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.