Thursday, August 14, 2014

Dark Passage (1947), starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)
Lauren Bacall, who passed away two days ago at the age of 89, had not only a fabled film career, but was in a number of interesting crime films, including most notably The Big Sleep (1946), based on the Raymond Chandler novel, and Murder on the Orient Express (1974), based on the Agatha Christie novel. She also starred in Dark Passage (1947), based on the David Goodis novel, Key Largo (1948), based on the Maxwell Anderson play, Harper (1966), based on the Ross Macdonald novel The Moving Target, and Appointment with Death (1988), based on the Agatha Christie novel. To sum up, that's a Chandler film, two Christie films, a Ross Macdonald film and a David Goodis film (and I may be leaving out something)!

Bacall of course is known for the films she did with her first husband, the great Humphrey Bogart.  Since The Big Sleep and Key Largo are better known, I thought I would take a look at Dark Passage, based on the novel by mid-century crime writer David Goodis, who has been enjoying a great revival the last decade or so, since his embrace by the cultural gatekeeper Library of America.  I had never seen this film before, but happened to have the DVD around the house, so popped it in the player and found it quite interesting, though not, I would say, an absolute classic.

In Dark Passage Bogart plays an escaped convict, Vincent Parry, sentenced to life for the killing of his wife.  The film opens with his thrilling, if improbable, escape from San Quentin State Prison in a metal drum (the stunt where the drum falls off the truck and rolls down the hill is impressive, but I have to wonder whether Bogart's character really would have survived, let alone walked away like it was nothing). Parry hitches a ride with a young guy named Baker (Clifton Young, in a nice performance), who starts asking too many questions, so Parry knocks him out. Exit Baker--or does he?

be careful who you hitch with....

Happily, a beautiful young woman, Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), shows up, offering to hide Parry in her San Francisco apartment (Parry is having some day!). Jansen, an heiress whose father was unjustly executed for the murder of her stepmother, followed Parry's trial closely, believing that he too was innocent (I believe she heard he had escaped and was driving around looking for him in the vicinity of San Quentin).

Parry can't stay with her for long, however, so he sets out on his own (with $1000 she has given him!). Again Parry lucks out when the cabby he gets a ride with (an appealingly empathetic Tom D'Andrea), upon discerning Parry's identity, tells Parry he knows a doctor (a memorable Houseley Stevenson) who can surgically alter his appearance!

a cabby (Tom D'Andrea) takes a shine to a con

Parry is hep to this suggestion, but first he stops off with best friend, trumpet player George Fellsinger (Rory Mallinson--another good performance), and we get some back story on the murder of Parry's wife.  After Parry gets his surgery done he returns to Fellsinger's, only to find him dead, bludgeoned with his own trumpet! Not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, Parry picks up the trumpet and gets his fingerprints on it, assuring that he will be fingered for Fellsinger's murder, before hot footing it back to Jansen's apartment.

Oh, did I mention that up until now we haven't actually seen Bogart, just heard him?  The action has been cleverly filmed from his point of view (the film version of Chandler's The Lady in the Lake, which appeared the same year, was shot the same way as well, but less successfully as I understand it).

Anyway, for the next half hour we see Bogart in bandages and he can't speak (though he does some voice-overs).  During this time there is some more exposition when at Jansen's apartment we meet Jansen's friends Bob (Bruce Bennett) and Madge (a deliciously bitchy Agnes Moorehead; oddly Bennett and Moorehead both popped up in the film Without Honor, which I reviewed here recently).

a post-op Vincent Parry with Irene Jansen
at Jansen's to die for apartment

Finally Parry gets the bandages off and we are left with these questions: Will Parry find out who really killed his wife and who killed Fellsinger?  Will he ever make it out of San Francisco?  Will he get the beautiful girl?  There also is an additional plot wrinkle, which I won't detail.

I enjoyed Dark Passage, though it had one of the more unlikely plots I have encountered in a mystery film. Also I didn't find it very close to noir, with Parry not being, really, a very flawed guy at all (besides being kind of dumb, frankly).  Parry is not a character that gives Bogart a whole lot to do--though he does get a great naughty one-liner when, after getting out of the shower in Jansen's apartment, he thanks her for giving him a towel large enough "to cover my embarrassment."

Bacall is sultry yet sympathetic, all good girl, no femme fatale.  Most of the supporting performances are outstanding, especially that by Moorehead (her scene with Bogart was, I thought, the best acting scene in the film). Additionally, the exterior shots in San Francisco are great and I now want to own an apartment just like Irene Jansen's--Wow!

Parry pays a call on Madge (Agnes Moorehead)

So, while Dark Passage is not an immortal classic of mystery film, it is an enjoyable movie, and of course especially great viewing for Bogart and Bacall fans (and the DVD is great quality, with a nice special feature on the film). Lauren Bacall will be much missed.  I hope she and Bogart are sharing quips together again in some swanky bar in the beyond.


  1. Great stuff Curt, a film well worth discussing at least for its technical merits. Director Delmer Daves really goes to town with the use of subjective camera in that opening reel (unlike LADY IN THE LAKE which exhausts viewers by using it all the way through), and then that great shot of the dead trumpet player filmed THROUGH the floor. The plot is very unlikely, in the extreme, but it's an eccentric movie with lots of fun little cameo from an assortment of slightly off-kilter characters. It is, I think, the least of the four Bogart and Bacall movies and certainly in terms of her character. In terms of her appearance in movies with prior mystery credentials, I would also include THE CONFIDENTIAL AGENT from Graham Greene and MISERY from Stephen King.

    1. And then there was The Fan, but I'm not sure I can really recommend that one! But it's really a rather impressive crime film roster for a Great Lady of film.

  2. Dark Passage is quite an entertaining movie. Goodis's novel is worth reading.

  3. Curtis, thanks for your insight into Bacall and her film "Dark Passage." I have seen very few of her films and this is a welcome review.

    1. Thanks Prashant! She did some good ones (non-criminous too!).

  4. I liked this when I first saw it ages ago. That plastic surgery plot gimmick was very popular in thrillers and horror movies in this era. But it's not nearly as farfetched or preposterous as SHATTERED the movie based on Richard Neely's THE PLASTIC NIGHTMARE. I had forgotten about Bacall being in MISERY until I scanned her credits at imdb, but her character (Sheldon's literary agent) was incidental, not too memorable.

    1. John, you should do a piece on this plot device in films! The subjective camera bit, I don't know who was first with that. Hitch used it very briefly in Spellbound in 1945 as I recall.

    2. Ah well, when ti comes to the use of subjective camera there are definitely instances fromt he silent era when characters look directly into the camera and then back again. And early and very influential example is from the wonderful 1931 version of DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE directed by pioneer and innovator Rouben Mamoulian and starring Fredric March - it is used in the opening of the film, is very elaborate and of course thematically makes complete sense. More recent examples would have to include the original HALLOWEEN made by John Carpenter and released in 1978 that used an early form of the steadycam (known as the Panaglide) for the entire opening section (though it does cheat a bit to sustain what appears to be an unbroken take, much less obviously than DARK PASSAGE) - Hitchcock was a master of the Point of View shot of course, no doubt about it ...

  5. a lovely tribute and a very interesting review. did not realise ms bacall was in two christies- may use as a quiz question in some way..Up until this week my trivia fact about her was she was the only living person mentioned in the madonna hit 'vogue'

    How is Stop Press going by the way?

    1. It's coming! Now you have me trying to remember the Vogue lyrics! ;)

      "Rita Hayworth gave good face...."