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

 

First, the use of Robert Mitchum narrating the opening scene is classic noir. In addition, the aerial view with the scenery creating geometric shapes was breathtaking. In addition, the use of black and white film is an element of noir. Finally, the use of the musical score plays a major role in the film noir style.

 

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

 

Jeff is searching for Kathie and, though I haven't seen the movie before, it seems that she wants to mind her own business and keep to herself but, at the same time, she lets Jeff know where he can go to listen to American music and yet she frequents the place from time to time.

 

-- In what ways do you think this scene from Out of the Past contributed to the development of film noir? Looking at the use of lighting in the film veers off course of the typical film noir in that the use of light, that normally takes place at night time with the use of shadows, angles, and movement. Even with the day scenes, the lighting is expertly used.

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Framing this scene, director Jacques Tourneur and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca took the contrast of light and dark afforded by black-and-white to establish a scene and mood. I know I use the term mood a great deal, but that's what noir films and especially those produced by RKO do for me. The sense of being in a hot climate is not only created by Jeff Markham's narration but the brightness of the relentless sun as seen from the interior of the more dimly-seen cantina. Kathy Moffatt, wearing white, enters the place as if a cool breeze suddenly wafted through the city, although ultimately she proves to be an ill wind. But for Jeff, her entry means more than simply finding the woman he's been hired to locate and return to the loathsome Whit. She and the image she deceptively projects suggest something finer for the jaded private detective, the first step in his decision to protect Kathy, hide her existence from Whit and trigger the tidal wave of murder and double-cross to come. The lighting in the cantina is darker but not greatly so, just enough to create an oasis from the tropical weather. It becomes more noirish when Jeff stands up from his seat and his face is illuminated by the low-hanging ceiling lamp,  which stresses his reaction to Kathy's entrance. The sleepy nature of his face in the long shot (abetted by his voiceover noting that staying awake in such a tranquil setting was tough) disappears and is replaced by an alertness that underlines his opening lines with Kathy. She, in turn, sets up an air of boredom and isolation that is probably more self-defensive than anything else; at that point, knowing as little as we do about her except from Whit, our sympathies, as well as Jeff's, are with her until we all know better.

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Despite its use of a bright and sunny setting, Out of the Past seems to carry a noir atmosphere with it that allows elements of noir to remain present.

 

One thing that pervades the scene is the smoky haze of the barroom.  Since much of the scene is in a bar, despite the fact that light shines in, smoke is present to a similar point of other films noir such as Sunset Boulevard and Mildred Pierce.  The reliance on smoke is what carries the film's image of darkness, or at least shadows.

 

Despite this darkness and the hushed discussion between Greer and Mitchum, it is intriguing that, unlike many films noir, Greer's character is not depicted in dark clothing.  Though Mitchum seemingly is, Greer is in an all-white dress with very lively, animated characteristics.  While this may be because of the setting, it also may symbolize a sense of purity, just an assumption when considering that I have not seen the film before.

 

In my eyes, noir does not have to be completely dark, but as the title of the Daily Dose suggests, noir can operate in the shadows as well.  In this particular film, it seems that the noir elements, at least at the film's start, hide behind the sunny scenery and lively characters.

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- Noir style elements employed are 1st person narration, cynical dialogue of the female character, and darkness of the interior which is overcome by the overhead lights of the cantina.  These lights also throw shadows, although with less contrast since it is daylight, and lend the noir feel, even in daytime.

- We know Jeff (Mitchum) is looking for her and knows who she is, but we don’t know for sure if Kathie (Greer) knows Jeff.  She is decidedly uninterested in him t the start, but then gives him “sort of” invitation.

- This scene shows that tension, danger and mystery does not need darkness and rainy city streets to be evoked—
it can happen in a dry, dusty, hot, sunny place.

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

 

Through its use of shadow and lighting – just as in most nighttime or indoor noir shots, the light is in the background (through doorway) the darkness is in the foreground (café). Kathie walks seemingly out of nowhere from the bright light of the hot day, through the doorway where she pauses in shadow, then over to the table, where she is again in shadow until she sits at the table and is lit by a single spot throwing shadows behind her. She looks like a vision coming in out of the heat.

