Write about OUT OF THE PAST? That's a tough one. I mean, there's just been a lot said about it over the years (justifiably so).
Well I do remember the first time I ever heard of the movie. I was working at a video store in the mid 1990s and I recall that one day a co-worker of mine came up to me and said that he'd come across the ultimate "smoking" movie. He mentioned OUT OF THE PAST and that it had a scene where one of the characters (turned out to be Mitchum's) was offered a cigarette by another (Kirk Douglas) and since Mitchum already had a cigarette going (in his mouth) he was forced to reply "Smoking!" (as in, "No I don't need another one as I am currently smoking, but thanks anyway."). That sounded pretty awesome to me and being that I was a budding Mitchum fan at the time, I was immediately intrigued. All that said, if memory serves, it would be a month or so until I finally saw it because our video store didn't carry the old RKO VHS tape and I'd have to rent it from the other "cooler" video rental shop in town.
I guess the other thing I always think about with OUT OF THE PAST is that it really helped me understand what film noir is. Or what one school of thought (that I happen to agree with) thinks it is. That school of thought classifies noir not only by the visual aspects of light and shadow and the subject matter (detectives, criminals, femme fatales) but also by one key ingredient - fatalism. Fatalism is the thing that always hooked me most about the best noirs like this and say Edgar G. Ulmer's DETOUR. Those stories about a guy who just can't help but get fucked over. Maybe it's bad luck, maybe it's poor decision making but it doesn't matter because the bottom line is these guys lose the big game (metaphorically speaking) every time. I've heard a case made for something like THE MALTESE FALCON being a film noir and that's certainly a fair assumption, but it will never make my list for the lack of that fatalism. Bogart as Sam Spade is far too in control of his own destiny, too clever to be completely outwitted by the forces of badness. Sure he may get slipped a mickey or slightly duped, but overall he comes out on top. He's kind of a badass really. Not to take anything away from that film as it truly is one of my favorites of all time, but yeah it just doesn't quite exist in the same dirty, desperate universe as things like OUT OF THE PAST and DETOUR (at least not for me).
Robert Mitchum has that rare quality among movie stars in that he can be cool and yet can perfectly play the occasional sap when he wants to. Bogart has vulnerability too, but there's just something about Mitchum's particular brand of "cool" that makes it all the more impactful when the rug gets pulled out from under him. OUT OF THE PAST is of course based on the novel by Daniel Mainwaring (aka Geoffrey Homes) called BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH. What a fitting title for the source material to a film like this. Like the title itself, the movie is filled with some of the greatest film noir dialogue ever written (James M. Cain is an uncredited writer which probably helped). I mean, it's the stuff that film noir parodies almost make fun of now, but not quite that. It's just so damned good. The whole movie is that way. From Nicholas Musuraca's stunning cinematography on down, it's a helluva thing this movie. Musuraca had worked with director Jacques Tourneur (who I adore) before on CAT PEOPLE and they certainly make a remarkable duo. I would say that OUT OF THE PAST and CAT PEOPLE are two of the greatest Black and White films ever made as far as what they achieve and how they achieve it in a way that only B&W cinematography could. If you ever needed to plead a case for B&W, you need go no further than these two films as evidence that its power versus color film cannot be denied. And one further, if you find someone who thinks that only color films benefit from the Blu-ray treatment, this disc could be a perfect argument against that point. All the reviews I've seen thus far have touched on it, but the bottom line is that this transfer is simply gorgeous. It was absolutely mesmerizing to revisit every frame of this movie that I've visited many times in this new breathtaking high-definition glory. The real bottom line is that you should just buy this Blu-ray. Don't think about it, just do it.
Featured on this disc is audio commentary is by James Ursini. Ursini is no stranger to film noir DVD commentaries as he has participated in many. His commentary credits list is extensive and includes NIGHTMARE ALLEY, BRUTE FORCE, WHERE DANGER LIVES, HOUSE OF BAMBOO, THE DARK CORNER, BOOMERANG, CROSSFIRE, CALL NORTHDSIDE 777 and more. His track covers some background info on the film but then proceeds into a wonderful contextual discussion of it and its place in the noir paradigmn. Good stuff.
Here's an interview (it appears to be for French TV) with Mitchum wherein he discusses his time with RKO and his early career as well as why and how he was cast in the roles he ended up with: