Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past should be considered a prototypical example of how to do noir the right way, full of all the necessary elements that define the genre—shadowy corners, double crossings aplenty, a luscious femme fatale, and, of course, murders. Set first in California, then Mexico, and then back to California, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is hired by mob leader Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to track down Whit’s missing bombshell lover Kathie (Jane Greer), along with $40,000.  Bailey tracks her down, only to be seduced by her allure, and they run away together. From there, an elaborate web of betrayals, lusts, self-evaluations, and trickery ensues. Like Hawks’ The Big Sleep (though nowhere near that complex), Out of the Past can sometimes leave you guessing who’s on what side, and that’s a good thing: the energy, dialogue, and twists-and-turns are all first-rate. Out of the Past is only 95 minutes long, but it packs enough intrigue and fiery encounters to fill two hours easily. That it’s so tight speaks volumes of Tourneur’s taut direction. Mitchum plays the sometimes-stoic, sometimes-cold, occasionally frantic Bailey to perfection, and Greer is absolutely delectable as Kathie, a woman whom you can count on for as long as as you’re what’s best for her that given moment. Douglas is superb when he’s on the screen, but his presence mostly lurks behind the scenes, hovering over every maneuver. The black-and-white photography is spot on. This one is not to be missed by lovers of the classics! It’s inches away from earning the masterpiece label, and may just get there the next time I pop it on.

88/100