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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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I thought that was a clever use of shadows and lighting as the characters stepped out of ten not sun into dark alleyways, passages and gathering places. Even dressed in white, Jane Greer was a dark and sultry femme fatale. And I liked Robert Mitchum's line about beer and darkness, very appropriate.

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I noticed how everything we saw had straight lines:  the road below and the tree and building.  But then, as Jeff is on the bus everything starts to become angled and closed in.  We can see everything in focus inside the cantina while Jeff is sitting alone.  However, after the shooting closes in on Jeff and Kathie, everything else is out of focus.   

When Kathie enters she is all lightness like a virtuous girl, sweetness and innocence.  Similar to westerns wherein the good wear white.  She even seems to have a halo as she walks beneath the light fixture as she enters.  This effect is not seen when she leaves the cantina, however.

Kathie seems to have an indifferent, yet congenial attitude.  There is a glimmer of darkness and desolation in her dark eyes as she is listening to Jeff.  She leaves with the hint that Jeff might find her at the place she suggests he visit.

Jeff seems like a laid back type.  He needs to get something done but doesn't really care about when or how.  He is patient.

This is an important contribution because like savoir faire, noir is everywhere - even in Acapulco.

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Mitchem the actor makes the film with his dialogue delivery his way of staring blank yet intense. He plays  the 'silences' well in his scenes which to me tell more then words.  His clothes  seem to be slapped on and rumpled no matter how they are fixed.  The laconic hero with the vocie  just on the edge of saying ' I dont care"  Brilliantly lazy fits Noir well as the postwar cynical spirit rises  up.

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You can tell right away this was a big budget hollywood studio picture! if they filmed in Mexico (?) they had the budget My guess is Mitchum was $$ so they had to budget for him also. Then the more you view the clip the more you get involved with the story...also i might add our Teacher Richard, spoke a lot about this film on the first week in his readings (using photos) to get us really involved with the class.

I believe Out of The Past was shot in the studio and the back lot, with 2nd unit footage taken in Mexico--but they must of done it well, cause it fooled you.  Mitchum was just an RKO contract player and not a big star yet, so the idea that he commanded a lot of money and an expensive production is incorrect.

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The appeal of film noir for me has always been the seedy underbelly of everyday life. The fact that this scene takes place during the day, and in a bright, sunny locale, is another chance to illustrate that these dark elements can pervade anywhere, even a place baked in the glow of the sun. The narration, another film noir staple, puts us in the mindset of Jeff Martin. We are told his mission and his impressions of the city. It's almost as if he needs to seek refuge in the confines of the dark cantina. He's more at home there than out in the light. He's so comfortable that he even says he could fall asleep right there in a public place. I didn't get the sense that he meant of boredom, but perhaps the cantina for Jeff was almost womb-like and he found more comfort there, on a job, than anywhere else in the world. "And then I saw her."

 

I don't know if there's a more recognizable line in film noir than that. Our woman enters, dressed in white, however she too seeks the shadowy haven of the cantina. Utilizing the methods of a private detective, Jeff finds a way to get close to Kathie, and then uses the local as a way into a conversation with his target. He's a bit playful to break through her icy veneer and is ultimately successful as she lets him know where they may meet up again. She tells him of a place where "it's like a little place on 56th Street". Even here, both Kathie and Jeff prefer a place that reminds them of the urban jungle where many a film noir takes place.

 

I will say that this daily dose reminds me of the difficulty that comes from lining up and lighting a shot. It's not just point the camera and click. The discussion about how to light certain characters, particularly in a film in crisp black and white, is useful for illustrating that a lot of the film noir style comes from those people behind the camera. The atmospheric cinematography is an equally important ingredient to the film noir style as much as the story or the characters.

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The documentary-travelogue style opening, voice over and sharp dialogue about the "90 pounds of luggage" all set up the noir elements presented. Then the perfect lighting for Greer as she enters the cafe and following Mitchum's almost desperate description of his days spent waiting. Viewers know he is in trouble.

 

After she seats herself, she casts the shadows, and the coin innocently dropped seems to symbolize the gamble he takes. The fact that she never smiles, never responds except by keeping her eyes locked on his in a challenge of sorts, plus she indirectly warms him, doesn't deter him. He is already "a fish caught"

 

The last clue about their relationship is her leaving him...she has this all on her terms.

