“I never found out much listening to myself.”

by Bob Schwartz

Out of the Past (1947), directed by Jacques Tourneur and starring Robert Mitchum, has two distinctions.

It is the best film noir ever produced.

It is the most quotable movie ever produced.

It has competition in both categories.

Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) is film noir, more like neo-noir, since it was made after the era when film noir first flourished. Chinatown is one of the great movies ever, near top of the all-time list, but Out of the Past is literally definitional of the genre. Once it was made, other artists could be inspired and attempt, but it would never be topped.

As for quotes from dialogue, plenty of movies have that, but here there are dozens, each one sharper and more full of weary wisdom than the next. Rather than document them all here, I focus on one that is good advice for anyone.

The scene is Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), a big “operator”, hiring Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum), to find the woman who left him and took off with his money. (Among other distinctions of Out of the Past, Jane Greer as Kathie Moffat is also the greatest femme fatale in all film noir. If you watch the movie, and you should, check out the first time Jeff sees her, walking into a Mexican bar. His fate is sealed, and as viewers so is ours.)

Here’s wisdom from Out of the Past:

Whit Sterling: You just sit and stay inside yourself. You wait for me to talk. I like that.
Jeff Bailey: I never found out much listening to myself.

And here is the scene when we first meet Kathie Moffat: