DVD club: Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur

The movie made stars of Kirk Douglas as a ruthless, big-time crook, and Robert Mitchum as the private eye he hires to track down his fugitive mistress.

Directed by Jacques Tourneur

1947, PG, Universal, £12.99

The son of the great French director Maurice Tourneur (1876-1961) who enjoyed great success in the States during the silent era, Jacques Tourneur (1904-1977) grew up in Hollywood and became one of the great genre directors, specialising in horror, westerns and noir thrillers. Out of the Past, adapted by Geoffrey Homes (a pseudonym for the left-wing writer Daniel Mainwaring) from his 1946 pulp novel Build My Gallows High, under which title it was released in Britain, is Jacques Tourneur's noir classic.

The movie made stars of Kirk Douglas as a ruthless, big-time crook, and Robert Mitchum as the private eye he hires to track down his fugitive mistress (smouldering Jane Greer, right, with Mitchum), who's shot him and fled to Mexico with $40,000.

When Mitchum finds her, she seduces him and they go to San Francisco where she reveals her true nature. The doom-laden Mitchum tells his story in flashback to his innocent fiancee after he's been tracked down to a small California town where he's attempting to start a new life, before being drawn back into the sticky web of the gangster and the femme fatale.

The script is dense, subtly shaped, and bristles with stylised, often witty hard-boiled dialogue and voice-over narration, eg: 'I never saw her in the daytime. We seemed to live by night. What was left of the day went away like a pack of cigarettes you smoke.'

The superb photography is by Nicholas Musuraca, an RKO stalwart specialising in noir, and the first-rate score is by the studio's prolific senior composer, Roy Webb, who had worked with Hitchcock on Notorious the previous year.

The picture draws on Hemingway's The Killers for its opening sequence, and is a major influence on David Cronenberg's A History of Violence. In 1984, it was remade by Taylor Hackford as the slick, shallow Against All Odds, with Jeff Bridges, James Woods and Rachel Ward replacing Mitchum, Douglas and Greer, with Jane Greer returning to the screen after a long absence to play Ward's mother.

Next week: Fred Zinnemann's High Noon


Philip French

The GuardianTramp

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