Monday, April 25, 2005

Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur)

To paraphrase/butcher the lyrics of Silver Jews' David Berman, Robert Mitchum is like water, because water doesn't give a damn. Mitchum was an actor with limited range who always looked like he could care less about whatever movie he was in, but somehow he was one of the all-time greats. This is one of his best roles, and one of the best film noirs ever made, though it subverts the staples of the genre more than it follows them. It's full of witty one-liners straight out of hard-boiled fiction and plenty of double- and triple-crosses involving a gangster and a mysterious woman, but the film is graceful and elegant instead of brutal and claustrophobic, and the motivations of the characters are as ambiguous as their morality. In the weirdest subversion of genre formula, daylight is seen as a menace, with Mitchum's character being dragged back into his sordid past after being spotted in the daylight, and most of the scenes with characters in mortal danger are played out either in broad daylight or well-lit homes and apartments. In the night, Mitchum still has a chance. Night is where he can sneak around and discover who's framing him, where he can hide, where he can run away from trouble with his girlfriend to some other town. It's still a noir, though, so everybody's doomed, but the final scene with the deaf-mute leaves the ending open to a handful of interpretations, most of them unsettling.

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