Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Out of the Past (1947)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Out Of The Past (1947) (aka Build My Gallows High)

In Jacques Tourneur's beguiling, complex, quintessential slick film noir about double-dealing, betrayal, passion and intrigue from the post WWII period - it was one of the best ever made, notable for its doom-laden flashback narrative structure and shadowy cinematography, with complex flashbacks.

[Note: It was remade as Taylor Hackford's Against All Odds (1984), starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward.]

  • the main character with a sordid past was Jeff Bailey/Markham (Robert Mitchum) - a laconic, former, worn-out and ultimately doomed private detective; he was hiding out with a sweet, local girlfriend/fiancee Ann Miller (Virginia Huston), as the owner of a Bridgeport, California gas station, with his mute assistant Jimmy "The Kid" (Dickie Moore) - it was a rural mountainous area
  • Jeff was forced to meet with his former boss - the menacing, obsessed and ruthless gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), who lived at Lake Tahoe, to work for him as a private eye
  • as he drove to Tahoe with Ann, he explained his past life to her, seen in flashback, about how he had been commissioned earlier by Whit to travel to Acapulco to pursue Whit's treacherous girlfriend/mistress, who had stolen $40,000 and fled to Mexico
  • in the flashback, Jeff described his first meeting with the archetypal, icy, duplicitous, chameleon-like, dark and deadly femme fatale brunette named Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) - the seductive female made a memorable, sultry silhouetted, almost-magical entrance into a dark Mexican cantina in Acapulco from the bright and hot hazy outdoors when she walked into his life - wearing a broad-brimmed white hat; Jeff described her remarkable appearance as she cast a sultry shadow: "And then I saw her, coming out of the sun, and I knew why Whit didn't care about that forty grand"
Femme Fatale Kathie Moffat in Acapulco, Mexico
  • the self-indulgent, lethal, and erotic enchantress was the object of romantic fascination for both men - Jeff also became mesmerized and infatuated by her (seemingly so innocent), unaware at first of how he would become entangled in the dark-haired beauty's enchanting charms; he ended his pursuit of her and fell in love with her - the start of an ill-fated affair; both wanted to escape from the past, but couldn't deny its grip upon them
  • their romantic interlude was highlighted on a moonlit beach (where Jeff and then the two of them were framed by an entrapping fish net); after deceiving Whit, Jeff and Kathie moved to San Francisco to live anonymously and in secret obscurity, to avoid Whit; he reflected on their pairing: "It was the bottom of the barrel and I scraped it. But I didn't care. I had her"
  • however, when they were discovered together by Jeff's former partner, a "stupid, oily gent" named Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie) who was hired by Whit to find them, Jeff and Fisher engaged in a brutal, shadowy fist-fight that ended when Kathie coldly shot Fisher to death; Jeff turned to Kathie and wondered: "You didn't have to kill him...You didn't have to do it" - but she claimed it was necessary to prevent him from going to Whit - and then she fled the scene
Kathie's Cold-Blooded Murder of Fisher
  • Jeff realized how murderous, double-crossing, and selfish Kathie really was, and the dangers of falling in love with her; she drove away from the murder scene and left him to dispose of the body and take the blame; he also discovered what she had left behind - her incriminating bank book with a $40,000 deposit in her account - evidence that she had lied to him about the money; he expressed his stunned reaction to Ann at the end of the flashback: "I wasn't sorry for him or sore at her. I wasn't anything"
  • when the action returned to the present, Jeff arrived at Whit's mansion, fearing that he would again be doomed and seduced by the same charming, but wicked woman he had once loved and lost, especially after he discovered that Kathie had returned to Whit, confessed her affair with Jeff, and was living with Whit again; Whit remarked: "You remember Kathie, don't you?...Kathie's back in the fold now. You're back in the fold too, Jeff"; obviously, the vengeful Whit knew of their past acquaintance and their double-dealing, telling Jeff (via blackmail and extortion) that all would be forgiven if he performed one more job to help Whit avoid tax evasion charges; shortly later, Jeff sneered at Kathie with an insult: "You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another"; Jeff had already learned the dangers of falling in love with her
  • there was snappy dialogue and tawdriness in the new love/hate relationship between Jeff and Kathie, when he came under Kathie's lethal, deceptive erotic spell once again during a second affair; he became involved in another complex web of intrigue, passion, betrayal, double and triple-crosses and death in San Francisco, and feared that he was going to be framed and made the 'fall-guy'
  • on the run during a manhunt for allegedly now committing two murders in SF (of a crooked SF lawyer named Leonard Eels (Ken Niles), and the earlier murder of Fisher), Jeff fled back to Bridgeport, where while he was hiding in the woods, one of Whit's henchmen, Joe Stephanos (Paul Valentine) (who had been secretly paid by Kathie to murder Jeff), attempted to kill him; as Stephanos aimed his gun at Jeff and was about to pull the trigger, Jimmie hooked the man with his fishing fly rod and pulled him off the rocky cliff to his death, saving Jeff's life
  • in the film's resolution, Kathie was chastised by Whit for her cool, detached double-crossing, and for sending Joe to kill Jeff without his knowledge; he slapped her and threatened to turn her in: "You dirty little phony. Go on lie some more....What a sucker you must think I am. I took you back when you came whimpering and crawling. I should have kicked your teeth in. No, I'm not going to. Not now, Kathie. We're gonna let the law push you around...You're gonna take the rap and play along. You're gonna make every exact move I tell ya. If you don't, I'll kill ya. And I'll promise you one thing. It won't be quick. I'll break you first"