 

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

 

Kathie is cautious, non-pulsed, impassive but not surprised, as if this sort of thing happens to her all the time. Jeff is cool, casual, and informal. His “pick up” is dropping his change and then casually picking it up off the floor by her table. He does not correct the tourist guide’s mistake (assuming they are together) and neither does Kathie. They check each other out as they listen to the patter of the tourist guide as he peddles is wares. Jeff buys the earrings seemingly to get rid of the guide, then offers them to her. Jeff is friendly, but non-threatening and like a tourist. He chats, she listens. While she never thaws, she seems to have made up her mind about him, and as she leaves gives him a clue of how to see her again. Jacques Tourneur had told Jane Greer to play the role as “first half, good girl; second half, bad girl.” Here, in dressed in white and lit like an angel, she is the good girl personified.

 

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

To me this is one of the greatest “pick up” scenes ever. Jeff’s voice over as he follows Kathie’s trail is bored, routine and matter-of-fact. He only perks up a bit when he sees Kathie, when he says he understands perfectly why “Whit didn’t care about the $40,000.” The low-key tone of this sleepy daytime scene where the day is slipping away and no one cares captures this film’s laid-back style. For contrast, compare this scene to the “cantina” scene in His Kind of Woman (1952) with Mitchum and Jane Russell at the beginning of the movie when they are waiting for the plane.

 

Out of the Past was my all-time favorite film noir movie and ruled supreme until I saw Murder My Sweet.

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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!  :) 

I am glad you have been introduced to Jane Greer and although it is unfortunate you have missed her, it is like discovering a great author that has evaded you in the past. You can now have a voyage of discovery with her in film. The chemistry with Mitchum was recognized as they were quickly paired again in The Big Steal (1949). You may also want to check out Against All Odds (1984) and you may see parallels. I would suggest that director Taylor Hackford was a fan of Noir and his hiring of Jane to appear in Against All Odds was a big nod of recognition.

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Instead of a scene cast is shadows in the opening scene here the setting is bright sunshine with shadows appearing as Greer enters the cantina and sits at table. Is Mitchum on the make or has he been waiting for her? We don't know yet but he tries to interest her but she doesn;t seem interested. But as she leaves she drops a hint t hat she goes to the cantina she mentioned sometimes and Mitchum smilkes and watches her leave. A connection is made. The scene as shot shows that noit doesn't have to be darkness, rain, street lights. The genre by this point had expanded and grown.

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We know this is a noir by the initial voice over, and as we learned last week, the external shots. But from the narration we know we are still in tight quarters. The walls must be thin if the music from the movie house comes through the walls. Jeff says he "sits with a beer in the darkness." He does look a bit lonely and homesick. The voiceover also talks about the heat..

 

To Jeff, Kathie must look like an oasis. Dressed in white she looks (and acts) much cooler. Jeff looks sweaty, tie a bit mussed. Kathie is from means. She is well dressed without a hair out of place. We know she has either lived in or visited NYC at one point. She is independent and not afraid to go places alone. Jeff is a philosopher with a bad pickup action but a semi-decent pickup line.

 

The dialogue isnt as fast as some of our other films. You can almost feel the heat in their speech, as if each line is a drop of water hitting a hot grill.

 

We dont know Jeff's profession, but we do know we have a steamy locale, a beautiful woman, a man looking for something, and banter. Maybe instead of Out of the Past it could have been Out of the Shadows. I do like the above referenced UK title. Shame it wasnt kept.

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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!

Thanks for this. I would not have know about this if it wasn't for you!

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Mitchum wearing a dark suit in a Mexican town where it is obviously hot marks him as a man out of place which is a frequent film noir theme. He is the only person dressed in dark clothing so he is also set apart from the other characters. Being out of place, he is vulnerable and possibly in danger because he is easy to spot.

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I am not sure where I replied all last week, I think it was Canvas, if that is OK. I have replied there just now, but also copied to this board because I now realize there are 2 boards....

