The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Out of the Past (1947) Classic Movie Review 54

Out of the Past (1947)

Out of the Past (1947)

You can never help anything, can you? You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another.

Out of the Past (1947) is one of the greatest film noir movies of all times. The bad guys fight duels with cigarette smoke while the femme fatale takes killing and manipulating to new heights.

Out of the Past (1947)

Welcome to today’s show, my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follows the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.

Today’s film is one of the greatest film noir classics of all times. The movie is Out of the Past (1947). The movie is based on the novel “Build My Gallows High” by Daniel Mainwaring. The film has a super talented cast. In an article titled “200 Cigarette” Roger Ebert state that Out of the Past (1947) was “…the greatest cigarette-smoking movie of all time. The trick, as demonstrated by Jacques Tourneur and his cameraman, Nicholas Musuraca, is to throw a lot of light into the empty space where the characters are going to exhale. When they do, they produce great white clouds of smoke, which express their moods, their personalities and their energy levels. There were guns in “Out of the Past,” but the real hostility came when Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas smoked at each other.”

I was first introduced to this movie through its’ remake, Against All Odds (1984) which will be covered in the next episode. Watching Out of the Past (1947) cleared up some odd plot holes in the remake.

Robert Mitchum played the role of Jeff Bailey/Jeff Markham. Mitchum is not only a great actor. He is a manly man. Mitchum was born in Connecticut in 1917. His father was killed when he was very young and he grew up as kind of a wild boy. Moved around from family member to family member he had his first road adventure at age 12 where he rode the rails, worked for the Civilian Conservation Corp relief project and earned money as a professional boxer. At 14, he was arrested for vagrancy in Savannah, Georgia and served time on a chain gang. Mitchum said he escaped and returned to his family. In 1936, he headed to California again hopping trains. Mitchum made a living writing and he became involved in local theater. He also made money as a bit-player and stagehand. In 1940, he got married and took a steady job in an aircraft factory.

Shortly Mitchum had a job related nervous breakdown. He began working as an extra in films. He spent time working as a villain in westerns. He continued to get better roles such as playing one of pilots in Doolittle raid biopic Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) With Spencer Tracy. His performance resulted in a seven-year contract with RKO. His next major film came when he was lent to United Artists for the William Wellman directed The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) with Burgess Meredith playing war correspondent Ernie Pyle.

After this movie was completed, Mitchum was drafted into the Army. Mitchum began acting in film noir and hit it big with Crossfire (1947), Out of the Past (1947), and the Raoul Walsh directed Pursued (1947).

Just as Mitchum’s career was hitting high gear he and an actress were arrested for possession of marijuana in 1948, a big deal at the time. Mitchum spent 43 days on a California prison farm. His conviction was vacated in 1951. Many years later, Mitchum told interviewer Robert Osborne that the arrest was a studio publicity stunt.

Mitchum’s next studio releases were hits including Rachel and the Stranger (1948), The Red Pony (1949), and the film noir The Big Steal (1949). Mitchum paired with Marilyn Monroe on a raging river in River of No Return (1954). That same year Tracks of the Cat (1954) was released. This film was the only film ever directed by veteran actor Charles Laughton. In this black and white movie, the only colored object was the red jacket that Mitchum’s character wore. In this movie, I thought Mitchum played Purdue evil until the next year. The Night of the Hunter (1955) featured Mitchum as a sadistic Bluebeard preacher with love tattooed on one hand and hate on the other. Lillian Gish is amazing as the shotgun-toting defender of two children against the killer.

Mitchum turned in a super performance in Thunder Road (1958) where he acted, but produced, co-wrote, and purportedly directed.

Mitchum starred in three films with Deborah Kerr. The first of this was Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) where Mitchum played a Marine stranded on an island with a Nun played by Deborah Kerr. In one of my personal favorites, The Enemy Below (1957), Mitchum’s character is the skipper of a destroyer locked in a death match with u-boat commander played by Curt Jergen. The third film featuring this pairing was The Sundowners (1960) where the two played depression era Australian sheep, farmers.

Mitchum played a General on Omaha Beach during D-day in The Longest Day (1962). I would have followed him. That year he played another evil character as the vengeful rapist in Cape Fear (1962). Things slowed for Mitchum in the late 1960’s and he turned down several roles that would go on to be iconic. However, in El Dorado (1966) he turned in a stellar performance as a drunken down and out sheriff as he co-starred with John Wayne.

Mitchum continued to turn in quality performances through the 1970s and 1980s. These films included Ryan’s Daughter (1970), The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), The Yakuza (1974), and most importantly the epic World War II drama Midway (1976). He was great as Bill Murray’s boss in Scrooged (1988). Of course, I have just hit the highlights of his films as there are so many good features.

Mitchum continued in films into the 1990s. A heavy smoker he died of lung cancer in 1997 at the age of 79.

