Bogart plays a man convicted of murdering his wife who escapes from prison in order to prove his innocence. Bogart finds that his features are too well known, and is forced to seek some illicit backroom plastic surgery. The entire pre-knife part of the film is shot from a Bogart's-eye-view, with us seeing the fugitive for the first time as he starts to recuperate from the operation in the apartment of a sympathetic young artist (played by Bacall) for whom he soon finds affection. But what he's really after is revenge.
Humphrey Bogart ... Vincent Parry
Lauren Bacall ... Irene Jansen
Bruce Bennett ... Bob
Agnes Moorehead ... Madge Rapf
Tom D'Andrea ... Cabby (Sam)
Clifton Young ... Baker
Douglas Kennedy ... Detective
Rory Mallinson ... George Fellsinger
Houseley Stevenson ... Dr. Walter Coley
"Dark Passage" offers a different take on the San Francisco noir genre. This is a movie in which we get to know about the story that unfolds in front of us told in narrative style by the hero, who is never seen until about one hour into the picture. Delmer Daves, adapting the David Goodis novel has created something seldom seen in this type of films, in which, the hero's presence is required at all times.
The film has a great style, as it offers a view of the San Francisco of the 1940s in ways that hadn't been seen before. The director was lucky to be able to open up the book in excellent ways to keep the viewer hooked from the start. The 'moderne' style of that era is seen in glorious detail, especially Irene's apartment, where much of the action takes place. The effect of the glassed enclosed elevator makes a dramatic contribution to the look of this movie.
The story of an innocent man, falsely condemned to prison for killing his own wife, parallels other movies. What's unusual here is that the presence of this convict is seen in another light with his own slant in to what really happened to the dead woman. There are other elements in the film that make it appealing. as the relationship between the escaped man, Vincent Parry, and the woman who rescues him, Irene Jansen.
Sidney Hickox's stylish cinematography is one of the best assets of the film. The crisp images that one sees of the city, or the surrounding areas, add to the enjoyment of watching the mystery unfold. The mood is set by the swing music of the time as Frank Waxman's score is heard. Richard Whiting contributes the great song one hears in the background.
The film is dominated by Humphrey Bogart, which says a lot about his power as an actor, and as a personality. When one considers he is actually not seen completely until after an hour into the movie, it speaks volumes of how the actor and the director were able to pull it through. The Irene Jansen of Lauren Bacall is another of the things that work in the film. Ms. Bacall's radiant beauty dominates every scene she is in. This actress had such a style that no matter what she is doing, she pulls our attention to her. The camera loved Ms. Bacall.
The other best thing going for the film is the strong performances Mr. Daves has obtained from his cast. Agnes Moorehead makes a phenomenal appearance as the evil Madge Rapf. Her last scene with Mr. Bogart stands as one of the best moments in a film noir of the era. Ms. Moorehead's expressions as she is confronted with the facts, keep on changing as she absorbs everything being thrown at her. Clifton Young who plays Baker, the opportunistic would be criminal, is also effective, as he adds a layer of intrigue with an angle we didn't figure out existed. His fight with Parry at the bottom of the Golden Gate bridge is beautifully choreographed. Finally, the kind cab driver Sam, who helps Parry assume a new identity, as played by Tom D'Andrea is one of the highlights of the film, as well as the plastic surgeon, portrayed by Houseley Stevenson.
This film, while not perfect, shows how well Delmer Dave's gamble paid in his conception for the film.
You can tell when something is being explored onscreen for the first time - its done more thoroughly and more excitedly than it ever will again. Think back to that first film about the phenomenon of email (Disclosure) or the internet (The Net), or what about the first film exploring chronology-changes (Citizen Kane) or hide-the-protagonist (The Third Man), or the excitement of acting (Streetcar Named Desire). That initial excitement is never really matched again - after that it becomes just another device, or a reference. The thing here is partly first-person narration (this came out the same year as Lady in the Lake), but wholly plastic surgery, the idea of changing your appearance.
