Summer Under the Stars: Out of the Past (1947)

TCM’s star of the day is Robert Mitchum, and my film pick for the actor is Out of the Past, which airs today at 10:00 P.M. (EST).

In a small California town, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is trying to live a normal life as he runs his own gas station. But one day, his past life as a private eye catches up with him when shady businessman Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) summons him to settle a few old scores. A few years prior, he had hired Jeff to track down his girlfriend Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), who shot Whit and made off with $40,000 of his money. But after finding her in Mexico, Jeff fell in love with her and didn’t turn her into Whit. Back in the present, Jeff discovers his new job is clearly a set-up and has to find his way out of the tangled web of corruption engulfing him.

Although it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role of Jeff Bailey, easily one of Robert Mitchum’s most iconic in his filmography, he wasn’t close to being the first choice to play the character. The first choice was none other than Humphrey Bogart, who’s perhaps the most famous actor from the film noir genre. But seeing as he was under contract to Warner Bros. and Out of the Past was being produced by RKO, Bogart was unable to take on the role. Other noir leading men considered for the part were John Garfield and Dick Powell, before ultimately being given to Mitchum.

Robert Mitchum already had dozens of films under his belt by the time he made Out of the Past (as well as an Oscar nomination, his only one, for Best Supporting Actor for 1945’s The Story of G.I. Joe), the 1947 film was the one that really made him a star, setting him on a career path to playing the insouciant characters he’s best remembered for today, especially within the noir genre. And much like his most well-known characters, Mitchum displayed a detached, easygoing facade. His Out of the Past co-star Jane Greer recalled how she initially got the impression that the actor came to the set unprepared in order to give a seemingly spontaneous performance, always asking a crew member for his lines. But she realized later that Mitchum knew his lines the whole time, only wanting to show a cavalier attitude to add to his indifferent star persona.

While released in 1947 and following numerous noir films in the 1940s, Out of the Past is one of the most famous films of the genre. From a private detective, a femme fatale, gangsters, to the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, the film has all the ingredients that make it recognizably noir. And mixed together with a talented cast and crew, the film is elevated to even greater heights, continuing to captivate audiences today, and I think much of that is thanks to the cool persona of Robert Mitchum.

I wrote this as a part of the 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the banner below to read more posts!

2 thoughts on “Summer Under the Stars: Out of the Past (1947)

  1. Pingback: The 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon | Journeys in Classic Film

  2. Probably my favorite noir film…and I wasn’t aware that those other actors had a shot at the lead role. Thank heavens Mitchum was given the part!

Leave a Reply