Out of the Past, Jacques Tourneur (1947)

Jane Greer’s a gorgeous and trigger-happy gambler’s moll who knows better but can’t help herself: she steals 40 large from her boyfriend and hightails it to Mexico. Robert Mitchum’s the gumshoe, elemental as dirt, romantic as a cloud, coiffed like Yeats, who’s hired by the gambler to bring the girl back but who falls in love with her instead. Kirk Douglas is the perfectly oily prime mover of the movie, too clever by half and desperately in need of psychoanalysis. (Both pouty baby and deadly calculator, he brings to mind Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train.)

Both the opening move here (a guy who’s hiding in plain sight and trying to make an honest living running a gas station after having double-crossed a crook in the past) and to some extent the narrative strategy (retrospective) are similar to Siodmak’s The Killers from the year before. These aspects, both here and in Siodmak’s riff on the Hemingway story, help to enforce the main theme common to both films (and the story): your future’s predetermined by your past, so you may as well amor fati, cowboy, because it’s coming to getcha anyway.

Mitchum is the perfect choice for such a role–better than Lancaster in The Killers, who’s resigned, sure, but flairlessly so–because even when he’s going through all his machinations to escape his fate, everything about him, from his sleepy expression to his droll banter, is telegraphing that he knows full well he’s going to wind up smoked in a ditch. If they ever do a Sartre bio pic, they should get Mitchum to play him.

I find this movie very comforting. No matter how many times you watch it, it always ends the same way.

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