Dark Passage

Lie still. Hold your breath and cross your fingers.

I’m not a great believer in coincidences; sure they occur from time to time but too many of them all together tend to make me suspicious if anything. That’s in real life. In the movies the rules are a little different and I’m prepared to suspend my disbelief in circumstances that might normally give me pause. Film noir, especially its more paranoid and nightmarish examples, frequently thrives on the convenient coincidence. Dark Passage (1947) really piles the unlikely chance occurrences on top of each other to the point where the plot feels extraordinarily contrived and reality appears skewed. And yet it all ultimately works, because of the chemistry of the leads and also the sensitive and assured direction of Delmer Daves.

Amid the rising wail of sirens a truck speeds towards San Francisco, its load bouncing and rattling as it goes. Inside one of the barrels is a man, a man who’s just  broken out of San Quentin. This is Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) and he’s been serving time for the killing of his wife. Parry insists he was framed and seems to have some vague notion of finding the real killer, but first he has to make it into the city. His first attempt, hitching a lift with a weaselly character (Clifton Young) in a roadster, is less than successful and could easily have led to his undoing. However, fate steps in and takes over at this point when a young woman, Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), happens along and smuggles the fugitive past the police roadblocks. And here we have the first of the long series of coincidences that dominate this story. Irene followed Vincent’s trial religiously, seeing parallels with the wrongful conviction of her late father, and even wrote letters to the press in his defense. It’s just by chance that she was passing that stretch of road on the very day Vincent decided to make his bid for freedom, but that’s only the start of it. Vincent seems to be stalked by alternating bouts of good and bad luck, almost everyone he encounters is acquainted with one another on various levels, and then there’s the lonely cabby (Tom D’Andrea) with a very useful contact. I won’t go into the various twists and turns the plot takes here – suffice to say Vincent acquires a new face, learns the truth and has at least the possibility of a new beginning dangled before him. Does he grasp that possibility? Well I suggest each viewer make up their own mind on that one – I feel the ending has the kind of ambiguous quality that allows you to interpret it as you wish.

Dark Passage was adapted from a David Goodis novel (I haven’t read it but I do have a copy sitting on my shelves) by director Delmer Daves and offers up an appetizing slice of noir, where an apparently hapless protagonist finds himself sliding ever deeper into circumstances over which he has little control. Daves indubitably did his best work in westerns but this film also provides plenty of scope for the optimism that runs as a common theme throughout his filmography. Film noir tends to focus on the sourer aspects of existence so it probably sounds a little odd to speak of such a positive characteristic in this context. However, it is there – not only in the solidly hopeful central relationship between Vincent and Irene, but also in the little vignettes that add a human face to the tale. Sam the cabby and his willingness to give a guy a break just because he reckons he has a good face, Irene’s would-be suitor who ought to be bitter but shows understanding instead, the hash slinger in the diner who regrets shooting off his big mouth, and the lonely strangers in the bus station all nudge the story forward in their small ways and afford glimpses of a world where decency hasn’t yet been fully eclipsed by greed and jealousy.

At the heart of it all are Bogart and Bacall, their real life love affair as apparent as ever in their comfort around each other. The fact that Bogart isn’t actually seen for the first half hour, the camera telling the story from a first person perspective up that point, doesn’t harm the inherent chemistry either as it’s all there in the voices and gestures that we do witness. With so many unlikely events coming at us hard and fast, it’s vital that there’s a solid center to hold it all together. The two leads ensure that everything remains grounded by their honest and affecting performances. And of course there’s the ending, an aspect I was unsure how to take for a long time. The noir purist may dismiss the coda as a mere sop to those longing for a traditional Hollywood ending, and it can be viewed in those terms. It could also be read as Vincent’s dream after the emotional phone call in the bus terminal. Personally, I’ve come to see it as a nice touch, open to whatever interpretation one cares to favor depending on mood, and entirely appropriate for a director like Daves.

