You can try to leave the past behind, but then it creeps up behind you when you least expect it. This certain trouble comes in the form of “where’s Bailey”? as a man steps out of the car to ask a young boy changing a car tyre. With sheer arrogance he notes that the boy is “deaf and dumb eh” but indeed he is certainly smart enough to read lips.
The stranger heads over to Marney’s Cafe and sits at the counter, listening to a conversation between Marney and a gentleman about Jeff Bailey “going fishing every day with his girlfriend” . He orders just coffee with cream whilst his appetite has “often wondered what happened to him..and one day i’m breezin ‘ through here and there’s his name up on a sign. ” It’s either a small world or in this case, a rather big sign.
Meanwhile Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is seen to be romancing beside a lake with Ann Miller ( Virginia Huston) gazing at the sky, “they say the day you die, your name Is written on a cloud”. Jeff doesn’t seem to remember ‘they’, according to him he’s never heard of them. As they huddle under a tree, she tells him that the sky reminds her of all the places she’s never been, dually noting to Jeff that “you’ve been to many places haven’t you? “. “One too many”.
The mysterious Jeff Bailey who the town love to gossip about and one who hardly strikes a reputable personality with the locals. The dreamers are soon interrupted by the mute Jimmy who signs that he must return to a stranger that just wants to see him.
At the gas station, Jeff finds the stranger standing before him. With a heavy heart he realises it’s Joe Stephanos, ( Paul Valentine) a crime -ridden investigator from his checkered past come to say “everyone sure missed you Jeff”, though not as much as Jeff would like to remember. Jeff’s former ex boss -Whit Sterling, made sure he was tracked down and decided to surprise him down memory lane. Word has it, the guy wants a meet up in Lake Tahoe. Who knows..maybe he’s got something nice for him.
In the hours of the night, Jeff hestitantly waits at the front gate of Ann’s house because he has a funny feeling her parents don’t take kindly to a man they know so little about. Too little in fact. As Ann hurries out the door like school was out, her mother makes her thoughts about Jeff loud and clear. He takes her on a road trip where he wants to tell her something, since he’d have to tell her sometime. “Now the first thing i wanna get off my chest..my name isn’t Bailey. It’s Markham. Jeff Markham.
Flashback to about three years ago. “Wintertime, one of the coldest i remember in the town”. A group of men in a room that spoke high volumes of awkward shame amongest the cigarettes and drinks. Jeff worked with an oily gent named Jack Fisher.
They were called to see a gambler who’s dame had taken four shots at him with his own. ” It amazes me how she missed so often”. A somewhat kingpin operator by the name of Whit Sterling. ( Kirk Douglas). For a guy who was almost cold turkey, sure is a fella with alot of heart. She shot at him and ran off with $40,000, but the guy just wants her back. Why you ask? ” when you see her, you’ll understand”. Now Jeff had to go see about a dame by the names of Kathie Mofatt. (Jane Greer).
After playing catch up on some information on Kathie from a local mistress who worked for her, Jeffs detective senses came out to play. Sharper than a lemon shot in your tequila, he pieced together that ” you don’t get vaccinated for Florida, but you do for Mexico..so i followed her excess baggage to Mexico city.”
It was hot in Acapulco but Jeff was going to find out just how hot it could get. He followed her trail and waited at a little cafe called La Mar Azul. ” i sat there in the afternoons and drank beer”. All he had betweeen his half awake conscious and a beer between his hands, was the music from the movie theatre to keep him awake, “and then i saw her coming out of the sun..and i knew why Whit didn’t care about the $40,000 grand”.
You know..if you brought me a drink, I might have stayed..
A knockout in the shape of a white dress and a matching hat had walked in the place to kickstart his heart and he felt more alive than the heat could handle. His eyes were memesmired by the mysterious woman who was so impulsive in her actions, yet she was looking as innocently sweet as ever, as she sat herself down on that chair. Jeff had to make himself known. With pleasure senor.
From that day foward, Jeff got busy trying to get to know a pretty lady who seemed to play hard to get, and he was the seemingly ‘good guy gone rogue’. He figured Whit could wait a little longer.
Jeff would sit there and drink away the lonely summer nights at Pablo’s because he remembered she had said she sometimes goes there. “I know where I was and what I was doing. I just thought what a sucker I was”. Playing risky buisness with his heart, Jeff falls for Kathie who’s a dangerous flame for any man.
A masterpiece of a movie also known as Build My Gallows High here in the U.K, that captivates you from the very beginning. All the characters can be much loved for being so good at being bad and it’s a classic noir movie that delves in my favourite kind of ‘whodunit’. Full of surprises and full of mysteries, it’s as cold as ice to be sipped in your burbon.
They live a short uncertain life of happiness, but the plot thickens when things become much clearer in nature that unravels in “you dirty, double -crossing rat!”, betrayal and even murder that only a beautiful femme fatale could dress for, played by the charming Jane Greer.
Forgetting to make that phonecall to Whit Sterling isn’t ideal because you just don’t quit and make him the fall guy, which catches up to Jeff as a bigger problem than he could anticipate, and running away isn’t going to cut any loose ends of the past with a woman trying to escape her future. There’s always a rope that burns much slower.
Directed by : Jacques Tourneur, Based on the novel Build My Gallows High (1946) by Daniel Mainwaring
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas, Virginia Huston, Paul Valentine and others
Music by : Roy Webb