I hope I have not been lost in my own noir movie.

 

This scene contains many devices that we have already studied to set up the scene.

  • The aerial view from the plane resembles a documentary approach. It fits the realistic presentation.
  • The narrative voice explaining the background behind the events to come.
  • The various camera angles that change from scene to scene create variety in establishing our estimation of the environment. (Still appears as a realistic documentary style)
  • Even though  it is daytime, the lighting in the cantina casts shadows and amplifies the light vs. dark extremity of shadows.
  • Kathie's appearance, as has been stated features her entrance from the outside, creates her silhouette, and then allows her figure to appear within the cantina.
  • Robert Mitchum's facial expression while sizing her up were amazing and reflected his inner thinking.
  • The scene of Kathie lighting her cigarette was classic noir  behavior and added to the atmosphere by the drift of smoke.
  • The device of happenstance (coin drop and pesty guy ) allowed the set up of their meeting. Their conversation was a dance of approach/avoidance.
  • Kathie, of course, divulges little, but leaves a trail for Mitchum's use in the future.

The two characters give the impression they share an attraction to each other, but both hide the real intents of their primary motives for being in that location.

 

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This scene captures the tension of film noir by starting off with an establishing shot of the Mexican landscape in the blazing sun. Even Robert Mitchum's monologue emphasizes the heat. So he ducks into the shadows of a saloon.

 

When he sees Jane Greer, his voice over tells us he's fallen for her. And she's no angel. Her dialogue and attitude show that she's tough. Even so, Mitchum seems intrigued by her, to the point where he's no longer working for his client. Greer represents the femme fatale so well in this scene.

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Although Kathie seems like a femme fatale, I sense there is also a deep sadness in her, and she is definitely guarded when approached by Robert Mitchum's character. He too seems to speak with melancholy. Is it genuine or a ruse to get Kathie to open up to him?

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Many of the elements observed in earlier daily doses are evident in today's clip. We have the voice over, the camera angles, chiaroscuro, and even the overhead shot of the landscape. However, it does have its subtle differences.

 

We've commented so much about the black dresses on femme fatales (or just the female characters in general), but here, we see her in white. I haven't seen this movie, but I do recall reading an essay about the femme fatale in white (referencing The Postman Always Rings Twice). White is meant as innocence and purity but once those virtues are lost the associative color is black. We see this in Lana Turner's character in Postman. After murdering her husband, she wears black. Perhaps in Out of the Past, it is the same ideal. We have a virtuous woman in white who will probably commit a crime, establish herself as a fatale, and wear black. 

 

Speaking of dress, as hot as the weather is (referenced in Mitchum's voiceover), why the overcoat? Even Bogart removed clothing while seated in the hot, humid greenhouse in The Big Sleep. Mitchum is fully dressed. Something to hide? 

 

Though I'm not a smoker, I must say that Jane Greer's lighting of her cigarette was picture perfect. It almost seemed like a choreographed number. The way the smoke hugs her shape as if she were on fire; perhaps to signify how intensely white hot she is that she may burn any man who interacts with her.

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This scene captures the tension of film noir by starting off with an establishing shot of the Mexican landscape in the blazing sun. Even Robert Mitchum's monologue emphasizes the heat. So he ducks into the shadows of a saloon.

 

When he sees Jane Greer, his voice over tells us he's fallen for her. And she's no angel. Her dialogue and attitude show that she's tough. Even so, Mitchum seems intrigued by her, to the point where he's no longer working for his client. Greer represents the femme fatale so well in this scene.

Jane Greer really is a great femme fatale in this scene and in the film, even if she doesn't come off as one right away like we've seen in some of the other films; Rita Hayworth in Gilda comes to mind, for example -- you know right away her character is trouble for the leading man. Greer employs the same coolness and air of mystery that's become so closely associated with the whole idea of a femme fatale, but there's something different in her air, something that resembles sadness and loneliness. The whole idea of loneliness and isolation is definitely a film noir trait, as we covered in last week's discussions (particularly its influence on Hopper's Nighthawks). 