Dark Passage has been available on DVD from Warner for ages now and the transfer still holds up pretty well. The image is quite crisp and shows off the interior and location photography of Sid Hickox just fine. One could criticize the fact that so many aspects of the plot are that bit too convenient, and the way Daves injects his optimism into the story may leave hardcore noir fans somewhat frustrated. Overall, I find it a very satisfying experience though – it offers plenty of thrills and suspense, and lets you walk away with a big smile on your face at the end.

 

Advertisements

56 thoughts on “Dark Passage

  1. I have always enjoyed this one a lot for its eccentric charm and flamboyant visual style but as you say, the plotting verges on the absurd. It is probably the least of the four Bogart and Bacall pictures though (did you notice Franz Waxman reusing his theme from TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT?)

    Like

    • Yes, the recycled score is very noticeable but it works well enough I thought.
      In terms of the four Bogart/Bacall movies, I actually think the relationship in this one works best – it doesn’t have the cuteness of the two Hawks films but it feels more honest to me.

      Like

      • It’s the most overtly romantic, I would agree – I actually prefer KEY LARGO to all of them, though not necessarily as a vehicle for the two stars. I assumed Waxman re-used the score to remind viewers of the earlier teaming – he used it again for another Bacall film, CONFIDENTIAL AGENT

        Like

        • I haven’t watched Confidential Agent for a long time, although I do have a copy here at hand. Some nice cues in that Waxman score and it does fit in with the events in the movie.

          Like

  2. I love this film. Bravo to Bogart for not showing his face for first half hour.
    Love the dark,rain filled streets, that great scene in the little diner, the great cast: in addition to Bogart, Bacall, Agnes Moorehead and Bruce Bennett, the supporting characters are so well written and acted : Tom D’Andrea’s unforgettable cameo as the taxi driver, Houseley Stevenson as the back street surgeon, Rory Mallinson as Parry’s friend, Clifton Young as the blackmailer. All so real.
    How could anybody be frustrated with that ending. If anyone ever served a break it was Vincent Parry!
    Thanks for highlighting this gem.

    Like

  3. Another of the Bogart – Bacall collaborations that I truly love, coincidences or not. Style and performances to burn in this. Love it. Once more, a fine review, my friend. Thanks, Colin.

    Like

    • Thanks, Mike. The performances and style of the film do elevate it and I’m able to look past all the contrivances and coincidences – a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I thought the first sentence of your review read a bit like a Marlowe-style voiceover from a 40s noir, Colin…so you definitely created the right ambience there! 🙂 This is a good picture and you’ve descibed it very well. This is one of those pictures I fall back on regularly when I feel like watching a ‘noir’ but want something a bit less intense than “Double Imdemnity”, for example. In fact, I may give it another spin during the next few days.

    Like

    • Great to hear from you, Dafydd – it’s been a while.
      I’m pleased to hear you’re a fan of the film too, and delighted that I may have encouraged you to give it another watch.

      Like

  5. I agree; it’s an enjoyable film (and one I liked quite a bit), but it does require a great deal of that “willing suspension of disbelief.”

    To me, perhaps the most incredible occurrence what the window scene. Who does that?? Talk about a bad kinesthetic sense!

    Like

  6. I have no trouble suspending disbelief for the wonderful ending, which I really love. It is kind of magical after all the angst but I like that and the romantic mood is just right for Bogart and Bacall.

    I know people whose taste I deeply respect who like this best of the four Bogart/Bacall films–I think it’s partly for what you say as to it feeling so honest. I don’t know where I am on this; they are all good. Even KEY LARGO, which plays kind of heavily, has a lot to recommend it. The two Hawks films are brilliant in their way–for a long time, I was mesmerized by THE BIG SLEEP and less so these days but I guess it remains my favorite. Still, I think DARK PASSAGE is a good choice, too.

