28 May 2020
Out of the Past (1947)
Out of the Past (1947)
Share this:



4 out of 5 starsAn inspired noir with a cinematography and a cast at the top of their game.


Out of the Past is a 1947 film by Jacques Tourneur that strongly follows the line of film noir that has contributed so much to the artistic success of the cinematographic form.

As per genre, the film relies on an excellent use of the cinematography (especially the dynamics of the shadows and the seen / unseen). The extreme and precise use of this photographic stylistic feature (which in this film presents numerous gradations and different applications) accounts for a fundamental and irreducible duplicity of the characters. All have a double level, a hidden side and during the course of the film you can never be too sure of who is lying and what are the real reasons for these lies.
The script is ambiguous in the good sense of the term, it goes deep and manages a return of the past and a desperate attempt to change the future in a soft and smooth way. The dialogues are absolutely perfect and occasionally overflow into dark-toned poetry.

Even the figure of the femme fatale which is classically included in all the noir films (and which has attracted some subsequent criticism on the symbology it brings with it) acquires a highly complex tone, as none of the characters seem to be good and everyone plays (lying), exactly like the Jane Greer character does, with the others.

Another necessary mention in this brief text should be given to the actors: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas and also Dickie Moore, in the little scenic time that is reserved for him. They all offer perfect, ambiguous performances, to the point that the spectator is constantly wondering if what he has just heard and seen is true or if it is just another lie that hides the unseen? This feature of the script is perfectly rendered by the behavior, body language and actors’ expressions.

It’s clear enough that this continuous play on the lie is a founding factor of the film and is expertly staged by the director, so much so that the film ends in the last instance with a lie offered for a good purpose (“was he going away with her?” – question to which the kid nods). The sacrifice of love that Jeff (R. Mitchum) stages in order to use a lie (this time perhaps innocent) to make the life easier for the loved woman.
And after all, isn’t that what cinema does? Lie to make the life easier for us.


  • Cinematography.
  • Screenplay (as stated above) and the narrative structure: we are treated to a twist (or maybe just another lie) every 10-15 minutes. This glues the spectator to the screen by having him inferring on the chain of the events.
  • The ending.
  • The acting.


  • We have a soft spot for the noir genre. This puts us in the extremely difficult condition of identifying negative points. But perhaps in this case we could indicate one in the ellipse immediately after the accident. But actually, we’re the ones lying now and it may also be that we just wanted to stay immersed in this world for a little longer.

What do you think of this film? Please leave a comment below and let us know!

To read more of these film “pills”, please visit our dedicated section.

Or, if you’re after a more-in-depth look at some films and/or filmmaking techniques more than just a quick take on the films as we watch them, please have a look at our Film Analysis page.


Le catene della colpa (1947) Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 97min | 2 September 1948 (Italy) 8.0
Director: Jacques TourneurWriter: Daniel MainwaringStars: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk DouglasSummary: Jeff Bailey, small-town gas pumper, has his mysterious past catch up with him one day when he's ordered to meet with gambler Whit Sterling. En route to the meeting, he tells girlfriend Ann his story. Flashback: Once, Jeff was a private eye hired by Sterling to find his mistress Kathie who shot Whit and absconded with $40,000. He traces her to Acapulco...where the delectable Kathie makes Jeff forget all about Sterling... Back in the present, Whit's new job for Jeff is clearly a trap, but Jeff's precautions only leave him more tightly enmeshed... Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>


See all photos >>

Share this:
Posted in PillsTaggs:
Write a comment