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Out of the Past (1947)

Based on the novel Build My Gallows High, by Geoffrey Homes, Out of the Past is a noir drama that's more fun than legally allowed. It starts with a reptilian guy driving into a small town, and who's he looking for? Robert Mitchum, playing a mysterious man with a troubled past.

Mitchum is playing one of those big lovable lugs who never talks about where he's from and what he's done, because you wouldn't want to know. Except you do want to know, and soon enough he's telling — but I won't tell. I hate spoilers, and almost always in my experience, the less you know about a movie before it starts, the more you're likely to enjoy it. I'd rather convey a movie's atmosphere than its plot, so suffice to say, the plot of Out of the Past has some unexpected swerves and switchbacks on its way to a smashing conclusion.

Also starring a very young Kirk Douglas as a slick and slimy bad guy who’s been done wrong and wants to make it wronger, and Jane Greer as a gorgeous dame you might want to like or even trust, but you probably shouldn't.

The dialogue is endlessly arch:

• "I hate him. I'm sorry he didn't die." "Give him time."

• "Did you miss me?" "No more than I would my eyes."

• "I was going to kill you." "Who isn't?"

• "I don't want to die." "Neither do I, baby, but if I have to I'm going to die last."

• And my favorite line, "You're no good and neither am I. That's why we deserve each other."

Out of the Past is also surprisingly modern, in ways old movies often aren't. There's a disabled character who's smart, self-sufficient, loyal to the protagonist, and essential to the story. There's also a scene where Mitchum asks questions of a black couple in a night club, and — remarkable for a movie 70+ years old — there's not even a hint of racism, and when it's over Mitchum buys them a drink.

You can check out the DVD for free from the public library, or stream it on Amazon Prime for $2.99.

 

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