 

I think the use of foreign (at the time) locations, are part of the unease, and the reference to New York and a familiar location, offers a shared memory. Also, the shadows, in a hot locale offer a respite, but always lurking within them are barely contained elements of danger.

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Many Noirs feature the opening "play," like this one, between the male protagonist and the femme fatale. Here, she rejects his opening advance of buying her the earrings, but then backhandedly invites him to join her at a place that will be more familiar to both of them. He complains about all the people who've tried to sell him things recently, but doesn't recognize her "pitch."

This is similar to Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichsen in Double Indemnity initially recognizing each other's ploys, and rejecting each other, but eventually giving in and starting an affair anyway.

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When you see Jane Geer enter it is as if she is in a picture frame.  Entering from the sunlit street accentuates her figure and the importance of her character.  Everything else that has been shown on the screen has led up to this fateful moment.  It could almost be labeled "Out of the Light and into the Darkness." Out of the Past sets up every aspect of film noir that would influence films after, sharp lines, shadows on the walls, documentary style shooting leading us into the story, and narration would all be used in future films. The seedy feel of characters and under belly of places would all follow in other films as well. IT sets up the femme fatal and the man trapped in her web.  This scene has all you could want in a film noir and makes you want for more.

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Noir elements; The use of strong light and silhouette; the movement of characters from bright light to shadows; a dialogue that's almost coded, but the characters seem to understand each other. The scene closes with a promise of the two meeting again, a psychological tease.  It's almost like Jane Greer's character, Kathie, is testing Mitchum's character, Jeff, to see how serious he is about getting close to her.

 

We learn that Kathie's fleeing something or someone; Jeff is on a job to find her, and by his impassive dialogue, we understand he does not care a whit for his prey - until he sees her. When he sees her, his dialogue just hints at the reversal of loyalty that he might be capable of. Then, by his actions we see that he is giving himself time to decide where his loyalty will settle, without letting us know.  Mitchum is just so cool, his movement, his speaking, his actions don't let us know what he'll do, it's all very ambiguous.  

 

Kathie is a bird in cage - or is she? Framing her against the light lets us know that she is the focus for all who see her; she's the McGuffin, the driver for all the other characters' actions. Can Jeff resist falling for her?  The promise of a future meeting is set up in a way that you know that she will control it. There's danger there.

 

Both of these characters are acting to unseen motivations. Someone or something else is driving them.  And they are both showing signs that they will behave in ways driven by each other.  To me, this is film noir; the players are pawns, good, bad or indifferent, but unable to escape the external forces that motivate and ultimately entrap them.

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I am quite excited to rewatch this film after so many years!

 

Noir Elements: Flashback sequence, Use of aerial shots as establishing shots (documentary realism), long shots provide a large view of the environment, urban and/or exotic setting, voice-over narration (homodiegetic), more subtle chiaroscuro lighting (less black and white and more gray-silver, white, and its gradations), and two lonely, cynical ex-patriate characters.

 

From this sequnce, we learn that Jeff is dedicated, patient, street smart, and lonely, while Katie is cool, assured, gives the sense that she wants to be left alone but also quite lonely. There's an intresting contrast between Katie, in gleaming white, coming in from the sun and sitting at table under a light, in comparison to Jeff, in a dark seat, sitting in the darker corner of the same cafe.  

 

In the larger context of noir, Out of the Past is one of the most famous and clearly a quintessential film in the genre, style, and movement. Upon watching the film, there will be more discuss as far as small and large noir elements, performances and narrative, and the film's legacy.

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It's funny, but I never think of black and white films noir in terms of day or night, just light and dark. So the scene of Jane Greer walking into the Cantina has never stood out to me as one that strictly speaking may veer from the norms of the usual for Noir.  It's obvious that at this point in the film we are to see Greer's character as an angel, and therefore first see her as if descending from heaven into a dark world. We will see her delve deeper into the darkness and the night scenes until she finally makes that transition (visually speaking) into the henchman of the devil that she truly is.