    It is true that film noir often likes to drown in pessimism and that seems to be its nature, but I don’t think that should be a given and am glad to take each one on its own merits. Just for one example, ON DANGEROUS GROUND seems one of the greatest of what we call film noire for me and if it starts out dark and despairing, it turns out to be a journey toward redemption and spiritual renewal that I find very convincing and indeed deeply moving.

    Like

    • Yes, Blake, I’ve come to appreciate the warmth of that ending over time, perhaps in the same way I’ve learned to value Daves’ work more on the whole. The whole build up towards it, especially the business in the bus terminal and then the phone call feels very right and fitting somehow.

      I think all four Bogart/Bacall pictures have their strengths, and I’d hate to be without any of them but the nature of the relationship at the center of this one, and the way it’s portrayed, gives it an extra lift for me.

      Good call regarding On Dangerous Ground and the way it develops beyond the typical noir scenario. Actually, I may have been a little unjust in my generalizations about the genre/style here – there are other examples where the darkness and pessimism are broken up to some extent by the end.

      Like

      • Very interesting. I hadn’t heard that before, and it does seem a big chance to take seeing as it is, as you say, a theme that’s been explored more than a few times.
        Incidentally, seeing as you mention The Fugitive, I might as well run further off topic here myself. The complete series is being released in a less deluxe package in the US at the beginning of May, and at a much more attractive price than the previous bells and whistles set – see here. I held off on the first version due to a combination of the high price and the faulty discs, but I’ll be getting this for sure.

        Like

        • Good to know it’s coming out Colin, thanks – it’s a shame about all the music substituions on the DVD though as unusually it affected the musical score rather than just a few stray songs as they used library cues and were apparently unable to identify them properly to affect clearances – in this regard I don’t know if the UK release was any better

          Like

          • The series has been problematic on disc – the first season was fine and then came the wholesale music replacement on the second season. Then after much of the music had been reinstated and the complete set was released there were issues with defective discs which had to be returned and replaced. This new edition should put all that behind us.
            The show only got as far as season one in the UK before drying up – I don’t know whether that was related to the music problems at the time or not as other Paramount/CBS shows – Perry Mason & The Untouchables also saw their UK releases stalled.

            Liked by 1 person

            • So this new release has sorted out the music issues? I don’t know that – this is very good news. I have some US discs of the Perry Mason show (an anniversary compilation) but did get the first season of The Untouchables, which was incredibly good value I thought.

              Like

              • As far as I know much of the music was reinstated for the first complete set, maybe not every single cue but a good deal of it.
                I bought the first 3 seasons of The Untouchables & the first 2 of Perry Mason in the UK – excellent value, as you say, and a real shame they dried up.

                Like

                • And a surprise really as I always thought the UK market was thought to be very well-developed in this regard – maybe there was just a lack of familiarity as they were not repeated here. Great news about the box though that really will have to wait a bit after the Network sale (I went for several of the EALING RARITIES releases)

                  Like

                  • Yes, I thought it odd, and still do.
                    The Network sale has given my credit card a bit of a kicking too but I’ve still gone ahead and pre-ordered The Fugitive set – it’s a few months away yet anyway.
                    Never seen any of those Ealing Rarities myself.

                    Like

  7. Enjoyed your review (as ever), Colin, of a movie I have always liked a lot. I first saw it very many years ago (probably on TV) and that first half hour really stood out for me where all the action is seen through Vincent’s eyes until those bandages come off to reveal……Bogie!! There’s nothing “arty” about it; it’s just darned effective.
    Thanks for the tip about the new set of “THE FUGITIVE”, one of the classic TV series IMHO. The CBS set of a few years ago sure looked terrific but there were issues over soundtrack on Season 2 ( I believe) plus the steep cost. So this could be just the job.
    Similarly, another truly classic series, “NAKED CITY” has been reissued recently, Season by Season, in stunning quality but at a really reasonable price.
    Sorry to have gone even further ‘off piste’, Colin.

    Like

    • I first saw this on TV myself when I was very young, one of those things I just stumbled across without knowing anything about it, and having only a passing acquaintance with the stars. The first half hour really drew me in as well and hooked me.

