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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #13: Out of the Sun and Into the Shadows (A Scene from Out of the Past)

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Only if you continue to indulge me as I draw connections between hard-boiled detective movies and Tyra Banks smizing.

 

I'm always a fan of people drawing connections between seemingly disparate things. I'm also a fan of people who are willing and able to find wisdom in even the most disregarded, trashy aspects of pop culture. I also used to be addicted to ANTM, but I cut cable awhile ago and haven't seen it in a few years.

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Although I’ve not seen this one yet, I’ve been looking forward to it since starting the course because of so many people here praising it, and the images I’ve seen from it are just so pretty.  The panning camera over Acapulco and the shot from the bus’s point of view help convey the sense of travelling.  We’re seeing Acapulco from Jeff’s point of view, first presumably from a plane and then from a bus.  There is a realist touch to these first few shots as we see the city, the landscape, and the people and tourists going about their day.  Once we see Jeff walking through those shadows and into that pitch-black cantina entrance, we shift into formalist territory.  The use of shadows in this scene is remarkable, and it provides a strong contrast to the bright white heat of outside.  Tourneur brought his experience of using shadows to create mood and atmosphere from the Val Lewton films (think the swimming pool scene from Cat People).  He is doing the same thing here, using shadows to add to the tension between Jeff and Kathie.  With the shadows, we can almost feel the coolness of the cantina.  Others have mentioned Kathie’s white dress.  It is intriguing, as the color one might associate with femme fatales is black (Ava Gardener’s black dress in The Killers and Rita Hayworth’s “Put the Blame on Mame”), but white has significant connotations.  Not only is it more fitting for the setting, but it is also the color of purity.  Our femme fatale is presenting a false front to Jeff.  On the surface, she seems lonely, and the way says “I sometimes go there” makes her sound almost a little depressed.  But she is just teasing Jeff and leading him down to his own destruction.

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Ok, who is Jane Greer?  Why don’t I know about her?  Robert Mitchum, I know.  I have always viewed Mitchum as kind of a slimy character, but here he looks so young and fresh.  The cinematography with its interplay of sun and shadow is absolutely breathtaking.  I am totally intrigued.  I have no idea what this movie is about other than what’s going on between the two protagonists we see here.  I will definitely be watching “Out of the Past” on Friday at 1:00 p.m.  This is such fun!  :) 

 

 

If you like the interplay between Greer and Mitchum in Out of the Past you should also catch them together in The Big Steal a couple years later (1949).   Greer makes a wonderful femme fatale...enough beauty and allure to pull men in and enough cold ruthlessness to make them regret it.    

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There are so many contrasts here.  The hot sun in Acapulco and the dark cool café.  The white dress and hat Kathie wears compared to the shadows in the café.  The outfit also makes you think Kathie is all sweet and innocent, but no.....she is a very bad girl as we will see later in the film. (eventually she starts wearing dark outfits)

 

Kathie's tone is cool to the waiter and ice cold to the slick man hoping to make a few pesos off her and Jeff. She only warms up slightly to Jeff as their conversation picks up.

 

It is amusing to see Jeff "accidentally" drop a coin in order to get her attention. He is definitely a loner and tells Kathie he needs to get things off his chest. Eventually she listens; she does seem interested as she tells him about the cantina.

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Out of the Past is a tremendously important film to the film noir timeline. It's certainly one of the most famous and influential films noir, with its themes and characters used broadly by many movies in years to come, and I personally know people with little knowledge of classical Hollywood cinema or film noir to have watched it and being impressed by its unique style and intriguing plot and characters.

 

In the scene when we see Kathie entering the cantina, lighting is the main issue. Tourneur uses every little trick he could, he teases the camera and the camera is teasing us. Low-key lighting, bright light and darkness depicted together, shadows used as much as they could be, and some terrific close-ups to Kathie and Jeff (mostly Kathie), all disprove the belief that a remarkable film noir scene could not be shot in broad daylight. In fact, this bright light helps the director achieve his goals, as it appears to separate the world within Jeff lived so far with the one he's going to enter; a dark, dangerous and eventually fateful one (his voiceover narration emphasizes this). If we take into account that contemporary audiences didn't watch the film in a relatively small computer or TV screen in their own homes but rather in a large cinema screen in a dark room, we could say these techniques must have affected them deeply.

 

As for the studio, Out of the Past was made by RKO, a studio known for its pessimistic and complex approach to film noir. Many characters in noirs produced or released by RKO are too immoral and brutal even for film noir standards, such as Lawrence Tierney's in Born to Kill and Robert Ryan's in Crossfire. Nazi spies and organisations are also a recurring theme, in films such as CorneredNotorious and The Stranger. In those films the world is much too cruel a place to live, and it's often abstract and deviates from reality. Out of the Past is a rather perfect example of this pattern.

