Aug 27, 2014
New From Warner Archive: Out of the Past (1947) on Blu-ray and Teresa Wright in Enchantment (1948)
Watching the newly-released Blu-ray of Out of the Past (1947) took home viewing to a new level for me. It's jaw dropping beauty can be described endlessly, but is best experienced.
The picture is sharp and clear, but shimmers with just the right amount of grain to warm the images. I occasionally found myself drawn to the detail in a striped jacket, or marveling at the shades of black and gray in a shot, but never so much that it distracted me from the story. Above all, the enhanced image drew me further into the dark world of this quintessential noir.
With his weary eyes and rumpled trench coat, Robert Mitchum trudges through Out of the Past like a man who knows he is doomed, though he indulges in a few hopeful fantasies. As detective Jeff Bailey, he falls into the grimy world of mobster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). When he also falls for Sterling's dangerous dame Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), and gets in over his head, he escapes to a small town and starts over again.
The movie begins at the gas station he owns, where one of Sterling's hoods spots him and tries to draw him back into his boss' web. Jeff confesses all about his past to his girlfriend (Virginia Huston) on an all night drive to Whit's estate. They part hopeful, but this is noir, so you know there isn't much room for hope.
Bailey falls back under Kathie's spell, wise to her treacherous ways, but a slave to the sweetness she wields like a caressing weapon. His response to her false apologies: "Baby I don't care." Each time he falls for a fresh betrayal, he accepts it as fate, only muttering, "Oh you're wonderful Kathie." He's wise to everything, but that's never good enough.
This already beautifully-filmed noir especially benefits from the Blu-ray treatment. Every little shade is defined, giving scenes a dreamy texture. When Kathie breezes into a Mexican café in a snowy white dress and matching wide-brimmed hat, you can feel the electricity bristling from her deceptively soft form. Every detail of her guarded expression pops.
In love scenes individual eyelashes can be detected, and light reflects sensuously off skin. When the action heats up, shadows rustle and swoop with startling intensity.
This is the same slinky script I've loved for years, where conversations weave around each other with perfectly-executed ease. Not a word is wasted, though it is not coldly efficient either. It has the same perfect cast, with Dickie Moore especially intriguing, grown-up, but still with his Our Gang pout, as a deaf mute who adds to the inscrutability of it all. And yet it all felt new to me.
I have a renewed appreciation for what presentation can do for a film.
Though Enchantment (1948) was released the year after Out of the Past, it exists in an entirely different world. The doom is just as intense, and the power of the past as brutal, but it is all infinitely more emotional. It's a deliciously melancholy romance.
David Niven stars as Sir Roland "Rollo" Dane, a wealthy Londoner who falls in love with his father's ward. Lark Ingelsby (Teresa Wright) has been raised alongside the high-spirited Dane as a sister, but as they mature, they are powerfully drawn to each other.
The story is framed with a modern sequence set during World War II, when Dane's grand niece Grizel (Evelyn Keyes) comes to stay with him while she serves as an ambulance driver for the US Army. He also receives a visit from Lark's nephew Pax (Farley Granger) who brings up painful memories for Sir Roland. While the old man revisits the past, Grizel and Pax fall in love.
Rollo and Lark's romance meets many road blocks, all due to Roland's sister Selina (Jayne Meadows), who immediately sees that Lark threatens her position as lady of the house. His brother Proutie (Leo G. Carroll) complicates things further by also falling madly in love with Lark.
It's easy to see why everyone goes crazy for the wistful orphan too. Lark floats along with an oddly gentle intensity. She aspires to be a singer like her mother, and vibrates with the powerful emotions of an artist, and yet, she speaks as though every word is perilously fragile. Always a sensitive actress, Wright was perfect for this role which required both delicacy and stubborn rebellion.
As the young Lark, Gigi Perreau is also remarkable, nearly stealing the film in a couple of brief scenes. She perfectly captures the fear, sadness and longing of a girl who has lost her parents and finds her life completely changed. In a scene where young Rollo (played by her real life brother Peter Miles) tries to cheer her up, she transitions from grief to joy in such a graceful manner that it's hard to believe how young she was. Apparently, her performance made such an impression on the set that the crew applauded her.
Having already seen Enchantment, I was surprised to see the DVD cover design. While I would love to see the movie it promises, I have to say there was no one that blonde, busty or lusty in this film. With Ms. Wright in the room, that doesn't matter a bit.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. Enchantmet is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.