Jeff "Red" Bailey

Created by Geoffrey Homes
(pseudonym of Daniel Mainwaring)
(1902-77)

"I was at the bottom of the barrel and I was scraping it."

-- Jeff Bailey

RED BAILEY (JEFF in the film) is the world-weary private eye who just wants to forget in the classic film noir Out of the Past (1947, RKO), based on the 1946 novel Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes.

Tired of death and deception, Jeff heads for the sleepy little town of Bridgeport, California, where he shucks the gumshoe game to run a small gas station with the aid of a mute kid. Heck, he even courts local good gal Ann.

But this is noir, baby. Nobody ever escapes anything. Jeff's past soon catches up with him -- a past that features a ruthless mobster, a two-timing and treacherous femme fatale, a load of missing loot and an assortment of thugs, all wrapped up in a morass of lies and doublecrosses. No wonder he wanted out.

Out of the Past is simply a film noir classic, potent and powerful, the stuff that nightmares, if not dreams, are made of, with masterful performances by Robert Mitchum (as Jeff), Kirk Douglas (as treacherous gangster Whit Sterlin) and particularly Jane Greer as Kathie, the "dame" who once did Jeff wrong (and may do so again), with noirmeister Jacques Tourneur handling the director's chores. The initial screenplay was by Daniel Mainwaring, based on his own novel, which he'd published the year before using the pseudonym Geoffrey Homes.

THE WRITERS

Mainwaring did the first draft of the screenplay, which stuck pretty closely to the novel, and then James M. Cain (no slouch at noir, himself) was called for a rewrite, adding several plot elements and a happy ending, most of which were discarded. Cain's second draft introduced the two-part, flashback-and-present structure that the film would ultimately employ. Frank Fenton wrote the final draft, contributing many of the film's best lines and several key plot elements. Unfortunately, neither Cain or Fenton received any screen credits.

Cain, of course, was the author of such noir classics as The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, but Fenton wasn't a strangewr to noir either. A regular writer for RKO's Falcon movies, he was also involved in the writing of Nocturne, Station West, Walk Softly, Stranger, River of No Return and Garden of Evil, as well as a character actor who appeared in everything from Gun Fury and Buffalo Bill to The French Key and Lady of Burlesque.

Meanwhile, Mainwaring himself, under the Homes pseudonym, wrote two detective series of interest to visitors to this site: one featuring Robin Bishop, a newspaper reporter, and another featuring milk-drinking private eye Humphrey Campbell. Other successful crime screenplays Mainwaring wrote included They Made Me a Killer (1946), The Big Steal (1949) and Roadblock (1951). He also wrote a ton of gangster flicks and westerns.

THE UNFORTUNATE REMAKE

In 1976, Jerry Bick and John Ptak announced plans to remake Out Of The Past as Build My Gallows High, to be directed by Jerry Schatzberg from a screenplay by Marilyn Goldin, but Hollywood being Hollywood, it only made it back to the screen in 1984 as Against All Odds, starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward, with Jane Greer dropping in to add bit of retro-credibility (it didn't work).

NOVELS

FILMS

  • OUT OF THE PAST ..Buy this video.. Buy on DVD.. Buy on Blu-Ray
    (1947, RKO)
    96 minutes, black & white
    Based on the novel Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes (Daniel Mainwaring)
    Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring (James M. Cain & Frank Fenton uncredited)
    Directed by Jacques Tourneur
    Director of photography: Nicholas Musuraca
    Starring Robert Mitchum as JEFF "RED" BAILEY
    Also starring Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Virginia Huston, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Webb, Dickie Moore

RELATED LINKS

Excellent 1996 essay by 1996 Michael Mills on the classic, complete with a synopsis, credits, and stills.

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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