Archive for Jane Greer

“And then I saw her…”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2010 by dcairns

“And then I saw her, coming out of the sun…”

“She waited until it was late… then she walked in, out of the moonlight…”

“…and then I saw her, walking up the road in the headlights…”

OUT OF THE PAST is as near to a perfect film as I can conceive of. Screenplay is credited to Geoffrey Homes, from his novel Build My Gallows High. Homes was really Daniel Mainwaring, who has a slew of credits but nothing that even hints at the excellence of this. I’d like to read his book though. I hear his femme fatale is called Mumsy McGonagall or something though, which doesn’t quite have the soft allure of Cathy Moffat, Jane Greer’s character name in the movie.

Uncredited work was also done by Frank Fenton, who started in England with, among other things, an awful travesty of PG Wodehouse called STEP LIVELY, JEEVES! (where there’s no Bertie Wooster and Jeeves is an idiot) but went on to some reasonable credits including HIS KIND OF WOMAN and RIVER OF NO RETURN. But they have none of the epigrammatic wiz of OOTP’s dialogue. (“I hate surprises, myself.”)

An uncredited James M Cain must surely be responsible for the injection of genius, including, I suspect, the series of entrances from the light by Cathy, which form a kind of refrain. If the other writers managed to get lines in there, by some remarkable alchemy, all the good lines have been preserved and no bad lines taken their  place. Homes can perhaps be credited with the unusual structure, which redeems the stock noir elements by reconfiguring them in an odd shape. How stock are they? Well, Mitchum’s man on a run is discovered working in a gas station by a hood who enters a diner, exactly like in THE KILLERS. There’s no reason why Mitchum, a man on the run and a former private eye, should be able to start a new life as a car mechanic. Where did he get the skills? But it works symbolically — the garage is a little bit of urban grime transported to rural small-town America, so it’s the place where he fits in. (The third “start a new life in a garage” movie is LOST HIGHWAY, where Bill Pullman literally regenerates and rejuvenates from a felon into a grease monkey.)

This particular cliché is amusing and odd, and it isn’t by any means overused (I think Arthur Lubin’s IMPACT trots it out again though, and there may be others — do you know of any?) and as I say, the film’s crazy structure stops any feeling of over-familiarity. In addition to the rural and Mexican idylls, which add an unfamiliar feeling, and the fact that no private eye hero ever fell down on the job as badly as Mitch does here, we have this strange shape: leisurely intro in small town, flashback that eats up half of act one, taking in the first job Mitchum undertakes,the Mexican romance, and a time-lapse leading up to the first murder, then we come out of the flashback at the halfway mark and we get the second job, in San Francisco with a whole new plot and femme fatale (flaming Rhonda Fleming), and then our third act with climax bringing us full circle to the countryside and the original characters. Impressively, it follows the standard proportions of the Hollywood drama without giving you that familiar feeling of knowing where you are in the story.

Plus director Jacques Tourneur, among a hundred thousand felicities, offers this shot –

“The kid” played by Dickie Moore, is a very cool character. Here, the shot is beautiful in itself, and part of its beauty comes from the long lens which softens the background, but also gives us the sense of observing from a distance with Mitchum. It feels very modern when you see it in action.

But ultimately, what’s beautiful about this film goes beyond what can be expressed by talking about individual elements — Tourneur never had such strong material before or since, though I am second to none in my admiration of CAT PEOPLE, NIGHTFALL, NIGHT OF THE DEMON et al. This is the one where his poetic sensitivity rebounded off the material in THE most beautiful way.

Slightly Scarlet

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 25, 2008 by dcairns

Superscope

Obscure wide-screen systems! I *LIVE* for obscure wide-screen systems.

lurid

Lurid titling is good also.

sisters

They are sisters! Rhonda Fleming is comforting Arlene Dahl. Nothing funny going on.

Number One With a Bullet

The film is lit by John Alton, who had an amazing track record in film noir. His work is often even more distinct than that of his directors, even when it’s somebody like Anthony Mann. Alton also lit the ballet in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, but otherwise he didn’t get as much work as he should have because the unions disliked him for using so few lights.

I feel I should have liked this more — it combines fine noir credentials, with Alton lensing and a source novel by James M. Cain, with a women’s picture melodrama vibe. Should’ve been fabulous, but felt only intermittently so. Maybe it’s the John Payne factor, a terrible burden for any film, although I found him slightly more effective here than in THE DARK CORNER, a better film which he almost sinks. His amoral anti-hero character in this film would have been rather interesting had anyone else played it. Well, maybe not John Hodiak or John Lund or Jon Hall. Or Kent Smith. But anybody else.

Major Payne

Allan Dwan directs — it was something like his 370th film, a feat he could only accomplish by being literally immune to death. Victor Fleming once tried to hammer a stake through his heart, but it didn’t take. You know how your nose and ears continue to enlarge throughout your life? That’s what finally got him.

Rhonda's valley

But watching the film and finding the two redheads pretty appealing, I did some cyber-spadework and found Rhonda Fleming’s website, where she welcomes emails, although she’s very busy what with charity work and being a Christian and stuff. But I thought it would be cool to say “hi”, having communicated with very few Hollywood legends, really. I came up with a question to justify barging in:

“A question occurred to me about one of my favourite films — OUT OF THE PAST. I saw Jane Greer interviewed in a documentary called THE RKO STORY, where she talked about director Jacques Tourneur not speaking very good English. But Tourneur was born in America, and made all his films there, despite his father being French, so this didn’t seem right. I wondered what your memories of Tourneur are — I think he was a marvellous director and both Jane Greer and yourself were marvellously alluring and chillingly wicked in that film. Anything you can tell me would be gratefully received.”

It was actually Fiona who spotted that Greer’s recollections seemed inconsistent with the fact. A couple of days later I got a reply:

“I don’t recall too much about Director, Jacques Tourneur; it was so long ago.  However he just let me do it ‘my way’ and I don’t really remember any problem in understanding his English, but he obviously has been proven to be outstanding in directing us in roles that were diverse and full of mystery and excitement.  It was an honor to be a part of a great noir film.”

Which was very nice. It doesn’t clear up the question at all, but I can hardly blame Rhonda F. for not remembering a co-worker from sixty years ago. I can’t remember where I put my slippers.

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