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Jane Greer really is a great femme fatale in this scene and in the film, even if she doesn't come off as one right away like we've seen in some of the other films; Rita Hayworth in Gilda comes to mind, for example -- you know right away her character is trouble for the leading man. Greer employs the same coolness and air of mystery that's become so closely associated with the whole idea of a femme fatale, but there's something different in her air, something that resembles sadness and loneliness. The whole idea of loneliness and isolation is definitely a film noir trait, as we covered in last week's discussions (particularly its influence on Hopper's Nighthawks). 

 

Sorry but you have a complete misunderstanding of Gilda and the character Gilda.  She is not a femme fatale.  Not even close.    For those that disagree,  I invite you to list the bad things Gilda did.    Compare that list to the actions of Ballin and Johnny. 

 

Kathie Moffit is indeed a classic femme fatale.   Selfish and bad to the core.   Her list of evil deeds is legendary.

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

It is bright daylight outside, but inside the cantina light level is low. One can see the shadows of Kathie and her hat against the wall. As she enters the cantina, her face fades in the shadow.

 

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

It seems that Jeff has been trying to follow and find Kathie. Did she run away with someone's $40,000. Jeff knows something about Kathie, but she doesn't know him as he introduces himself to her. Kathie implies that she could be interested to learn more about Jeff.

 

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

The film uses the contrast between the bright outside and the inside low light level. No coming in from the dark outside to a higher light level inside. The cantina scenes use angled shadows on the wall.

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This scene employs the use aerial camera shots of the Mexican countryside and the voiceover narration to set the mood for the movie. We learn that Jeff thinks a lot and is intrigued by Kathie as she walks into the cantina..Kathie is a difficult woman that mentions to Jeff about this place she goes to sometimes. There are use of low-key lighting a Shadows in the background which is a viable contribution to the film noir style.

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 Speaking of dress, as hot as the weather is (referenced in Mitchum's voiceover), why the overcoat? Even Bogart removed clothing while seated in the hot, humid greenhouse in The Big Sleep. Mitchum is fully dressed. Something to hide? 

Good catch. It may be a femme fatale characteristic.

 

Your observation reminded me of the time my wife and I were at a bus stop and she complained about the fit of her outfit. I asked why she choose it and her reply always stayed with me- "I have to look nice."

I'm not saying my wife is a femme fatale. :mellow:

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By its title, for its history, for his characters, by the way in which it is shot, Out of the past is an emblematic film noir.

In the scene that we see, that begins with an aerial view of cities, with a realistic tone, we are introducing in particular and subjective world of the Narrator-protagonist. Clearly the contrast between the outside light and the half-light of the cantina., and Katty input, can be thought of as a gateway to the dark. The character of Robert Mitchum by its appearance and his sayings, is already in that darkness.

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Sorry but you have a complete misunderstanding of Gilda and the character Gilda.  She is not a femme fatale.  Not even close.    For those that disagree,  I invite you to list the bad things Gilda did.    Compare that list to the actions of Ballin and Johnny. 

 

Kathie Moffit is indeed a classic femme fatale.   Selfish and bad to the core.   Her list of evil deeds is legendary.

  Was interested in this interpretation of "femme fatale." Seems to me the "femme" is not "fatale" because of the "bad" things she's done, but rather she is fatal to the protagonist because of his ill-fated attraction to her, despite the flashing danger signs. Kind of like a "fatal flaw" in Shakespeare's characters and typical of the nature of film noir, it is internal and specific to the character to whom it is directed. Gilda was certainly bad for Johnny. The relationship is focused on the immediate parties and their qualities in their private interactions. I have an ex like that. Just saying.

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  Was interested in this interpretation of "femme fatale." Seems to me the "femme" is not "fatale" because of the "bad" things she's done, but rather she is fatal to the protagonist because of his ill-fated attraction to her, despite the flashing danger signs. Kind of like a "fatal flaw" in Shakespeare's characters and typical of the nature of film noir, it is internal and specific to the character to whom it is directed. Gilda was certainly bad for Johnny. The relationship is focused on the immediate parties and their qualities in their private interactions. I have an ex like that. Just saying.

