This was one femme fatale with a heart of cracked ice. Her performance as Kathie Moffat in 1947's "Out of the Past" puts her in the Bitch Hall of Fame. Sadly, her career was spotty, since she was one of those gals whose career was controlled, stalled and pretty much ruined by Howard Hughes. Possibly because she is so rarely seen, there is an unequaled quality of mystery about this actress. She is elusive, delicate, deadly and unknowable - in other words, a delicious film noir desert. Her two films with Robert Mitchum were memorable, not only for her allure, but for their outstanding chemistry.
Out of the PastWho does not love this dilly of a film?The utter coolness of the sexual heat between Jane and Robert Mitchum is almost too hot to handle. They are both so beautiful, your eyes hurt just looking at them. Mitchum had great chemistry with another HH/RKO Jane, that being Ms. Russell. Jane Russell matched Mitchum in toughness and cynicism (and beauty), Jane Greer is the bad beauty that Mitchum can't kick.
Of course, the fact that Jane's character has the heart of a snake makes her that much more alluring. With her Mona Lisa smile and her what-is-she-thinking eyes, she manages to hook, seduce and double-cross both Mitchum and Kirk Douglas. Alas, as must most femme fatales in the 1940s, she came to a bad end (but she almost made it out of Dodge with the dough). Her Kathie is enterprising, duplicitous and, hooray, always thinking. This is a fabulous noir without the usual suspects, which makes it so captivating.
The Big Steal
None of Jane's subsequent films are in the "Out of the Past" league, but she did get to team up with Mitchum again in "The Big Steal," and got to play a character named Chiquita Graham. This film is more of a comedy/noir with the RKO stock company present (and Ramon Novarro and Don Alvarado thrown in for all of us great-lovers-of-the-silent-screen hounds), but it's a bunch of fun to watch Jane and Mitchum heat up the screen. She's not so much a bitch as a toughie here, but, hey, any girl that can point a gun like she is doing in the above photo can't be a Pollyanna.
Jane Greer had a curious career. Hughes, ostensibly because Greer would not engage in a romantic relationship with him, held her career up and refused to let her work from 1949 to 1951. She made some interesting, more sympathetic, appearances after that, but the momentum of "Out of the Past" had passed. She worked occasionally in television in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1984 she made news when she was cast in "Against All Odds," the remake of "Out of the Past," as her earlier character's mother (now called Jessie instead of Kathie). The remake was good in its own way, but anyone who has ever seen Jane Greer's performance in "Out of the Past" will never forget her.
Oh, that voice! In the history of talking films, the velvety full-of-disdain British tones of James Mason have to be in the top 5. James Mason was so much more than a blaggard, but he fits that role so nicely! He was such a talented actor that he could be bad, good, tough, tender, and all of the above rolled into a complicated one. However, with his ever-present five o'clock shadow and sneering scowl, he had the intelligence and the vague aura of dissatisfaction with the world to make him a first-class blaggard.
The Wicked Lady
James Mason's role in this film defines the word blaggard. As the highwayman and rapist Captain Jerry Jackson, he is a romance novelist's dream. The film is all Margaret Lockwood as the much too lusty lady who longs for excitement, but her meeting and mating with Captain Jerry proves even too much for this scheming wench. "The Wicked Lady" is such fun and is much beloved in Britain. Captain Jackson gets shot in the end, but his lustiness lives on!
North By Northwest
Anyone who tries to hurt Cary Grant is a blaggard in my book, but James Mason's Phillip Vandamm is a bit of a complex blaggard. We know he's bad (although we are not quite sure what he's up to), but he seems so reasonable. if only Cary will give up the information he doesn't have, Van Damm is willing to strike a deal. Plus, he seems to really have a soft spot for double crossing Eva Marie Saint. When she faux-shoots Cary in the cafeteria at Mt. Rushmore, his first impulse is to go to her. It's the focused-on-the-mission-at-hand Martin Landau that sets the evil plan back on course. There is nobody smoother than Mr. Grant, but James Mason, with his black heart and cultured manner, gives him a run for his money.
There is just so much more to say about James Mason. He lent authority and depth to virtually everything he touched. He was bad in so many other films, but he was never a one-dimensional baddie. The blaggards never are. They charm, they deceive and, even though they need to get it in the end, we miss them when they are gone.
The Bitch and Blaggard of May will be Judith Anderson and Basil Rathbone.