 

This scene also introduces us to the main characters, Jeff and Kathie. We have seen Jeff before, of course, but now we realize how naive and careless he can be, and how easy would be for a woman like Kathie to lure him into a deadly trap. As for Kathie, it's certainly not possible to tell right from the start that you had just met one of the most dangerous femmes fatales ever, but you could easily say she seems alluring, self-confident and possibly dangerous. And you would be absolutely right.

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Some things struck me as a bit odd in this scene, and I have not yet decided what to make of them. The most jarring (for me) is that Robert Mitchum buys the earrings for Jane Greer after barely getting a glance at them and without even asking their price. How does he know how much to pay? Why doesn't the seller look to see how much money he was given? That does not seem like a normal transaction, does it? The other oddity is Bob's opening gambit of telling Jane that he is lonely and wants someone to see the sights with him. He had days to  think up a better line than that, and he should have at least known to discard it when he heard Jane say that she did not want a tour guide, ha ha.

 

As for the prompts:

 

 -- How does this scene employ elements of the noir style while most of the scene is shot during daylight?

This ties into the third prompt, shown below. I think the clip has all of the characteristic elements of film noir, such as flashbacks, VO narration, tension, a femme fatale, etc. except that it eschews the typical night time setting and diagonal shadows from venetian blinds. One can still argue that it has lots of shadows, and that the action takes place in a relatively dark cantina (as opposed to in the blinding sunlight of the Acapulco square), but nevertheless, it is a departure from the film noir stereotype. It shows that darkness be found amidst blinding sun and heat.

 

-- What do we learn about the characters of Kathie (Jane Greer) and Jeff (Robert Mitchum) in this sequence?

I think we get more clues than actual learning in this clip, which makes us interested in learning more. For example, we learn that Robert is looking for Jane because of $40,000, but we don't know if she stole $40,000 or if there is a $40,000 reward for her return, or what. We learn that Jane was not on a quick trip and did not want anyone to know her destination (90 pounds of excess baggage and getting inoculations belie the 'Going to Florida' story she gave her housekeeper). We also learn that she is familiar with at least one bar on 56th Street in NYC, but what should we make of that? We can see that Jane has confidence and poise. We learn that she drinks cuba libres and smokes cigarettes, so obviously she is a femme fatale, ha ha, but really, we get more feelings than facts in this great opening clip. As for Robert, we learn that he is smart enough to find her (although sitting in one cantina in all of Acapulco and waiting for her to come there seems like low odds to me, and not the smartest way to find her). We also learn that he is patient and has a sense of humor (the quip about wearing the earrings). The final clue is that they will meet again in the bar that Jane says she sometimes visits. 

 

-- In what ways do you think this scene from Out of the Past contributed to the development of film noir?

Riff Raff nailed it! See Riff Raff's comment about how this film liberated film noir from the previous locations (usually, US cities) and times of day (usually, night scenes) that had been used in films noir.

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I'm always a fan of people drawing connections between seemingly disparate things. I'm also a fan of people who are willing and able to find wisdom in even the most disregarded, trashy aspects of pop culture. I also used to be addicted to ANTM, but I cut cable awhile ago and haven't seen it in a few years.

I have never seen "Top Model", but I love seemingly disparate connections, so keep 'em coming!

- Tom Shawcross

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The beginning is shot in the hot sun, in somewhat of a documentary style except with the internal monologue of the main character as opposed to a separate narrator.  The scene moves in and out of the coolness of the shadows with Jane Greer ultimately moving out of the sun and into the shadowy cantina.  Somewhat mysteriously, Greer is handed a drink, but she leaves before drinking it.  We learn that Mitchum has been offered $40,000 to find Greer.  He has frequented the cantina each day until she finally walked in.  Greer informs Mitchum of another cantina where she sometimes frequents, and apparantly she would be more comfortable talking to Mitchum there.  She mentions 58th street, implying that she's familiar with New York City, perhaps her past, and also that Mitchum would be familiar with 58th street, perhaps his past.  With the scene of Greer walking over the threshold from the sun and into the shadows, the film literalizes the films noir element of action taking place among the shadows.  There is mystery as to why Greer is hiding out and why Mitchum has been called upon to stalk her, as well as to why Greer, apparantly, is willing to meet and talk with Mitchum instead of running from him.