 

Johnny really isn't attracted to Gilda.  Instead he is repulsed by her.   Note that Johnny marries Gilda.  He does this NOT because he has a fatal attraction to her but instead to punish her.   Johnny is loyal to Ballin even after his death (well what Johnny believed was Ballin's death) and so he marries Gilda to ensure Gilda doesn't have a relationship with any other man,  even himself.   (Johnny doesn't even have sex with Gilda out of loyalty to Ballin).    

 

Gilda wasn't bad for Johnny.  Instead Ballin was bad for Johnny.   All the bad things that happen to Johnny are because of his loyalty to Ballin.   Remember those first few scenes.   Johnny promises to be a loyal and obedient friend to Ballin.  THAT is what sinks Johnny.

 

Note the song Put The Blame on Mame was done to illustrate that people would put the blame on Gilda when she did NOT deserve the blame.   It was a farce.   You took the bait,  hook, line and sinker.     

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The opening sequence of the Out of the Past clip starts out as a realistically.  If it weren’t for the voice over, I would think it was a documentary.  I can’t imagine what it had to happen to keep Jeff from being washed out as he walked from the street to the shade of the cantina (or in that case, how he didn’t disappear in the shadow). It’s a great representation of walking out of the “normal” world into the “noir” world.  Also, when Jeff says he hasn’t talked to anyone who hasn’t tried to sell him something, I am impressed with the different shades of grey in the scene:  Half the wall behind him is painted darker than the upper half; the light cuts a line across the lighter part of the wall.  The lines from the back of the chairs and the shadows they cast creates this boxed-sectional feel to the scene.  Both Jeff and Kathie are in their own words, segmented off from the rest of the world.  This is one of the first noir clips I’ve seen that managed to have the shadowy elements of a noir film during broad daylight.

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Sorry but you have a complete misunderstanding of Gilda and the character Gilda.  She is not a femme fatale.  Not even close.    For those that disagree,  I invite you to list the bad things Gilda did.    Compare that list to the actions of Ballin and Johnny. 

 

Kathie Moffit is indeed a classic femme fatale.   Selfish and bad to the core.   Her list of evil deeds is legendary.

 

A femme fatale doesn't do bad things.  A femme fatale an attractive and seductive woman, especially one who will ultimately bring disaster to a man who becomes involved with her.  I think Gilda falls into that definition.

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Scenes shot in daylight are more propitious to a realistic approach of cinematic properties, presenting actions and/or situations in a documentary style, rather than investing in an expressionist experimentation with lighting and frame composition, which usually involve night scenes. However, film noir challenges the conventions of the system and searches ways of combining both realistic and expressionist tendencies of representation in cinema.

 
In fact, the opening scene of Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past employs several elements that we've identified with the documentary dimension and the realistic vocation of film noir: the bird-eye view from the plane over the city, followed by various long shots from different camera angles that objectively establish the background scenery where the film will take place, supported by the impersonal narrator's voice over. Once we enter the cantina, we'll get to identify the author of the voice with the male character visible on scene, investing the narrative with a subjective dimension which initially was not so obvious.
 
Also, it's easy to understand why a cantina is a priviledge place for fortuitous and tense encounters away from the hot sun from Accapulco, in the same ways that diners were the spot for late night meetings in big towns. Even if it's daytime, the lighting inside enhances the treatment of shadows and highlights in a expressionist way, involving the characters in an atmosphere of mystery and suspition: they want to know the other's intentions before revealing anything about themselves; during their dialogue they're mostly still and they don't talk much about their lives, but it's evident that they're curious about the other. Besides, Robert Mitchum's character don't say much but we get to listen to what he thinks (at least about Accapulco) through the voice-over, and Jane Greer's character also gives us mixed signs, as she enters the cantina, her figure going from light to darkness, from silouhette to shadow, and as she appears dressed in pure white but acts and talks as a truly femme fatale (note, for example, the way she lights her cigarette, bringing smoke and ambiguity to the apparently clear and objective imagery of the film's opening. 

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