      I agree on the The Fugitive, Jerry – it’s right up there among the all-time best TV shows, close to the very top.
      I have that Naked City set you mention and it certainly looks good. I might add, while I’m at it, that Arrow’s Blu-ray of the film which inspired it is also a very fine package.

      Like

  8. THE FUGITIVE is my favorite television show ever and would love to see it all again but I never bought any of the DVD releases after hearing about the music replacement. I went to the Amazon site you linked and made a query to the one review, which seemed knowledgeable. I’ve been looking in hoping for a reply since yesterday. If all the original music cues are restored, I will readily buy it.

    I have to say that although it is my favorite that is based on Seasons 1, 2 and 3. For Season 4, the original producer left or was replaced and they went to color, which didn’t suit the mood of the drama nearly as well as the original black and white. There were some other subtle differences too, although when it got to the final two-part climax and resolution, it was very satisfying and pretty much all one would hope for.

    Like

    • It’s terrific stuff indeed – well written, well directed, and David Janssen absolutely nails it as the ever wary hero who’s desperate, lonely and totally real.
      I haven’t seen the fourth season in a long time but I agree the switch to color robbed it of some of its atmosphere. The finale does wrap things up very nicely though.

      Like

  9. I’ll second that vote, Blake. “THE FUGITIVE” is tops.

    I bought the CBS first season and bought Seasons 2-4 from an earlier issue where picture quality is not quite as sharp and pristine BUT music on soundtrack is all original.

    I am slowly working my way through the whole wonderful thing – coming towards the end of Season 3 now. Looking forward to Season 4 and that conclusion which I have not seen since 1967(?).

    Like

    • Good to see more fans of The Fugitive. My father had told me what a great show it was and I first got to see it when it was repeated on Irish TV (RTE), which must have been late 80s or early 90s. The BBC also ran repeats some time later in the 90s but I don’t know if they went right to the end.

      Like

  10. Great piece, though unfortunately I haven’t seen the film. This is a real oversight on my part, to the extent I’ve ordered the Bacall-Bogart set so I can give it an airing. I already have a copy of The Big Sleep and have of course seen Key Largo several times, but not this nor To Have and Have Not (as far as I can recall) so I’m looking forward to the treat of those two classics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I pleased to hear this piece spurred you on to see the film, Mike. I hope it meets your expectations, but I really can’t see it disappointing. You can’t go wrong with any of the Bogart/Bacall films and if you’re going to be watching To Have and Have Not for the first time, then you’re definitely in for a real treat.

      Like

      • Finally caught up with this one having brought Bogart-Bacall to the Lakes for some good viewing when the others are abed and I’m up alone. Really impressed with it, especially the shooting from Bogart’s perspective when you don’t see him, just his hands. It must have been very innovative at the time, and whilst I get the contemporary concerns that you don’t see him for an hour there’s no mistaking that voice. I get the bit about coincidences – the cabby, seriously? – yet none of that distracted from the overall sweep of the story and I agree that the note of optimism these moments often provided was very welcome.

        Thanks for persuading me to make the purchase of this set, which in fairness I’ve been thinking of getting for some time. I heartily enjoyed my return visit to KEY LARGO again also.

        Like

        • I’m very pleased to hear the film lived up to expectations. Sure the coincidences come thick and fast, and do stretch credibility if you stop to think about them too much, but the story itself carries you along and they don’t matter that much in the final analysis. Delmer Daves films all have that inherent optimism and the more I see of that aspect, the more I appreciate it.

          I like the first person perspective in the movie – I think it’s well used and doesn’t outstay its welcome, unlike Lady in the Lake. Not seeing Bogart’s face at the beginning isn’t a problem for me – his presence, voice and attitude are all there and are indeed unmistakeable.

