. I'm used to musicals where everything is neatly tied up--sometimes unbelievably so. This is new to me.

  2. I'm glad you finally got to see "OUT OF THE PAST" one of the BEST movies of 1947 or of any OTHER year in classic films. Check out my link here in case you missed the TCM Party Twitterchat on this movie: ( ) You know..l kind of never thought about young Dickie Moore's disability in the movie. They really treated it matter of factly...which is great!

    I might have some answers to your unresolved questions on "Out of the Past" that I'd like to take a crack at if you don't mind:

    1. Jeff sought for two murders. Whose? - Well, like you wrote: Eels. But I think they might also be looking for Jeff for his partner's murder. You know..the guy Kathy KILLED in the beginning of their love adventure. My favorite line in the movie and twist? "He had followed her." Chills!

    2. What up with Kathie and Joe? I don't think they were lovers. They both were in the same boat...that shaky Titanic named Whit. Kathie stays close to Whit's right hand man, and Whit probably has Joe stay close to Kathie who he can't trust as far as he can spit his gum.

    3. What's Joe and Whit's relationship? - I don't think these guys were lovers. I think in movies back then, men were very very close to each other, more close than movies like to comfortably show today. I think they had a loyalty to each other; more for each other than any woman they ever went to bed with. See, you go to bed with women, but your buddy is your pal, your friend.

    4. How'd she miss Whit? - What did Jeff say? "Maybe you were a moving target..." or some crack to that effect. I think they're break up was pretty unamicable and in the heat of the passion things were heated. Screaming yelling moving around. I don't think it was neat and easy or unsuspected. She's lucky she winged him and didn't out and out murder him. "Kathie's back in the fold." Ugh!

    Do you buy my reasoning at all? Again, I enjoyed your write up on "Out of the Past." Now...have you ever seen "They Won't Believe Me?" LOL!

    1. Hey, Cinemaven! Yea, I really liked how they treated the Kid's disability. I did my thesis on the portrayal of disability, so my ears are always perked when a character with a disability enters the room. Pleasantly surprised by the positive representation here. (Although the cynic in me wonders, did they not want to pay him to speak lines? I knew someone once who got their lines cut when the filmmakers were looking to save money--it was a minor role.)

      Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions. I plan on checking out your twitter feed next. By way of following up:

      1. Ever get a movie stuck in your head? This is one of them for me. After thinking about it for a few more days--this after I had already mulled over it for a month, it occurred to me that the second murder might be his partner. I still wasn't positive, but your answer solidifies it for me. BTW - I HAVE to watch for that line. Missed it the first time around. What scene does it occur in?

      2. I can see that. There really wasn't much sexual tension between the two--just desperation to meet their end goals.

      3. Bros before...yep, I get it. Whit's right hand man was worth more to him than that wicked Kathie any day.

      4. Makes sense. No one is thinking (or moving) clearly in the heat of the moment. Again, thank you for taking the time to address so many of my questions!

      It sounds familiar, but I don't believe I've seen "They Won't Believe Me." I googled it just now and it looks like another good one. I see that it stars Susan Hayward. Hopefully TCM will show it when she's the star of the month (in September, I think).

  3. With "They Won't Believe Me" ( Robert Young, Susan Hayward...Jane Greer ) the very next movie Robert Young stars in, is "Crossfire" and the very next movie Jane Greer stars in after "...Believe Me" is..."Out of the Past."

    And this line: "He had followed her," occurs just before Jeff and his partner Joe have that knock down drag out fight in. Just like a dame bring a gun to a fist fight.

    Bros before...yeah! L0L.


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