#194. Out of the Past (1947)

I’m hooked lately (and probably in large part cuzza the breakup — which I know I need to shut up about) on the beauty of having, and belatedly confronting, emotional baggage, of having random shit from everyday life suddenly leap to prominence, the forefront of your attention, because something has come echoing out of the past to make it enticing or terrifying or dangerous.

Out of the Past, a wildly celebrated film noir that I didn’t particularly enjoy (one credit to the genre, though, is that the entries all tend to be fairly brief, despite their complexity), and it starts out with Robert Mitchum’s character, Jeff, being summoned by a young deaf employee at his gas station cuz there’s a guy, Whit, who needs to see him. 

Future Alex, editing this about 150 movies in the future, is jarred to realize this was also the debut of Kirk Douglas, whom Future Alex will come to adore.

Now a small-town business owner with a beautiful girlfriend, prospects for one of the breezy suburban postwar lifestyles everybody seemed to be enjoying, it turns out that Jeff used to be a private investigator. Things got hairy. He’s all done with that now.

It ends up he’s gotta go fetch this woman from Mexico, one thing leads to another, and in a strangely dark ending both the pro- and antagonist get killed (spoiler, sorry). It isn’t as convoluted as The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon but it’s pretty twisty, and I’m hard-pressed to recount the hows and whys of who does what. But it is like those other two noirs, at least as I’ve experienced it, insofar as I’m ususally finding that majorly celebrated movies on the List are pretty much as good as everybody says, but these lot…aren’t.

Or that’s what I felt. That they’re similarly disappointing, is what I’m saying. It’s ambient and well-acted and smart, and I like the silly enormity of men’s neckties, but it didn’t hook me, and I think the fact that I find ymself saying this so often suggests that film noir is maybe just not my thing, by and large. Or at least not the convoluted kind. (That, however, raises the question of whether a convoluted plot is integral to the genre. Like is a monster movie still a monster movie if there’s no monster?)

The theme, though, of one’s past rising up outta the murk to meet them or condemn or enrich them is a device that stirs me all of a sudden. It’s there in Citizen Kane and Casablanca. Rich stuff, if you can do it right. 

Which reminds me: I jotted something in my notes about a scene that I now can’t quite remember, where Jeff’s arranging to meet a woman at a certain place, suspecting she won’t show up. But he goes there anyway and waits for her, prepared to be disappointed, and this apparently prompted me to write, in huge letters, SHELLY, the name of a woman who was a freshman at FIU when I was a senior and who kinda interned at the college radio station where a colleague and I hosted a twice-a-week show. I remember seeing her there in the recording booth and thinking she was attractive but not saying anything cuz she seemed so severely focused on something. Seemed to always be severely focused on something.

Fast forward three years. She’s general manager at the station and I’m…floating around. I’d just ended a strange, toxic, passionate and all-consuming affair (I talk more about Marianne here) and I’m sitting at the bar at Books & Books one day, reading, when this gorgeous, short, bookish-looking woman with heavy black-rim glasses sits at the opposite end of the bar and gets a beer. 

For the first and, to date, only time in my life, I approached a woman at a bar and asked if I could join her. She said sure. We talk and talk and slowly we find that we worked together at the radio station. We hit it off. She leaves after her beer cuz she’s catching a movie across the street. It’s a nice conversation but I chicken out about asking for her number.

But I go then across the street and through the alley and into John Martin’s and I send her a message on Facebook saying it was nice to talk to her and would she like to get a drink.

 She says yes.

Next week we meet at Books & Books, browse and chat, and then we go to John Martin’s for the appointed drink and we have a great time and we learn, each of us moving so slowly through our beers, that we both stopped at a nearby bar before the date for a nerve-calming shot of Jameson — which makes me all stammersome and agog like, holy shit, she’s the one, and this is almost definitely the reason, looking back, that I fucked things up so terribly.

So, again, we talk and talk and finally, a little tipsy, she hops off her stool and grabs me with both hands and kisses me — and I realize I’ve never been the recipient of the first move from somebody I really liked.

It’s probably up in like the top 20 best moments of my life — I know that sounds maudlin but it’s not because our bond was profound or anything. It’s just that it was such a wonderfully charming, sweet, spontaneous and enchanting gesture and it came at just the right time from just the right person…

I was floating.

But so we go back to her car, yadda yadda, and as we’re about to part ways I ask if she’d like to go out again. She says yeah, enthusiastic, and we set a date and a time and, yeah, everything’s fine. We confirm it on the phone a few days later.

Date night comes, I go to the appointed place, and she isn’t there. Doesn’t show. 

I call to see why and she doesn’t answer. I text a couple times over the next few days and eventually she responds. Something about her grandma needing her car. She apologizes. We reschedule for the next week.

She stands me up again.

Which, at this point, I’m embarrassed to’ve not taken the hint. But I was so excited for the date I was like, If abuela took that fucking car again… 

I text, I text, she doesn’t respond. I call a couple days later. Nothing. I text another couple times. Nothing. We don’t talk for a while. Then somewhere, outta the blue, we start talking. Make plans to see each other. We meet at John Martin’s again and, like an idiot, I’m nervous and drink too fast. I have like five Coronas. I’m giggly and give too many compliments. But she’s still friendly and affectionate. Super smart. We part ways, she meets with a friend at the theater behind the bar, and the next day we trade a few texts. Schedule another date for the following week.

I never hear from her again.

She did at one point send me a 2a.m. text about being in a strange headspace, fresh from a turbulent relationship and wanting to give this a shot but asking for my patience about it, so we were both on the same page and, but for standing me up, she was super sweet and smart and fun. So I dont think it was a total bust but I like to think I wouldnt let myself do that again.


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