Out of the Past [1947]

"Build my gallows high, baby"--just one of the quintessentially noir sentiments expressed by Robert Mitchum in this classic of the genre. Mitchum, in absolute prime, sleepy-eyed form, relates a complicated flashback about getting hired by gangster Kirk Douglas to find femme fatale Jane Greer. The chain of film noir elements--love, money, lies--drags Mitchum into the lower depths. Director Jacques Tourneur gets the edgy negotiations between men and women as exactly right as he gets the inky shadows of the noir landscape (even the sunlit exteriors are fraught with doubt). This is Mitchum in excelsis, with his usual laid-back cool laced with great dialogue and tragic foreshadowing. As for his co-star, James Agee immortally opined that Jane Greer "can best be described, in an ancient idiom, as a hot number." Remade in 1984, unhappily, as Against All Odds (with Greer in a supporting role). --Robert Horton

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