          Like

          • Hi Colin– It just so happens that I saw Dark Passage last Saturday on the big screen during the opening weekend of the Film Noir Festival here in Los Angeles at the Egyptian Theater/American Cinematheque. Eddie Muller was in attendance, of course, as was Stephen Bogart, the first child born to Bogey and Bacall. The second feature was called “The Last Lonely Place” which is a neo-noir produced by Stephen Bogart and the revived Santana Productions, which was Bogey’s own company. They also premiered the new Bogart gin at a cocktail party after the movies. It was a full house of over 600 people, and let me tell you that Dark Passage played extremely well — although I must kvetch a bit over the state of the print, which had vertical lines running through it much of the time. There was a nice interview between films with Eddie Muller, Stephen Bogart, and the writer/ director of The Last Lonely Place (name escapes me!). I am sure that interview will be up on the Film Noir Foundation website, and it is well worth watching.

            I was very pleasantly surprised by “The Last Lonely Place” which was made for only $120,000 but really looks, feels, and plays like a film with a much bigger budget. The only cast member I recognized was Xander Barkley, whom I have only ever seen in smaller parts before this, but he carried a major role quite well here. It is a very dark film, set in contemporary LA, and takes place almost entirely in a taxi cab — which was a nice subtle link to Dark Passage, by the way, as the cab driver was even named Sam! Forgive me for not recalling the name of the actor who played Sam, and also the actress who played the Femme Fatale. Both were terrific, though, Sam in a very understated way, and the dame in a very volatile, explosive way!! There were lots of other great Noirish tableaux as well, suitably gritty and tawdry, and definitely moments that might draw an NC-17 rating. It really was a very taut, tense thriller, all trapped inside this little yellow pressure-cooker wheeling all over town, and meandering towards a macabre climax. I don’t want to say much more, as I don’t wish to kill the suspense. It was really an excellent film, and no one got up to leave. I don’t know what the plans are for releasing the film, but keep your eyes open, or get a copy off the Film Noir Foundation website if available. I don’t think you will be disappointed; in fact, you could probably do a fine review of it for the site!

            Like

            • Thanks for that, Harvey, sounds like a great night. And the movie, as you describe it, certainly comes across as being very appealing – I’ll definitely be on the lookout for it.

              Like

  11. Nice essay on this film, Colin. In terms of noir, I think “coincidence” is best cast as a matter of Fate, which does abound in this unusual thriller/romance. Vincent certainly has Fate working against him most of the time, but then he gets a couple of breaks that turn out to be just what he needs. How he adapts to these opportunities, both lucky and lousy, is part of what leads him down such an exciting path as he tries to clear his name and, ultimately, has to escape the country to be free. I didn’t think the ending (which I think Shawshank Redemption borrowed from a little) was ambiguous at all, Colin. It was so unambiguous and upbeat that it stretched the fabric of noir a bit, and made it a bit soppy. But hey, it’s Bogie and Bacall, so they are going into the sunset together as they do in all their other pictures, right?

    I think the part of the script where things get a little too convenient is where Irene is acquainted with Madge, for example; or maybe they are connected through Bob, I am not sure. That whole scene is a bit too cozy! It’s other wise an excellent thriller, and makes interesting use of the subjective camera for the first half of the movie as an added treat– and plenty of close-ups of Bacall at her most majestic-looking as a result of that choice of camera techniques. The anesthesia nightmare during the plastic surgery scene is another great section of the film: Vincent is at his most vulnerable at that moment, and we take that step with him, unsure of how anything will come out.

    The only scene that plays false for me is the climactic showdown between Vincent and Madge — how are we to understand that? Was it an accident, or did she jump as one last act of spite?

    Someone mentioned that the poster doesn’t look much like Bogart. I think it does, but the lips are a bit red and maybe there is a touch of Dick Powell brushed on…. But it’s Bogart, and a great poster it is! I love the blood red sky and the San Francisco skyline all askew, giving us a clue as to the anxiety quotient in the film.

