I never hear anyone talk about the remake of Out of the Past, probably because Out of the Past is practically sacred territory among classic film buffs.
The 1947 noir is a film that I, personally, adore. Everything about it is great: the photography, the dialogue, the performances, the drama, the chemistry! It’s a well-made film in every facet.
For those unfamiliar, Out of the Past tells the twist-laden tale of Jeff (Robert Mitchum), a private eye hired by a gangster named Whit (Kirk Douglas) to track down his mistress. Kathie (Jane Greer), the woman in question, has skipped town and apparently stolen $40,000 from Whit. Jeff manages to track her down in Mexico, but things get complicated when he falls for her.
Jane Greer packs a dramatic punch (and a pistol) in her role of Kathie. The cabin shooting scene, in which she plays a crucial role, is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. Douglas is conniving and smarmy as Whit, and Mitchum brings an ease and confidence to the role of Jeff, even when he’s in danger.
The remake, 1984’s Against All Odds, begins in Mexico, jumping right into Terry’s (Jeff Bridges) search for Jessie (Rachel Ward) before giving context in flashback land. In a somewhat strange addition, there’s a subplot involving football, Bridges’ lead character made a struggling would-be football star rather than a small-time private eye. Jane Greer makes an appearance as the mother of Jessie, married to none other than Richard Widmark (as “Ben Caxton”), while Paul Valentine of the original cast also makes a cameo.
Part of what makes Out of the Past so great is its tightly-written script and the tension that is built from the get-go. The remake lacks these attributes. An attempt is made to add more backstory, with drug addictions and family dramas. These are interesting choices to flesh out the film, but feel very artificial and contribute to the pacing problem. The chemistry between Ward and Bridges is also much lower than that of Greer and Mitchum, despite the comparative censorship of the ’40s.
It’s not all bad in Against All Odds, though. Though Woods is your typical insecure, ’80s douchebag villain, nowhere near as intimidating as Douglas was in the equivalent role, I found Jeff Bridges quite likable. He plays the role much differently than Mitchum, which suits the twist of him having so little experience as a private eye. I also loved Jane Greer in her new role, as mother rather than femme fatale. Her confident, take-no-bull character is a highlight, and does somewhat recall her performance in the 1947 film.
The remake also makes great use of settings in Mexico, spending much more time there than Mitchum and Greer did in the original film, including scenes at well-known historic sites like Chichen Itza.
So, it’s an okay ’80s crime flick. In addition to the differences and issues noted above, perhaps the most troubling for fans of the classic will be the softening of the female lead. Ward’s characterization is far less evil and calculating than Greer’s “Kathie.” And that ending, complete with a romantic pop ballad (Phil Collins shouting “Take a look at me now-ow-ow!” in his soundtrack tune)! Not even a tenth of the impact of Out of the Past‘s much more dramatic and deadly finish.
Fans of Out of the Past are far less likely to enjoy this remake than those who saw it in theaters in the ’80s or have a fondness for films of that decade. I’d say skip Against All Odds if you’re a devotee of the original film, unless you have a particular interest in remakes.