Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Build My Gallows High - film review

Build My Gallows High - also known, but I think less memorably, as Out of the Past - is a classic film noir dating from 1947 that, somehow or other, I've managed to miss all these years. At last I've caught up with it, and I was impressed, not least with the central performance by Robert Mitchum as a man who goes by the name Jeff Bailey.

The film opens with a man arriving at Bailey's gasoline station, and one immediately fears the worst. Bailey has a pretty, innocent girlfriend, and when the newcomer threatens his new-found happiness, he tells her about his past. His real name is Jeff Markham, and he was formerly a partner in a two-man private eye firm. He was hired by Whit Sterling, a rich crook (Kirk Douglas) to find a woman who, he says, shot him and made off with forty thousand dollars. But when he eventually caught up with the missing lady, he fell head over heels for her.

This isn't surprising, because Kathie (Jane Greer) is beautiful and seductive. I can't recall having seen Jane Greer before, but she makes a truly stunning femme fatale. As the plot becomes increasingly complex, her habit of destroying the men who cross her path is utterly compelling. This is a doom-laden film, with superbly concise dialogue.   .

The source material was the final novel written by Daniel Mainwaring (1902-77), published under the name Geoffrey Homes. He also wrote the screenplay, and became more interested in scripting films than in turning out more novels - though I'd guess his earlier books are well worth seeking out. The director of the film was the gifted Jacques Tourneur, whose other work included Cat People and The Leopard Man (based on Black Alibi, an excellent book by Cornell Woolrich). Build My Gallows High was successfully re-made as Against All Odds in 1984; I haven't seen it (though I liked the famous theme song), but I'm keen to watch it now, especially as it features Jane Greer - but not, this time, as a femme fatale.


dfordoom said...

OUT OF THE PAST is almost the perfect film noir. It has just about every noir ingredient and they're all exquisitely balanced.

It's also one of MItchum's career-best performances, right up there with ANGEL FACE, CAPE FEAR and NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

Anonymous said...

Homes' books are not only well plotted, they are very well written and I recommend them highly. John Norris just reviewed one of them on his blog a few days age. The usual sources list 12 books by Homes, one by Mainwaring and three series characters.

Art Taylor said...

A film I love myself and use clips from in classes from time to time--though I only know it as Out of the Past. I wonder if it was released under a different title in Europe than in the U.S.? Either way, glad to see you got to see it and appreciated it!

J F Norris said...

Less memorably? I don't think so. Out of the Past has always been then name of the movie as I knew it. And I think thousands of people in the US would agree with me. I'd never heard it referred to by the source novel until today! Was it released in the UK that way?

Coincidentally, I wrote about Mainwaring under his mystery writing pseudonym "Geoffrey Homes" last week. Even if Mainwaring admitted to hating Bishop, his reporter sleuth character, the more he wrote about him I happen to like the Robin Bishop books. The Humphrey Campbell ones are good, too. Have yet to try the three crime novels he set in Mexico.

Frank Flood said...

Do read his earlier novels, particularly the ones featuring detective Humphrey Campbell. Great dialogue (you see why he wrote for the movies), amusing characterizations, and some of the best literary depictions of California from this era.

Christine said...

Yes, terrific. Daniel Mainwaring is the father of a very good friend of mine. He wrote a lot that could not go out under his own name, because he had been black-listed.