Hey, here’s another thing that makes us who we are: Neither of us is all that fond of Out of the Past, a noir considered so quintessentially noir-y that most discussions of it devolve into genre-lapping patter. Actually, it’s misleading to say we don’t like Out of the Past. You would have to be a starving moron to not love watching Mitchum here, so young that his world-weariness feels like a mood he might get over, vital and elastic in ways that would, over time, be weighted down (his kind of sublimation). Tourneur, fresh out of Val Lewton’s shop, does great things with light, using its absence as its own kind of presence instead of an invitation to obscurity and shadow. The look is never bleak or constricted; there’s nature, assorted travel destinations, and a sprawling, picturesque quality to Out of the Past that has more to do with I Walked with a Zombie than its brothers in noir.
This describes the plot well, too. It’s not a caper, nor is it really that deep a psychological study. There’s not even desperation brought on by melodrama. Out of the Past is a drama. More power to it, but as a film, it lacks a certain nastiness, and for all its twists and turns, doesn’t wrack you with anxiety. It’s almost too accomplished, too assured, to leave much hidden, or stand for anything other than itself. That’s the noir psychology that, as a viewer, I’m after: Deceptive simplicity that’s readily converted into metaphor, and a sense that confidence is performance. Out of the Past is both too much and too little to be what, apparently, everyone else in the world wants it to be. — BS