First-person narration is actually quite rare in cinema. Lady in the Lake is one of the only examples where they stick with it for an entire picture, resorting to gimmicks like having Robert Montgomery looking in a mirror. Its used to great effect in the first half of Dark Passage, in order to hide Bogart's face. It was partly mechanical. Its a face-change movie. Instead of starting with Bogart and changing his face to a different actor, they wanted to pretend he looked like a different person (which we only see in a few photographs), and then after the operation he just looks like Bogart. But what the device of hiding his face does is create suspense, and focus on the issue of faces, which is a recurring theme throughout.
And it works to the positive for this film: what's the best way to hide someone's face? Put us behind their eyes! You never see your own face unless you're looking in the mirror. So until his operation, we see through Bogey's eyes - and the result is quite cinematic. It really frees up the movie, unshackling it from the static trappings of most studio pictures of this era. Instead of us just looking on from the edge of a set, which ends up looking like a stage, we're really taken into the action - its marvellous!
And, to save the best till last - Bacall absolutely burns up the screen in this. She sets the celluloid on fire. Any single shot of her in this movie is magic. Just being onscreen and being magic, its the definition of the X-factor.
9/10. What a star-vehicle for Bogey. This was his Third Man. And Bacall is sensational!
Watching a "feature" on the DVD the other day after viewing this movie, it was interesting to hear that "Dark Passage" was never a popular film despite the headliners being Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
That was because studio head Jack Warner was displeased that Bogart's face wasn't shown for the first half of the film and so he didn't give the movie much publicity. The fact Bogey's face didn't appear for quite a while apparently didn't settle well with the public, either.
That was their loss: this is a fine film. The stars of it, really - the actors who put the spark in the story - aren't Bogey and Bacall anyway but the supporting actors. I can't recall a movie where the supporting cast was so good, so entertaining, as in this film.
Before naming them, let me preface by saying Bogart and Bacall still give good performances and Bacall still had a face in those early days that was mesmerizing BUT the people who make this movie click are:
Tom D'Andrea as the cab driver; Houseley Stevenson as the strange and extremely interesting plastic surgeon; Clifton Young as the blackmailer; Tory Mallison as Bogart's old best friend and Agnes Moorhead as the villainous snoop. These people are fantastic.
As an escaped convict on the run, we only see what Bogart sees until plastic surgery turns him into the familiar face we recognize. That sort of thing - seeing only what one character sees, using the camera as his eyes, was done in another noir, "Lady In The Lake," but not done as successfully as in this film. Here, it works as we meet these other weird characters as Bogart sees them. Actually, every character including Bacall's, is a bit odd. The script doesn't always make sense, either, to be honest, but it's fun to play along.
It was a simple but effective story with some neat twists along the way and pretty good suspense here and there, too. I think it's a very underrated film noir and very glad the long-awaited DVD gave it a nice transfer. This is another example of a classic film that looks far better on DVD than it ever did on tape. I hadn't realized how well-photographed this movie was until I saw it on disc.
* When Vincent reads the newspaper clipping about Irene's father, the accompanying photograph of her father is that of director/screenwriter Delmer Daves.
* Franz Waxman's main title music for this movie is exactly the same as that used in To Have and Have Not (1944), for which he was uncredited.
* Warner Bros. paid $25,000 for the rights to the David Goodis novel, which was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post from 20 July-September 7, 1946.
* The actual Art Deco apartment used in the film (located at 1360 Montgomery St in San Francisco) had to be torn down in the mid 1990's after a landslide washed away most of the foundation soil from the hill-side building, leaving the beautiful home dangling dangerously over the edge. However, when the city demolition team showed up to tear the building down, they found it so well built that, even with more the half the structure hanging out over space, they were unable to simply pull it down. They eventually resorted to cutting the home to pieces with large chainsaws and carrying away the scrap.
* When Bogie is riding in the car with Clifton Young during his escape, the voice on the radio is supplied by Dane Clark, another Warner's player.
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