Jane Greer played femme fatal Kathie Moffat. Moffat was born in DC in. 1924. As a baby, she was winning beauty contests. Later as a teen, she started singing professionally. At 15, a palsy paralyzed one side of her face. She had to do facial exercise and she claimed the exercise helped her develop her expressiveness. I agree I had this in the 9th grade and now people claim I am crushing their soul with my facial expressions. When I had it I had to go in and have Frankenstein style electrodes hooked to my face and then they would hit the button and make the muscles twitch. Greer also has a very expressionless face and it was said she had a Mona Lisa smile.

Greer was spotted by Howard Hughes in a 1942 issue of Life magazine. She was lent to RKO a lot and made many good films. These films include Dick Tracy (1945), Out of the Past (1947), They Won’t Believe Me (1947), The Big Steal (1949), You’re in the Navy Now (1951), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Run for the Sun (1956), and The Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). In 1984, in Against All Odds, a remake, she was cast as the mother of the character she played in Out of the Past (1947).

Greer continued to work, mostly on television, until 1996. She passed away in 2001.

The great Kirk Douglas was cast as Whit Sterling, the gangster that sets everything in motion. He was covered in Episode 4 – In Harm’s Way (1963).

Rhonda Fleming had a small role as the tax lawyer’s secretary Meta Carson. When Fleming graduate from Hollywood High in 1941 she was already working professionally. Her first large role was in Spellbound (1945) directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Other movies include The Spiral Staircase (1946), Out of the Past (1947), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949), While the City Sleeps (1956), Slightly Scarlet (1956), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), and The Big Circus (1959). She continued to work until 1990.

Paul Valentine as Joe Stefanos. Valentine played Councilman Weinberg in the remake Against All Odds (1984).

Dickie Moore played the role of the as The Kid, The Kid was deaf and didn’t speak but could sign and read lips. Moore was born in 1925 and was a hugely popular child star. He was in the Our Gang series and had over 100 roles total. He had four important roles early on. These are as Marlene Dietrich’s son in Blonde Venus (1932), with Barbara Stanwyck in So Big (1932), with Walter Huston in Over the White House (1933) and with Spencer Tracy in Man’s Castle (1933). Some of greatest roles were as a teenager in Sergeant York (1941) and Out of the Past (1947).

Moore retired from acting in the late 1950s and after battling with booze and drugs in the mid-1960, he started a public relations firm which he ran until 2010. Moore died in 2015 at the age of 89.

Theresa Harris as Eunice Leonard Kathie’s maid. We discussed Harris in 42 – I Walked with a Zombie (1943).


Bad guy Joe (Paul Valentine) drives to Bridgeport, California and stops at the local gas station. He is looking for the owner, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum). When he gets out The Kid (Dickie Moore) is working with his back turned. When The Kid doesn’t respond Joe thumps a match at his head. The Kid can neither hear nor speak. The Kid communicates that Jeff will be back later. Joe goes across the street to Marny’s Café. Jim (Richard Webb) pulls up in a State of California sedan. They don’t really say what his job is but it causes him to travel frequently. Marny (Mary Field) throws out a statement that Jim’s girl, Ann Miller (Virginia Huston) is keeping time with Bailey. Is Marny causing trouble or trying to score a man? Jim plays it cool. When Jim leaves Joe chats Marney up about Bailey.

The Kid goes out to the lake where Ann and Bailey are fishing and talking about their future together. The Kid signs out a message to Bailey and they head back to town. Joe is waiting when Bailey gets back. They know each other. Joe tells him that Whit (KirkDouglas) Bailey’s old boss wants to see him in Lake Tahoe. Bailey takes Ann on the trip with him. Bailey tells Ann his real last name was Markham. On the trip, Bailey tells about the man he used to work for, his partner Jeff Fisher (Steve Brodie), and how he became involved with Whit in New York City. Whit had recently been shot by his girlfriend. Joe is there and he is a real hothead. Whit says she ran out after she shot him with $40,000 of his money. Whit offers Bailey $10,000 and expenses to bring her back. The girl’s name is Kathie Moffit (Jane Greer).

Still, in flashback, Bailey goes to a Harlem nightclub where he talks to Eunice (Theresa Harris) who use to be Kathie’s maid. She tells Bailey that she got sick from her shots and left for Florida. Of course, Bailey knows you don’t have to take shots to go to Florida. Maybe you should, to keep the snowbirds out. Bailey uses the weight of her baggage to trace Kathie to Acapulco, Mexico. Bailey waited every day in cantina until she showed up. He strikes up a conversation and when Bailey says he has been down for 10-days, she knows he is from Whit. She leaves she tells him about another place called Pablo’s where she goes. He doesn’t let Whit know he has found her but he waits at Pablo’s until she showed. She shows on the second night and the pair begin keeping time together. After he kisses her she asks when he is taking her back? She thought Whit was dead. She says she didn’t take the money and begs Bailey to run away with her. The pair continues an affair for several days. Bailey falls pretty hard for Kathie but she is a gamer. Bailey tells Kathie that he will take her away for a new life away from Whit.