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This scene begins with the darkness of the bar room. Suddenly, Kathie appears in a bright, white dress and hat creating such a contrast. We have the quick, snappy patter, while the music evokes Mexico and everything Mexican.   Kathie, at this point, is quiet and somewhat self-effacing while Jeff is intelligent, patient, and totally blind-sided by Kathie's beauty.   This scene contributes to film noir by displaying all the elements we expect in a noir film, drawing us in with mystery, questionable behavior, a bit of lawlessness, and a hint  of something ominous about to happen.    This is an excellent movie.

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After the aerial and ground level travelogue scenes at the beginning, the “Out of the Past” clip follows a man through the sunny South American streets, framed always by black shadows, towards the inky black entrance to the café.  As he enters, the director shifts from a sunny shot behind the man taken from the shadowy entrance of the café across the street, to a sun silhouetted shot of the man taken from inside the café.  The screen is never fully filled with sunlight; it is captured in slivers and squares outside the areas of the main action.  These choices keep the sense of place intact while providing a film noir atmosphere.

 

As the woman enters from outside the café, different gradations of shadows move up and down her body like the man’s apprising gaze.  The effect of light and shadow playfully chasing one another also helps reinforce the cat-and-mouse dialogue between the two characters.  Interestingly, the woman’s hat keeps her face shaded, perhaps as a sort of protective device, an unwillingness to reveal herself.  Conversely, the hatless man gets a touch of sunlight as he sits at the table facing the open café doors, indicating his, if not guilessness, at least his situational straightforwardness.

 

The dialogue has a softly hardboiled edge, more teasing than jousting, which promises a different shade of film noir protagonists, enlarging the vocabulary of the style. 

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

 

The film noir is suggested and can be taken literally. The "Acapulco" brightness makes dark low-key hard shadows difficult but all the angles and framing is evident. Clip starts in a wide and includes shots of the city scape and then closes in on Robert Mitchum in angular and shadowed streets and alleyway shots as we also hear his voiceover another stylistic element of film noir. He enters La Mar Azul waits in the cafe, drinks beer and sees Jane Greer enter under an archway into the darkened space transitioning from daylight to a silhouette from shadows but never without the shift of sunlight before the arch to shadow over her mostly light-coloured wardrobe including her wide-brimmed hat. The suggestion of $40,000.00 is not on his mind as much as her (once he sees her) from what is spoken.

 

 

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

 

It is no coincidence he ran into her. She's his mark. I'm trying to place it together but need a bit more story. He knows of her but she has no knowledge of his identity. He's trying to pick her up but she does not make herself available despite hinting where he might be able find her if he's lucky.

 

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

 

Seems to incorporate many film noir set pieces including a mysterious stalker. He is likely a private eye hired by a husband which fits the popular film noir archetype but the classic physical elements of the scene is all we have to go on so I'd say the combination of lights and darks contrasted by what would normally be considered bright and cheery seems darker and mysterious. Film noir delved and toyed with unknowns so well.

 

I should be back on track after back to back daily doses from this past week. Hope to catch up on folks responses this weekend.

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The scene uses the noir touches by having most of the action happen indoors where there are shadows everywhere. There is also some shadows used in the sunlight.

 

From just the scene alone, Jane Greer seems to be the femme fatale and Mitchum seems to be the one likely to take the fall for her.

 

The most important aspect is the one listed above. Using noir techniques in the daytime.

 

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The clip starts off with the popular noir theme of a voice over narration by the male protagonist. It sets the scene and informs the audience that they are about to meet the femme important to the story. The movie appears to be shot on location so that the audience sees landmarks and markers that tells them, in addition to the narration, where we are. We first meet our protagonist by the back, we don’t see his face until he is just about to enter the cantina, so his face is in shadow. We see it in light once he is seated at his table, facing the door. When we first see the femme, she is also in shadow, entering the cantina. We don’t see her face fully until she is seated facing the protagonist. She is engulfed in shadow from the doorway and from her hat. These two characters are opposites. They sit on the opposite sides of a table. She is dressed in light, he is dressed in dark. They are both sarcastic and witty and clearly attracted to each other, from the dialogue. The seen is light with low-key lighting, a further emphasis on light and dark opposition already set by the costume of the characters. Each character has a side of their face in shadow, indicating secrets and hiding something. 

