Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past.
Everett Collection

When American GIs returned from World War II, they went to school and they went to work, building lives and families and sturdy, respectable legacies. But the movies seemed to know a secret that many Americans wouldn’t acknowledge, and they mined that dark side in film noir. Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past is one of the greatest of the genre, unsparing and bleakly beautiful. Robert Mitchum’s Jeff Markham is the ex-private eye looking to bury his shady past in a clean new life with a good woman, Virginia Huston’s Ann. But he can’t escape the woman who sent him round the bend in the first place, the double-dealing Kathie, played by the disarmingly composed Jane Greer. Tragedy will entwine these two, but there’s no other way for them. As Markham, Mitchum plays so far behind the beat that, watching him, waiting for him, can lull you into a euphoric trance. Although he made a career playing the toughest of tough guys, his features are so soft and dreamy they’re almost feminine. And Greer is magnificent, making her entrance as a firecracker in white linen and a halo-shaped sunhat. Her eyes have a melting, beseeching quality any guy would trust but shouldn’t. She’s the opposite of the American dream. She’s the thing you want more than anything in the world, the gift of noir, the destructive force that’s fulfilling only in fantasy. She’s the reason you go to the movies.

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