Whit to Kathie: "You dirty little phony!"

Whit - Shot Dead by Kathie
Jeff to Kathie: "Build my gallows high, baby"
  • shortly later inside Whit's estate, Jeff discovered Whit's corpse on the floor - rightly deducing that Kathie had shot and killed him to prevent him from turning her in for Fisher's murder; she explained her motive to Jeff: "You can't make deals with a dead man, Jeff....I never told you I was anything but what I am. You just wanted to imagine I was. That's why I left you. Now we're back to stay....Don't you see? You've only me to make deals with now" - he gave her a laconic reply: "Build my gallows high, baby"; he was more pessimistic about their chances of succeeding because she was so corrupt: "They'll always be looking for us. They won't stop till we die"; she only wanted to link herself to him: "I don't care. Just so they find us together. If you're thinking of anyone else, don't. It wouldn't work. You're no good for anyone but me. You're no good and neither am I. That's why we deserve each other" (after which they shared a kiss)
  • shortly later, Jeff also decided to turn her in to the authorities, but pretended to play along with her plan to go back to Mexico to pick up their idyllic romance where they had left off; he repeated her statement back to her: "We deserve each other"
  • their final tragic end came in the concluding dramatic sequence of the film, when she saw a police roadblock trap and realized that Jeff had capitulated to the authorities and set her up - destined to die together for their sins, she viciously pulled out a gun and cried: "You dirty, double-crossing rat"; she shot Jeff dead in the driver's seat, firing her gun into his crotch, but then was gunned down by a barrage of police fire as their out-of-control car crashed into the roadblock
  • in the last scene set in Bridgeport, California at the gas station, Jeff's mute assistant Jimmy lied in his answer to Jeff's girlfriend Ann when she asked about Jeff's final moments with Kathie - in the film's final line of dialogue: "You can tell me. You knew him better than I did. Was he going away with her? I have to know. Was he going away with her?" - he nodded his head affirmatively to give Ann the impression that Jeff actually loved Kathie and was going off with her; he lied to soften the blow so that Ann could reject Jeff's memory and free herself from him (and her past) to build a new life, presumably with her patient Bridgeport admirer Jim (Richard Webb)

Jeff in Bridgeport, CA With Fiancee Ann Miller (Virginia Huston)

Jeff With Ann on Drive to Lake Tahoe - Beginning of Flashback

At Tahoe, Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas)

Jeff In Hot Pursuit of Kathie in Acapulco

Moonlit Beach Love Scene with Entrapping Fish Nets

Kathie's Absconding of $40,000

Whit to Jeff: "Kathie's back in the fold now"

Jeff to Kathie: "You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another"

Attempted Murder of Jeff in Bridgeport by Stephanos

Kathie Firing into Jeff's Crotch at Roadblock: "You dirty double-crossing rat!"

Conclusion: Ann's Question to Jimmy About Jeff's Intentions with Kathie


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