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Yes, it is definitely one of the best Noir representatives; however, it's not my personal favourite. There isn't a fluid, continuous flow in a story of this film; it seems complex, and yet the "pieces" don't have a good connection. I agree with many opinions here - the play of shadows is definitely the noir element, femme fatale, voice over and the overall veil of mystery and I'd say melancholy even.

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Without having the benefits of night for dark lighting, this scene utilizes Robert Mitchum's voiceover to emphasize a noir style. Mitchum's character is in Mexico in search of this woman, but we don't know why, at least in this scene. He appears to be a private investigator, which is a staple of the noir genre. I assume that he'll get into a shady ordeal, because that's what happens in this genre. I thought the cafe's lighting was also interesting, and created artificial dark lighting, as Kathie walked in. This scene tells us that Jeff has been in Mexico for over a week now, presumably hunting down Kathie. It also gives her an uneasy introduction where you almost feel you know she's not going to be a positive for Jeff. As she walks away, you also begin to sense Jeff's attraction for her. I think it's a pretty safe bet to say Jeff will be going to Pablo's sooner rather than later. 

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The scene in the cantina looks sort of like a photographic negative of Nighthawks. Here, there's an oppressive light outside and the figures huddle together in the dim twilight of the cantina. Jeff Bailey (our detective) feels more at ease in the shadowy cantina, listening to the movie soundtrack coming from the cinema next door (where it's also dark). Like Bailey, Kathy Moffat (our femme fatale) is a creature of darkness. As Professor Edwards points out in his intro to the clip, the two figures are both most themselves, most legibly visible in the frame, in this dim half-light of the cantina. But, as our Prof points out, there's a brief moment when Kathy crosses the threshold where she's back-lit and appears mostly in silhouette. Here we get a sense that she's darker and harder to read than Bailey. There's something inscrutable about her brand of darkness. And even if it's true that nobody is completely evil, 'she comes the closest.'

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I see the film noir elements in this scene with, of course, the narration and the beautiful shadows and framing shots on the street and in the cantina.  And is that a femme fatale I see before me with an unsuspecting male ready to fall into her trap?  Well we'll have to see on Friday.

 

I've always thought of Mitchum as a tough guy in most of his movies, but in this scene he comes off as charming and almost shy with a sweet sense of humour.  He won't quit trying to get this girl to be interested in him.  As far as Greer goes, she's mysterious and withdrawn and not giving the boy a nibble.  But when she's ready to leave, " I sometimes go there".  A little smirk from Mitchum as he watches her wiggle her way of of the cantina.

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Something about voice over narrations make me feel like I'm about to hear a good story.

 

This clip has that affect on me when hearing Mitchum's voice "...and then I saw her," almost as if saying "Do I have a story for you!"

 

This three minute clip works as a short film. It's complete as is. The dialogue is to the point and sounds so authentic and natural. Was it the writing, the acting, or both? I would say both.

 

Also the title has a film noir ring to it. Looking forward to watching the film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Something about voice over narrations make me feel like I'm about to hear a good story.

 

This clip has that affect on me when hearing Mitchum's voice "...and then I saw her," almost as if saying "Do I have a story for you!"

 

This three minute clip works as a short film. It's complete as is. The dialogue is to the point and sounds so authentic and natural. Was it the writing, the acting, or both? I would say both.

 

Also the title has a film noir ring to it. Looking forward to watching the film.

 

The book title was Build My Gallows High.    Now that is one dark noir title.    The film was released with that title in the U.K.

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I didn't get the Daily Dose for Monday, June 22.  Is there a place on the Canvas Network where I can access the DD?  Thanks.

 

Oops -- just went to the Canvas site and learned that there will no longer be Daily Dose emails.  For those of you who found themselves in the same situation, go to the home page of the course, and there's a link to the Daily Doses.

 

Problem solved!

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The book title was Build My Gallows High.    Now that is one dark noir title.    The film was released with that title in the U.K.

Compared to its U.S. title Out of the Past, these two title really intrigue me as to what happens?

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I love the way you can sense the heat by how bright everything is and the fact that people keep moving toward shaded areas and into cooler shadowed places like the cantina and movie theater.  Mitchum is a great actor, slightly sinister but beguiling all the same.  You get a feeling right away that there is a deep back story here.  Someone thinks he owns this woman for some reason, Mitchum is a person hired to find her and she is intrigued by him.  If she is still running as the VO suggests why take the risk of getting involved with a stranger?  Another noir theme  of bad choices ending badly seems to be coming here.  I will enjoy watching this one again.