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I am quite excited to rewatch this film after so many years!
 
Noir Elements: Flashback sequence, Use of aerial shots as establishing shots (documentary realism), long shots provide a large view of the environment, urban and/or exotic setting, voice-over narration (homodiegetic), more subtle chiaroscuro lighting (less black and white and more gray-silver, white, and its gradations), and two lonely, cynical ex-patriate characters.
 
From this sequnce, we learn that Jeff is dedicated, patient, street smart, and lonely, while Katie is cool, assured, gives the sense that she wants to be left alone but also quite lonely. There's an intresting contrast between Katie, in gleaming white, coming in from the sun and sitting at table under a light, in comparison to Jeff, in a dark seat, sitting in the darker corner of the same cafe.  
 
In the larger context of noir, Out of the Past is one of the most famous and clearly a quintessential film in the genre, style, and movement. Upon watching the film, there will be more discuss as far as small and large noir elements, performances and narrative, and the film's legacy.

 

 

Very much enjoyed the clip.

 

There is stark contrast between the daylight scene and usual older film noirs where the mystery and the drama take black in dark street corners or abandoned homes. Here, the mystery is exposed yet covered up. We know little of the two characters outside of what can be expected of the genre: femme fatale and PI, both strong, smart and uncompromising. The music as well as the aerial shots really build a sense of realism. Everything looks and feels neat, including the street vendor that is quickly shushed and provides little actual conflict or trouble to the characters. Surely things will start going downhill soon.

 

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The noir elements even seep into the daylight.  Jeff is the quintessential noir private eye, within the clip providing the wisecracking cynical narration to set up the scene.  And while his job is to find Kathie, his dropping of a coin which rolls to her table, and the assumption of the tour guide that the two are together, inject that element of fate/chance which noir plots twist, and bring Jeff and Kathie together.

Their conversation is presented in a slightly adversarial fashion.  The camera framing each individually in one-shots, back and forth like a tennis match.  His sleep eyes locked on her, her eyes shyly looking down frequently.  Jeff in typically private eye attire - a dark rumpled suit, tie slightly loose and askew.  Katie is all in white, beaming, light and beautiful.  Her guard is up, so not completely engaging.  It seems he is not going to crack her defense, until her final line, when she indirectly invites him to meet at another location.  The slyness makes one wonder is it Jeff who is trying to trap Kathie, or vice versa. Suspicion has been planted in the audience's mind that she may be more dangerous than she appeared.

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


As the title to the daily dose suggests it makes a real thing of the journey from the light into the shadow. Jeff talks of the sun and the heat of mexico but he brings to mexico his own pool of shadow and talks about how he can't connect with the hot summer things the city is known for. The lighting inside contrives to still have Jeff in shadow and to use the shadows of the local selling them things on the wall of the cantina.  Tourneur is known for his use of shadow and suggestion, mainly from his Val Lewton horror work and has a reputation as a director of Noirs despite the fact that most of his career and seemingly the work that mattered most to him was totally different, genre stories of building societies like Stars in My Crown or Canyon Passage, even his noirs like Berlin Express are actually about how you form a good society and keep it safe from threats and I think that rather than being down to him filming a lot of Noirs or even really having a noir attitude it is down to his total mastery of the noir visual, learnt on horror movies, only really shown on noirs a handful of times but SO good it has defined his reputation. Here we are in sunlit mexico, he has one of the most beautiful leading couples of all time in Mitchum and Greer in 1947 and he manages to make them look that beautiful while also making mitchum a thing of shadow. His visuals, hell RKO from 46-48's visuals generally are astounding. 


 


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


 


I dont know, I've loved the movie so much, have the poster on my stairs, that it's really hard to seperate out that scene from my knowledge of the characters and talk about what I learnt where.  It gets to the heart of the couple, gives the viewer something to hang on to and yearn for almost as much as Mitchum does (and much more than Greer does), makes you want them to have that brief reprieve so much that I think it is the romantic heart of the movie and why it touches people so much. It's the promise (soon to be dashed) of a non-noir ending for the couple.  Which is futile because Mitchum is clearly doomed, talking of how the pleasures of the world are denied him without Greer, and Greer is tossing him a bone with the invite to the bar that plays american music. Playing him. And you know and he knows it but you and he take the bone anyway just to momentarily have the delusion of something better. 


