Often imitated but never duplicated, Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past (1947) features iconic performances by its lead actors, countless twists and turns, memorable visuals and an ungodly amount of cigarette smoke. Our story follows Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), who's currently enjoying the quiet life as a service station owner in small-town California. One day, Joe Stefanos (Paul Valentine) rolls into town; he's on a mission for Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas, in only his second film role) to bring Jeff back for a meeting in Lake Tahoe. During the 85-mile drive with his girlfriend Ann (Virginia Huston), Jeff pretty much spills his guts, flashback style: his real name is Jeff Markham, he worked as a private eye in New York, and Whit hired him years ago in a case that literally (and figuratively) went south. Acapulco, to be more specific.
So, what was of interest down in Mexico? Kathie (Jane Greer), Whit's girlfriend who ran off with $40,000 after shooting him. He doesn't care about the money; Whit just wants her back. After Jeff finally tracks her down, he understands why: the drop-dead gorgeous Kathie seduces the private eye in relatively short order...and before you know it, he lies to Whit about her whereabouts and heads off to San Francisco with her. After living in seclusion for a while, the happy couple is spotted by Jeff's old partner Jack (Steve Brodie), who tries to swindle them for some "quiet money". Soon enough, chaos ensues: Jack is gunned down, Kathie flees the scene, Jeff uncovers some surprising evidence, and his spontaneous fling grinds to a screeching halt. The flashback's over, Jeff finally reunites with Whit...and wouldn't you know it, a certain woman has returned to his side. Not surprisingly, everything continues to go downhill from there.
Bosley Crowther's 1947 review pretty much nailed Out of the Past's only glaring flaw: "If only we had some way of knowing what's going on in the last half of this film, we might get more pleasure from it. As it is, the challenge is worth a try." In the end, the film's initial setup, confident swagger and hypnotic atmosphere serve as capable substitutes, even more than 65 years later. It's the kind of film you might admire more than enjoy the first couple of times through, but the visuals will undoubtedly linger in your mind for hours---or even days---afterward. Carefully lit and expertly shot by cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, Out of the Past serves up two distinct halves for Robert Mitchum's two-sided Jeff: a softer, more natural world for Bailey, and a dark, shadowy landscape for Markham. This visual approach breaks up the otherwise linear story; it's obvious in hindsight but just subtle enough to work magic without feeling gimmicky.
Previously released by Warner Bros. in 2004 as a single-disc DVD and simultaneously as part of their excellent five-disc Film Noir Classics Collection, Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past makes its belated debut on domestic Blu-ray as part of the studio's manufactured-on-demand "Archive Collection". This is a near-flawless effort from a technical perspective but, disappointingly enough, offers absolutely nothing new in the way of bonus features. I'd imagine die-hard fans will just be happy to have the film in high definition, but it deserves more than just a recycled audio commentary.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Much like its parent company, Warner Archives has established a reputation for serving up quality transfers and Out of the Past is no exception. This is a fantastic 1080p, 1.37:1 transfer that easily outpaces the respectable 2004 DVD in every department. Textures are stronger, image detail more noticeable. Dirt and debris have been carefully removed. Contrast and black levels are more stable and digital imperfections (excessive DNR, edge enhancement, compression artifacts, etc.) are nowhere to be found. Lighting and atmosphere are such a major part of Out of the Past that this improved image yields a more satisfying and effective experience overall; in short, nothing of importance has been lost in the shadows. Without question, die-hard fans and newcomers alike should be absolutely thrilled with this Blu-ray.
DISCLAIMER: This images featured in this review are promotional in nature and do not represent the Blu-ray's 1080p source image.
Not surprisingly, the one-channel DTS-HD Master Audio track does what it can with the film's limited source material. Dialogue is clean and crisp, background details are balanced nicely and the score rarely fights for attention. The only potential drawbacks, such as a thin high end and modest dynamic range, are undoubtedly due to the source material. Anyone at all familiar with films from this era should know what they're getting and, in that respect, Out of the Past won't disappoint. Thankfully, optional English subtitles have also been included for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Though predictably low on style points, Warner Bros.' standard interface is clean, easy to navigate and loads quickly. Sub-menus have been included for commentary and subtitle setup, but not chapter selection. This dual-layered, region-free disc is housed in a silly "eco-friendly" case with attractive disc and cover art. No inserts or slipcovers are included.
Just the recycled Audio Commentary
from Warner Bros.' own 2004 DVD
featuring writer and film noir expert James Ursini. It's a decent enough track though not without moments of narration and long pauses, but it's extremely disappointing that new supplements haven't been unearthed or created by now. Even so, those new to the track should enjoy it.
Whether you're a seasoned fan of film noir or relatively new to the genre, there's something truly special about Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past. Full of now-familiar genre archetypes and incredibly confident from start to finish, the film's hypnotic atmosphere, clever twists and top-notch leading performances are as memorable as they come. Warner Bros.' brand new Archive Collection Blu-ray easily outpaces their own 2004 DVD with a rock-solid A/V presentation, though the lack of new bonus features is truly disappointing. Either way, Out of the Past is fairly priced for a manufactured-on-demand disc and, without a doubt, worth the upgrade for newcomers and DVD owners alike. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.