The Call of the Siren (Out of the Past, 1947) Part 1

Not only is classic Film Noir literally shot in sharp contrasts of black and white, one of a Noir’s most vital characteristics is it’s propensity for playing with polarity. 

On top of unexcelled Film Noir cinematography, Out of the Past’s visual language and dialogues are very telling. Little truths about character and destination are disclosed throughout the story; Landscape, signs, mythology and (human) nature are prominent elements that deliver a grandiose parable of light and dark, good and bad, choice and fate. In classic Film Noir style, Out of the Past does not offer a solution, but rather poses the daunting question of man’s fate is escapable.

Throughout the story we follow former hardboiled detective Jeff, who for the past three years has been building a business in a small town in the countryside. He dresses, dates and does business regular Joe style. However… having a past in the shady business of being a detective, working certain sinister social circles, he finds it harder to break with his old life than he originally thought… 

Jeff’s first appearance is at a lake where he is fishing. He walks from the calm water over to a tree, where pretty, angelic blonde Ann drapes herself besides him. It is an idyllic setting, young lovers in peaceful, rural America. The energy between the two of them, however, is subdued. The first thing he says to her, when he walks up to her with a clean fishing rod: “they’re just not feeding today.”

Jeff’s demeanor is that of a commoner (come on, the fish wouldn’t even bite), the kind of man he’s trying so very hard to become. But what lurks in the back is a worldly essence, which gets briefly exposed during their lakeside talk about far away places. A subject Jeff is distinctly blasé about, having been there and done that. “You have been a lot of places, haven’t you?” Ann inquisitively asks Jeff, to which he answers: “One too many.”

No, Jeff is too aware of worldly corruption to get excited about escaping rural America (in fact, it is the very place he’s escaping to), while bright eyed, innocent small town girl Ann is still curious about the world. Jeff brings the topic of exciting new places to an end by mentioning that he wants to “build a house right there, marry her, live in it, and never go anywhere else”, and seals it with a proper, gentle kiss. 

Judging by the scenery, the underwhelming introduction, and that genuine doe eyed look in her eyes, it is very clear that Ann is not the film’s designated Femme Fatale. 

Ann, by association makes Jeff appear more wholesome. She is his ticket to an upstanding and serene life: Tucked away safely in the country under a new name, with a lake for fishing, a local diner where everyone knows everyone by name, and the town’s sweetheart to call his own. But the past comes calling and pulls the pair straight from paradise…

© Barbara Timmers. Article Prepublication. All rights reserved.

The Call of the Siren (Out of the Past, 1947) part 2