Although Noir City DC 2017 has come to an end, I’m still working my way thorough my notes and hope to report the films I haven’t already discussed. One of the highlights of the festival was seeing one of my all-time favorites on the big screen for the first time: Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, which marked not only the film’s 70th anniversary, but also the Robert Mitchum Centennial.
Eddie Muller spent a few moments talking about Noir Alley, his Sunday morning movie feature on TCM. Muller also talked briefly about the work he does with the Film Noir Foundation: finding, restoring, preserving, and promoting film noir movies, especially those in danger of becoming lost forever. “What I’ve learned,” said Muller, “is that you have to preserve the films and the audience.” While the films themselves are getting older every year, so are the audiences who love them. Bringing new and younger audiences to these films is crucial.
“Film noir is the gateway drug to classic cinema,” Muller stated, which is exactly what he told the executives at TCM as a selling point for Noir Alley. The toughest part of the job, says Muller, is in finding prints of the films he wants to program, not only for Noir Alley, but also for the Noir City festivals.
Muller is often asked (I can only imagine how often), “What is film noir?” His response to those seeking enlightenment: “Show ‘em Out of the Past. Show ‘em Double Indemnity.” Does Out of the Past meet all the criteria for film noir? Let’s see… A detective? Check. A femme fatale? Check. Flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks)? Check. Betrayal? Check. A labyrinthine plot? Check.
Plots in film noir are sometimes so labyrinthine the actors themselves aren’t quite sure what was going on. At one point in making Out of the Past, Mitchum said, “I think we’re missing a few pages in the script.” (And they were.) That script was written by Daniel Mainwaring (under the pseudonym of Geoffrey Homes), although other writers such as James M. Cain and Frank Fenton (who actually polished the script) also worked on it.
One of the most amazing aspects of the film is it’s cast and how worldly they seem. Just look at Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas, all of whom appear to have seen everything this troubled world can shove into their faces. It’s remarkable to consider that when they were filming Out of the Past, Mitchum was 29, Douglas 26, and Greer 22, practically kids.
As he normally does, Muller asked the audience how many were seeing the film for the first time. Several people sheepishly raised their hands. “Never be embarrassed,” he said. “You’re here; enjoy!” And we did.
Photos: Movie Poster, TCM, The Blonde at the Film, DVD Beaver