In 1947, Tourneur directed Out of the Past; perhaps the most archetypal film noir of all. The story concerns Jeff Bailey, who owns a gas station in the small town of Bridgeport, California. He’s dating a local girl named Ann, and seems content with life. But his past comes calling in the person of Joe Stefanos, who works for gangster Whit Sterling. Whit needs Jeff to do a favor for him. It’s the only way Jeff can make up for some bad choices he made on a previous assignment for Whit. It seems that Jeff, Whit and Whit’s girl, Kathie, have a very complicated history. Jeff agrees to do the job, hoping it will free him of both Whit and Kathie once and for all. But Jeff gets caught in an ever-tightening web of deceit, lies and murder. And since this is noir territory, there isn't likely to be a happy ending.
That’s a brief summary of the complex plot of this quintessential noir, which features Robert Mitchum at his cool, sardonic best as Jeff and Kirk Douglas, who’s quite effective (and icily menacing) in an early role as Whit. Then there’s Jane Greer as Kathie, one of the most beautiful, calculating, alluring and deadly femme fatales ever to grace the screen. It’s one of the most memorable triangles in the genre. This top-notch cast gets to utter some razor sharp (and quotable) dialogue, courtesy of screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, who adapted his 1946 novel Build My Gallows High for the screen. The film’s visual palette tells the story as much as the characters and their actions. The twisty structure of the narrative includes a lengthy flashback sequence; it’s an unforgettable viewing experience. Tourneur used the techniques he honed in his work with Lewton, and brought them to brilliant new heights in the film. If you're looking to watch a movie that truly radiates the essence of film noir, look no further than Out of the Past.
In many ways, the film is a story of obsession: Kathie’s with Jeff, Whit’s with Kathie, and Jeff’s longing to have a peaceful life with Ann, the normal girl from a small town. It’s the stunning look and visual motifs of the film that helps brings this theme across, courtesy of director Tourneur and master cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, who had worked with Tourneur on Cat People. The lighting of Greer’s entrance as Kathie is one of the most famous scenes in all of film noir. Several other memorable set pieces, including a fire-lit sequence in a mountain cabin, bring out the true essence of Kathie’s dark side. You can almost see (and feel) the tendrils of Jeff’s fate closing around him. After the triumph of Out of the Past, Tourneur continued to direct films in a variety of genres, including Berlin Express, The Flame and the Arrow, and Great Day in the Morning. Then, the director made another visit to the ominous world of subdued terror, and the darkness within.
|Niall McGinnis & Dana Andrews in Curse of the Demon|
The UK version of the film, entitled Night of the Demon, runs slightly longer, and features some additional scenes. Some viewers prefer the longer UK cut, others prefer the US version. I think both are effective in their own way, though the UK version gives Niall McGinnis more of a chance to shine in his role as Karswell. Both versions of the film are available on a “double feature” DVD released by Columbia/Tri-Star in 2002. Whatever version you choose to watch, the film is an excellent chiller that showcases Tourneur’s unique talents. He would go on to direct several more feature films, including the enjoyable 1963 horror spoof The Comedy of Terrors, featuring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone. Tourneur also worked behind the camera in television, directing episodes of series like The Twilight Zone and The Wild Wild West. He passed away in 1977, but left behind an impressive body of work that has influenced filmmakers as diverse as Martin Scorsese and Mario Bava. If you're new to his films, Tourneur's oeuvre is worth a look, or if you're a longtime fan like I am, his filmography is certainly worth re-visiting.
This post is part of the "Favorite Director" Blogathon, hosted by my fellow bloggers at Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Midnite Drive-In. I'd like to thank them for having me as part of the Blogathon. To view the other entries, and get more info, please follow this link: http://phyllislovesclassicmovies.blogspot.com/2017/05/the-favorite-director-blogathon-is-here.html. Thanks for reading!