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Out of the Past  (1947)


Rating: NR

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: July 6, 2004
Review posted: August 28, 2004


Reviewed by Dylan Grant




A tenacious detective, spinning his wheels to make good. A drop-dead beauty up to no good. A moneyed mobster with a shark’s grin. Double-crosses and fall guys. Shadowy rooms and bleak souls. Jeff Bailey is a one-time private investigator walking the straight and narrow of small town life... until an acquaintance from his past pulls him back into the trouble he left behind.




“Build my gallows high, baby.” Out of the Past invented and perfected what would later become film noir and crime film clichés. As Jeff Bailey, Robert Mitchum is at his laid-back best, backed by a great supporting cast, tragic foreshadowing, and some of the best film dialogue ever written. (To list every great line in this movie would require another column entirely.) Jacques Tourneur’s direction is tight, and he hits all the rights notes of this bleak landscape.


Mitchum relays a complicated flashback about how e was sent down to Mexico to track down a gangster’s (Kirk Douglas) girlfriend. Love, money and lies drag him to the lower depths, and he gets out of the situation, only to be pulled back in years later. Only too late does Bailey find out that this girl, a model of every femme fatale that would follow, is ice cold, managing to ensnare everyone in her web of deceit. Out of the Past is the cornerstone of the film noir movement that followed World War II. The story line, the characters, the brilliant, expressionistic cinematography, all of these elements would be reproduced in the years to follow, but rarely to the effect we see here.


The film was remade as 1984’s Against All Odds, with Jeff Bridges and James Woods, and Jane Greer in a supporting role, but that film really does not do justice to the dark core of Out of the Past, none of the sly cool and sharp dialogue is retained. Skip the updated version. Check out this classic.




For the longest time I could only find this film in a colorized VHS version that ruined the beauty of the film. Needless to say, this DVD is a vast improvement. The transfer is crisp, and the film’s beautiful black and white photography is sharply translated. The original 1.33:1 aspect ratio is kept, so what may look like a fullscreen presentation is actually what the filmmakers intended.




Out of the Past is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, so everything is directed to the front speaker. All the effects come through nicely, and the overall presentation is sharp.




Commentary by author/film noir specialist James Ursini: This one talks about the impact and influence of Out of the Past and its place in film history. An interesting track, especially for cinephiles.


A theatrical trailer would have been nice, or some kind of featurette looking back at the film. The commentary is good, but overall the bonus material feels a bit sparse.




Out of the Past is an excellent film that is available on DVD at long last. The solid audio/video presentation and interesting commentary track make this DVD a must have.




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