In the morning Bailey is packing when Whit and Joe show-up at his hotel. Jeff tells Whit that Kathie slipped past him to South America. Whit tries to quit but Whit won’t let him off the hook. Bailey and Kathie slip north and start living in San Francisco. Bailey’s old partner, Fisher sees him at the race track. Bailey and Kathie have to split-up so he goes to LA and she stayed in SanFran. After Bailey shakes Fisher he meets Kathie at a rural cabin. However, Fisher is still on the trail. When Fisher shows up and demands money the two guys get into a brawl. During the fight, Kathie pulls a gun and kills Fisher. Kathie runs out leaving Bailey with the dead body. Bailey finds the bank book showing that Kathie had indeed stolen the 40K. Switching back to current time Bailey tells Ann that he buried Fisher’s body at the cabin.

Ann drops Bailey off at Whit’s estate. She says she wants him to come back. Whit tells Bailey that he wants him to steal some records from a tax lawyer named Leonard Eels (Ken Niles) who is blackmailing him. He refuses the work but as they sit down to breakfast, Kathie comes to the table. She has run back to Whit after Fisher’s murder and has told him everything. Whit says Bailey owes him and must do the job. He is instructed to meet Eels’ secretary Meta Carson (Rhonda Flemming) concerning the job. Kathie comes to Bailey to apologize but he says she is like a leaf that blows from gutter to gutter.

Bailey knows Kathie has told everything and that he is being set-up. He leaves a note for Ann and heads to SanFran where he meets with Meta. She explains the plan and he gets his cab driver buddy to take him to Eels’ house where he meets the tax lawyer and Meta. He tries to break the set-up by staying but Meta ushers him out. She sends him back to his hotel but they drive around the block and he sees Meta come out with the records.

Bailey goes back to Eels apartment and finds him murdered. Of course, Bailey’s prints are there from the first visit. Bailey hides the body. He jumps in the cab and goes to a house where Kathie is staying. Bailey tells her that Eels is not dead. Under questioning, Kathie says she signed an affidavit that Bailey killed Fisher and now he will be charged with Eels killing as well. Kathie says if they get the papers from Meta they can have leverage over Whit and be free. She sends chum Bailey off to a club to retrieve the tax records. Joe comes in and tells Kathie that he has killed Eels.

Bailey gets the records from the club and drops a package off. When he gets outside Joe and other man are waiting in the cab with his friend. When he gets their Kathie is with the manger that Bailey stole the records from. When they open the folder Bailey has replaced it with a phone book. He says he wants Kathie’s affidavit from Eels’ safe. He says Meta will have to open the safe. As he watches the building from outside the police show up.

Bailey heads back to Bridgeport and the newspaper says Jeff Bailey is wanted for two murders. Kathie has ordered Joe to follow the kid. Ann waits by the river for Bailey and Jim comes and tells her she is a fool. Joe follows The Kid back to where Bailey is hiding. As Joe aims at Bailey who is hiding below, The Kid snags him with a fishing hook and causes him to fall.

Bailey goes to Whit’s estate and takes Kathie down to meet with Whit. He tells Whit about Kathie’s double cross and the death of Joe. He tells Whit that Joe takes the wrap for killing Eels and committed suicide. He also says if Whit destroys the affidavit and hand Kathie over to the police he will return the tax records. Bailey thinks he is out of the trap and heads back to Bridgeport where he meets Ann. They profess their love and as Bailey is leaving Jim shows up and tries to reason with Bailey about Ann.

Bailey heads back to Tahoe and finds that Kathie has murdered Whit. She tells him he can come away with her and Whit’s money or take the wrap for all three murders. He says he will go away with her. It is interesting that the dress and head wrap she is wearing is reminiscent of a nun’s habit. While she is packing Bailey calls the state police and tells them about her. I guess he has a three murder limit on his girlfriends.

As they drive down a dirt road there is a police roadblock ahead. When Kathie sees it she shoots Bailey in the side. That’s four murders! They open up on her with a Thompson and kill her before the car crashes into the roadblock.

After the news gets back to Bridgeport, Jim offers to take Ann away. Ann asks The Kid if Bailey was reading leaving with Kathie. The Kid lies and says yes so Ann can get on with her life. The Kid waves bye to the sign on the gas station. Ann and Jeff drive away and I guess live happily ever after.

Film critic Bosley Crowther wrote, “If only we had some way of knowing what’s going on in the last half of this film, we might get more pleasure from it. As it is, the challenge is worth a try.” It does get a little twisty and turny at the end.

World-Famous Short Summary – A woman murders three people before her bae thinks there might be a problem

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Beware the moors

Crowther, Bosley (November 26, 1947). “Out of the Past (1947)”. The New York Times (The New York Times Company).

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