Monday, January 22, 2018

TODAY'S NUGGET: Out of the Past (1947) - Double Cross as Extension of Character (vs. Plot)

[Quick Summary: A retired detective double crossed his former client over a beautiful woman, and now the client is back with a second (possibly frame) job.]

Did you know that this is "one of the greatest of all film noirs"? I did not.

I do know that this script excels at the satisfying double/triple/quadruple crossing.

After reading this, I wondered how much of it was plot (40%) vs. how it made me feel (60%). Where did those feelings stem from?

Roger Ebert summarized it best:
The scenes in San Francisco, involving the murder of Eels, the whereabouts of the tax records and the double-dealing of Meta Carson, are so labyrinthine, it's remarkable even the characters can figure out who is being double-crossed, and why. The details don't matter. What matters is the way that Jeff, a street-wise tough guy, gets involved in the face of all common sense, senses a trap, thinks he can walk through it, and is still fascinated by Kathie Moffat. (underline mine)
That's it! Early on, the script convinced me of Jeff's hazardous feelings for Kathie.

Then when the crazy double/triple/quadruple crossing began, it wasn't so much another plot device, but more an extension of Jeff's character.

The scene below is early in the script. Notice how Kathie connects to (seduces?) Jeff:


....Without looking at him, she speaks very softly.

KATHIE: When are you taking me back?

He glances grimly at her, looks away, puts the pipe in his mouth. They are silent for a moment, while she waits.

JEFF (quietly): Is that why you kissed me?


A little pause. He lights the pipe.

JEFF: Whit didn't die.

KATHIE (slowly; thinking): He didn't?


KATHIE: Then why --

JEFF: He wants you back.

KATHIE (slowly): I hate him. (crushing some sand in her tight fingers) I'm sorry he didn't die.

JEFF: Give him time.

There is a little silence again, with only the surf breaking in.

JEFF: There was a little business -- about forty thousand bucks....

KATHIE (fiercely): I didn't take it!

JEFF: How did you know it was taken?

KATHIE: It's what you meant. (looking away) I don't want anything of his, or any part of him!

JEFF (quietly): Except his life.

KATHIE: I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know anything, except how much I hated him. (a pause) But I didn't take anything. (looking at him, softly)I didn't -- Jeff.

She takes his head and pulls it down on her lap. He looks up at her and she bends over him.

KATHIE: Won't you believe me?

JEFF: Baby -- I don't care."

WHAT I'VE LEARNED: I'd always considered the "double cross" as a plotting device. I don't know if I've ever seen it in a script before as a possible extension of character.

Out of the Past (1947)(final draft)
by Daniel Mainwaring (writing as Geoffrey Homes)
From his novel, "Build My Gallows High."

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