    The first time I saw Dark Passage, I was very young, and I always remembered some guy walking around at night with this big bandage on his head, and stumbling up some huge staircase…..I thought it was maybe a dream I had, but then when I saw the movie again as an adult, there it all was. Dark Passage remains one of my personal favorites among the film noir canon.

    Like

    • Thanks for the great comment, Harvey. You’re the second person now to raise the matter of Madge and the window – a real shock moment when it’s first seen but one which raises more questions than it answers.
      I think you have something there about the plotting surrounding Madge, or at least the way the various characters are linked through her. The fact Bob seems to know so much about both Madge and Vincent always struck me as a little odd, given that Vincent never seems to refer to any acquaintance with Bob himself.

      Like

      • Hi Colin–
        Well I think Bob knows about Madge because he was dating her at one point, before he clearly upped his game and started being Irene’s suitor. I presume he knows about Vincent through Madge, although that would be a pretty one-sided source. He would have come along into Madge’s life after Vincent went to prison, so that is why Bob and Vincent have never actually met.

        At least they kept George out of the little clan, other than Madge unfortunately knowing where to find him! George despised Madge, and had the integrity to stay away from her.

        One issue that bothers me is that they mention how, at the trial, one very condemning point was that the night before the murder, Vincent had spent several hours alone with Madge. I don’t believe that is ever satisfactorily explained, is it? The implication is that they were having an affair, and that was what (from the point of view of the prosecutor) partly motivated Vincent to eliminate his wife, right? I know Irene raises an eyebrow at this remark made by Bob, I believe, but is it ever fully explained? I mean, if Vincent were to have been having an affair with Madge, his stock really drops at that point! Perhaps he was over at Madge’s trying to get some help/advice on how to deal with the tempestuous Gert? Let’s hope!!! In any event, Irene doesn’t seem to hold it against him….

        And why is Irene such an isolated person, hanging on to the likes of Bob and Madge? One would think she might have a rather full social life if she were at all interested in that…..

        Bruce Bennett is one of my favorite noir sidemen, along with Wendell Corey. They do some fine work in numerous noirs of this period.

        Like

        • I really must get round to reading the novel at some point to see if any of those questions relating to Vincent and Madge are cleared up, or explained in some way.
          Bennett was indeed one of those guys who added extra value to many a movie – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre & Mildred Pierce immediately spring to mind.

          Like

          • He was great in Nora Prentiss as well; also in one with Ella Raines where she was very plain looking, had a car accident, and then got plastic surgery and looked like….well, Ella Raines. BB was the doctor/friend who was a little gunshy of relationships, which she interpreted as him not being attracted to her, although she had a huge crush on him, and he on her. Only a fair movie, but Bennett was good. Yes, he’s a pivotal character in Treasure and in Mildred Pierce.

            Like

  12. I love the opening lines of the book: “It was a tough break. Parry was innocent. On top of that he was a decent sort of guy who never bothered people and wanted to lead a quiet life. But there was too much on the other side and on his side of it there was practically nothing. The jury decided he was guilty. The judge handed him a life sentence and he was taken to San Quentin.” It really does sum up the noir world view.

    Like

  13. It’s a long while since I’ve seen this – I remember being on the edge of my seat for the first half hour waiting for that first glimpse of Bogart. There are quite a few classic films which hold off on the first sight of the hero, but I don’t think I’ve seen any which make the wait quite so tense! I don’t remember the film all that well overall, I must confess – will need to revisit it.

    Like

    • Hi, Judy. Keeping Bogart’s face hidden for so long does build up the expectation nicely, and the first person camera technique works well because it’s not overused – Lady in the Lake was filmed that way throughout and I found it really became a a bit of a drag in the end.

      Like

  14. I have seen this one 4-5 times and it really does not work for me at all. And for me to say that about a Bogart film is something. Not a stinker, but does not turn my crank.

    Like

    • Well, different tings work for each of us. I think this is a film which could be problematic if it’s approached as a straightforward noir. As much as anything, it’s a Delmer Daves’ movie and his view of life, people and relationships do tend to be more positive in the end.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s