Bogie & Bacall: One of Hollywood’s most well-known and beloved couples, on screen and off. After meeting on the set of To Have and Have Not, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart married in 1945 and went on to make three more films together.
I enjoy all four of the Bogie & Bacall films, but tend to re-watch The Big Sleep more than the others. When I saw that a blogathon dedicated to the year 1947 had been announced, I decided to give Dark Passage another look, since it was released in that year. I’ve seen the film two or three times before, compared to at least 15 re-watches of The Big Sleep!
Dark Passage tells the story of Vincent Parry (Bogart), a man who has been convicted of murdering his wife. He cleverly escapes from San Quentin, hiding in the back of a garbage truck, and goes on the lam.
Vincent meets Irene Jansen (Bacall), who offers to help him. She’s been following his trial and believes he’s innocent. Her father, who died in prison, was also wrongfully convicted, which drives her dedication to Vincent’s cause.
Dark Passage was directed by Delmer Daves. Daves also re-wrote the screenplay, originally drafted by David Goodis, who wrote the film’s source novel.
This is an unconventional film noir, and after watching it again for this blogathon, I appreciate it more than ever. I’d even say that it has taken its rightful spot as my second favorite Bogart/Bacall film!
We begin the film in Vincent’s perspective, never seeing his face — instead, seeing through his eyes. We see the suspicious eyes of the stranger from whom he hitches a ride, surveying Vincent as an announcement about the escaped prisoner plays on the radio. We see Irene through Vincent’s eyes, when she stops by the side of the road and meets him for the first time. We see the hand of a police officer, inching toward Vincent’s own hand as he hides beneath a blanket in Irene’s car.
While this wasn’t the first film to put the viewer directly into the perspective of the central character, the technique is used with great success here, building a mountain of tension as Vincent attempts to evade capture with Irene’s help. He’s at first suspicious of Irene, and anxious that he’ll be found out or get in her way, which only adds to the mood of the film.
Vincent eventually gets plastic surgery and changes his name in hopes of securing his freedom permanently, and it isn’t until he wakes from surgery (about 40 minutes into the film) that we finally see Bogart’s face (at first swathed in bandages) and get a slightly more omniscient perspective. Prior to the surgery, even when Vincent is shown from the front (such as in the cab scene, pictured above), his face is obscured or completely hidden in shadow.
The transition between the subjective POV and Vincent’s post-surgery life brings one of the film’s most striking scenes, a surreal nightmare-like sequence in which Vincent sees Irene, Madge, the surgeon, and the driver that he hitched a ride from — usually as though filtered through a kaleidoscope.
Bogart and Bacall both give wonderful performances in this film. Bogart is a rough-edged man, but a sincere one. While he has a violent streak (as proven by the way he socks the driver who picks him up just after his escape), the audience believes that he’s innocent in his wife’s death. Bacall is calm, cool, collected, and determined to do anything she can to help Vincent avoid the same outcome as her father — an admirable-but-guarded character, until her growing affection for Vincent leads her to let down her guard a bit.
Stealing a number of scenes is Agnes Moorehead as Madge, the woman who testified against Vincent at his trial. She’s a nosy, stubborn, and scheming woman, with a strong personality… and a lot of anxiety over Vincent’s prison escape (or so it seems). Having become acquainted with Irene while Vincent was in prison, her presence becomes inescapable to him after his escape. Moorehead pulls the character off exceedingly well, especially in her fiery confrontation scene with Bogart near the film’s end.
Story-wise, this film doesn’t have much to set it apart from other noir films. It’s a tale of wrongful conviction, running from the law, and unraveling a complex web of lies/murder — nothing out of the ordinary for the genre. But with such a great cast, nice photography, and interesting little twists (like the surgical element of Vincent’s escape, and the use of subjective POV), Dark Passage is a fantastic watch. 1947 was a big year of the genre, with other greats such as Nightmare Alley and Out of the Past released, but Dark Passage can certainly be counted as one of the best and most memorable screen stories of the year.