RARA-AVIS: Frank Fenton & The Writing of "Out of the Past"

From: chrisaschneider@earthlink.net
Date: 15 Jul 2004

Ed Lynskey wrote:
> We watched _Out of the Past_ on TCM.
> [...] The dialogue was snappy without
> sounding overly corny. Does the movie stay
> faithful to Mainwaring's novel, _Build My
> Gallows High_?

There's a very good article about "Out of the Past" in Film Comment which goes into some detail about the writing of the film's script. The author is Jeff Schwanger, the title is "The Past Rewritten (a close look at who did what on a classic noir screenplay)," and it's located in the Jan/Feb 1991 issue.

Here's the Art Abstracts summary:

"The screenplay for director Jacques Tourneur's classic "Out of the Past" (1947) was worked on by three different writers before reaching its final form. Daniel Mainwaring, who wrote the film's source nvel under the pseudonym Geoffrey Homes, was tyhe first to complete a draft of the screenplay. His draft sticks closely to the novel, maintaining the cliched toughness of its tone. James M. Cain, called in to rewrite Mainwaring's version, added several plot elements and a happy ending, all of which were discarded. Cain's second draft introduced the two-part structure that the film would ultimately employ -- the first part consisting of a flashback about the hero's past and the second part continuing in the present. The final draft was by Frank Fenton, who contributed most of the film's best dialogue and many key plot elements and who rounded out the characters. Unfortunately, Fenton received no screen credit."

Me, I'd call it a "2 and 1/2 part structure," in order to acknowledge the film's San Francisco interlude. I'd akso talk about the way in which the film's opening strongly resembles the '40s, Siodmak-directed version of "The Killers." But that abstract is an accurate representation of a highly recommendable article.

Fenton was a regular writer for RKO's Falcon movies. He was also involved in the writing of "Nocturne," "Station West," "His Kind of Woman," "Walk Softly, Stranger," "River of No Return" (adapting Simenon), and "Garden of Evil."


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