The Daily Stream: Out Of The Past Is Film Noir At Its Finest

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Out of the Past"

Where You Can Stream It: Criterion Channel

The Pitch: Robert Mitchum plays Jeff Markham, but if you live in Bridgeport, California, you may know him as Jeff Bailey, the owner of the local gas station. He's a man with a past that no one seems to know. That is, until his former colleague, Joe Stefanos (Paul Valentine) comes to town looking for him, and he has to put the past behind him for good.

Why It's Essential Viewing

Film noir, for anyone who's unaware, is arguably one of the hardest genres to pin down despite having one of the most iconic aesthetics in all of cinema. The immediate images that come to mind when we think of noir are jazz scores, smokey bars, dangerous dames, a PI who has to keep one eye open at all times, and a double-cross waiting in the wings. But the funny thing is that these stereotypes only make up a portion of the genre. Most of the scores for noirs actually consist of elaborate string compositions, not jazz. It seldom centers around a private investigator, but the iconic Philip Marlowe immortalized by Humphrey Bogart really made that notion stick.

So what's my point, you may be asking? Merely that noir ain't what it seems to be on its face, but it always delivers the goods.

Enter not only one of the greatest film noirs but probably one of the 100 greatest films of all time — "Out of the Past."

Jacques Tourneur's 1947 classic truly embodies all of the most recognizable and beloved elements of film noir. Chief among them is actually something that often gets overlooked — flashbacks and voiceovers.

The first few minutes of the film introduce us to our protagonist, the aforementioned Jeff "Bailey" Markham, hiding out in Bridgeport, laying low. Then, once his past catches up to him — as it always does — he takes us on a journey back in time. On a long drive to the house of his former employer, Whit Sterling (played by Kirk Douglas), Jeff tells his beloved Ann Miller (Virginia Huston) all about his sordid history.

Build My Gallows High

As is presumed the custom, there's a dame. A femme fatale, if you will. In this writer's opinion, one of the best the genre has to offer. Kathie Moffat (a scintillating and truly devious Jane Greer) was Whit Sterling's girlfriend, that is until she shot him and ran away with 40 grand in cash. Jeff was hired to track her down and bring her back. Instead, he fell in love with her. Then she double-crossed him. Because of course she did.

Greer plays a truly dubious character beautifully. You come to recognize her lies after she gets one over on ol' Jeff back in the day. But once he comes back, wiser for having survived her deception the first time around, he's ready for anything she can throw at him.

The resulting film is genuinely something you just have to watch. "Out of the Past" is one of the most captivating movies I've ever seen. You can't look away, not because what you're watching is particularly shocking or scandalous, but because it's so expertly executed. It was shot in some of the most beautiful locales around Lake Tahoe, and the sets at RKO studios were magnificent. Mitchum gives a spectacular performance as the seemingly ne'er do well ex-private investigator Jeff Markham. Greer's performance as Kathie Moffat is the stuff of noir legends, an icon of deception. On top of it all, the story is deeply stirring and actually pretty tragic.

I genuinely don't want to say too much, not because there's a big twist anywhere, but rather because it's just so damn fun. I promise, you'll enjoy it. And while Criterion Channel's other Noirvember content will keep you invested all month long, "Out of the Past" alone is worth the cost of a subscription.