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I'm giving no spoilers on out of the past, but for his second movie, you can tell kirk douglas has star power. also in his first film the strange love of martha ivers, but in out of the past. every scene kirk douglas is in , scene stealer!

Yes, we can definitely agree that Kirk Douglas commands the screen in his scenes.

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There is expectation and loneliness in droves in this scene. As a spectator I can´t let go of the point of concentration given. Both the loners owns us.This is certainly underlined by the Tourneur framing of the character as somebody here pointed out.Tourneur is a favorite.The wit, the tension implied, the snappy dialogue and the femme fatale. Add the play of ligthning, especially the entrance of the woman and we have a scene we can enjoy on endless repeat.The film noir serves women characters, femme fatale goddesses, that we certainly know will drag us down in the gutter and we joyfully, lustily accept. In this scene we have a lot of film noir trademarks but the darkness. This film shows how that can be done.

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 -- How does this scene employ elements of the noir style while most of the scene is shot during daylight? The scene uses the darkness of shaded areas in the street and the cantina and shadows in both those places and contrasts that with the bright sun outside. You can almost feel the heat outside in this scene. Kathie is sitting at a table in front of the door, so even though she is inside, there is a sharp contrast between her and the brightness outside.

 

-- What do we learn about the characters of Kathie (Jane Greer) and Jeff (Robert Mitchum) in this sequence? Jeff cleverly uses the fact that Kathie dropped something, as well as the Mexican guide’s presence, to get closer to his objective, but in a very smooth and sophisticated way. Kathie is not accepting his advance immediately, but, at the last moment of the clip, does mention where he might find her in the future.

 

-- In what ways do you think this scene from Out of the Past contributed to the development of film noir? The score adds Mexican music to further expand the Noir style, as well as wonderful use of light and dark during daytime to set a mood.

 

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It's pretty ingenious how noir-looking this scene manages to be even though it was shot in broad daylight. Setting it in a dark cantina with the sunlight streaming in on Jane Greer dressed in light clothes, but with a dark look on her face, makes that uneasy impression key to the noir style and method of storytelling.

 

In the scene we watched, we learn that Jeff is a hard-boiled man on a mission of some sort, and that Katie is fixing to be a big part of it. We see that Katie is a world-weary, beautiful enough of a young lady to make a man disregard $40k, and we wonder about her motives for telling Jeff where she sometimes hangs out.

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I've seen this film a couple of times and enjoyed watching it without the benefit of the insights afforded by the information we're learning on this course. This time, I enjoyed watching the clip from the photography/lighting point of view without necessarily focusing on the acting and what was actually going on: very interesting to see the luxurious dark tones and silvery highlights now that they've been pointed out. And that's precisely what I joined this course for, to see these films anew! 

 

What did we learn from the characters? Well, Kathie is obviously on the lam - from what or who we're not told - and Jeff is looking for her. It's interesting he's playing such a long game and even when he eventually meets her is content to let her go: it suggests he has other motives at play other that simply being hired to find her. 

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One of my favorite movies; one could argue it's the quintessential noir film (for all the reasons I won't list lest I spoil the experience for someone who hasn't seen it yet).

 

  • The voice-over is great, as much due to Mitchum's tone as to the script - he could read the phone book out loud and make it seem compelling.
  • Interesting use of black and white clothing - Mitchum is not really a bad man but wears black (which also makes him stick out like a sore thumb in an area of the world where anything but white might bake you alive). Greer is wearing white, and we soon will learn that was misleading also.
  • When Mitchum heads towards the cantina from across the street, he's literally headed into a black hole! The front entrance is like a portal between two worlds - heat versus cool, contained versus open, known versus unknown
  • Shadows everywhere, even inside the club. The overhead lights cause people to move in and out of shadows when walking (as if to say...are they good or bad? or both?). .
  • They cat and mouse a bit; great banter, he subtly and she overtly. He's small talk and she's smoking (and smoking hot). When he says "that's why I'm here" she counters with "is it?"...and when he pauses, she smiles. Hook baited, she can now exit...but not without a come-on, just in case.
  • He introduces himself and despite offering a few icebreakers, never asks her name nor does he seem concerned that she doesn't. He's already figuring they both know that is a conversation for Jose's cantina and he's willing to play that hand. They both know more about the other than they let on, and although we know that, we don't know exactly what.

Another favorite moment was how we as viewers are led to this location from above...from high above the city, to downtown and wide streets, to a bus winding into a more remote area of town and finally to the cantina and the table. It really reinforces the fact that the girl could have been anywhere in the world, and for the reasons stated, Mitchum chose to pinpoint this one specific location, and committed

 

Absolutely love this film.

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