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


It takes things like the narration and the iconic cool male lead of the Bogart/hammet/chandler approach to Noir and adds the doomed fatalism of something like Detour in the hands of the most underappreciated director of the studio system. It's the whole package, it combines all the philosophy of Noir with the audience appeal of real star power being perfectly harnessed so it touches the audience more than any other noir. I dont think it contributes to the development of Noir by pointing the way forward, I think instead it's a pinacle that few other noirs could ever match because they never managed combine the pure noir fatalism, the quality of the hard boiled story, the star power and pure sex of Mitchum and Greer together and a director like Tourneur.


It's not a road map for Noir it's a destination.


 


 


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Absolutely my favorite film of this genre.  There are so many elements of noir present here: narration, slick private eye with  wisecracking lines, overhead shots, dirty, smelly city life, bar scene, femme fatale (of course, we do not know how dark she is until later), out of the shadows into the light action, etc.  Yet I believe the most interesting aspect of the first 14 minutes of this film is the fact that we do not see Jane Greer until this scene.  The anticipation of seeing her and understanding the stark contrast of her physical beauty with that of Jeff's girlfriend on the opening scenes.  Jeff has seen and experienced the dark side and has now emerged into the light, but, as noir would have it, he will descend back into the engulfing depths of fate again.  He cannot escape his destiny.  Mitchum is the perfect noir private eye--cool, calm, collected, understanding his fate, yet enjoying the descent and sharing it with the viewer. 

 

I love Bogart in these films, but nobody  has the screen presence of Mitchum.  It is as if Noir was created for his acting style.  And the reality was, he was not acting most of the time.  This was who he was.

 

Out of the Past is a great film which twists and turns until you are never quite sure who is in charge.  and even though our hero, Markham, is killed in the end, we rejoice with his heroic effort to make sure right prevails.  He sacrifices himself in order to destroy the black widow, Greer.  Kirk Douglas cannot be overlooked in this movie.  His edgy character is the perfect foil to counter balance Mitchum.  Little does the viewer realize that Douglas is NOT in control.  Fascinating film on so many levels.

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The weather is never nice in a film noir. It's not just sunny; it's hot. It's muggy. And when Jane Greer leaves the hot, bright street, she enters several stages of darkness until it's almost too dark to see her face. It doesn't stay that way, of course, because you're not casting someone that looks like Jane Greer unless you can show off her beauty. But even in the conversation with Robert Mitchum, she's frequently obscured by a glass or her hand holding a cigarette. Incidentally, it's unusual in a scene like this to have the woman be the one who's smoking. It helps show her as tough.

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OUT OF THE PAST (RKO):  Taken in stride.

The chiaroscuro effect has the shaded part of the man and woman facing the camera implying they're concealing something from each other and us.

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I think it was fascinating how the filmmakers managed to still work with the idea of shadows and contrast even when dealing with a bright environment. The shadows weren't pitch black or anything, simply areas of "less bright" but it still managed to convey a different tone. What becomes clear about the two characters is he has been following her but she doesn't seem to know him, which is not really what I expected when he mentioned following her. I expected her to be an ex of his or something. And it quickly becomes clear in the interaction between them that she doesn't know him. 

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"And then I saw her - coming out of the sun..." as Jane Greer literally walks out of the bright sunlight, into the cafe, and into the shadows as she takes her seat. Pure noir. A loner protagonist, cynical about everything, sexually attracted to a mysterious woman, engulfed in literal and metaphorical shadows.

 

And when she recommends the other cafe down the street as she stand up - her shadow against the wall as she tells him that he can "sip bourbon - shut [his] eyes"...this clip ought to be used in every film school for instruction on how noir mood and tone is established visually and vocally!

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As a photographer I envy the cinematographer's ability to capture so many different lighting situations into such a brief scene. The silhouette in the doorway has to be the classiest way to highlight a woman's figure without the cliche pan-up from the legs or shadow behind a scrim. Very memorable.

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