The Platonic Ideal of Film Noir
The FilmStruck Chronicles is an essay series rooted in cinema's past, but with a strong glance toward our present.
With about a half hour remaining in Out of the Past, my almost 3-year-old daughter snuck downstairs from her nap, curled up on the couch beside me and started watching. She is precocious and screen-obsessed to be sure, but I fancy the idea that the Jacques Tourneur film had something going for it beyond just being on the TV.
Film noir is as rare as the Western these days, but, like the Western, it still has powerful cultural pull as a touchstone. To take in a film like Out of the Past is to better understand countless parodies and riffs and reimaginings where a femme fatale makes eyes at a gruff private eye or where a tormented hero gets pulled back to his old life just when he thinks he has outrun it. It is iconic in its own way, even if it is not quite as instantly recognizable as a man on a horse.
So, certainly against my better judgment, I let her continue to watch - to see Robert Mitchum's fatigued gaze and hear Jane Greer's desperation and sense a very young Kurt Russell's menace and vulnerability. Out of the Past is not age appropriate for a toddler, but it is pop culturally significant.
I don't have any regrets.