|Directed by||Delmer Daves|
Dark Passage (1947) is a Warner Bros. film noir directed by Delmer Daves and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The film is based on the novel of the same name by David Goodis. It was the third of four films real-life couple Bacall and Bogart made together.
The film is notable for employing cinematography that avoided showing the face of Bogart’s character, Vincent Parry, prior to the point in the story at which Vincent undergoes plastic surgery to change his appearance. The majority of the pre-surgery scenes are shot from Vincent’s point of view. In those scenes shot from other perspectives, the camera is always positioned so that its field of view does not include his face. The story follows Vincent’s attempts to hide from the law and clear his name of murder.
Vincent Parry, a man convicted of killing his wife, has escaped from San Quentin prison by stowing away in a supply truck. He evades police and hitches a ride with a passing motorist named Baker. Parry’s odd clothes and a news report on the radio about an escaped convict make Baker suspicious. When questioned, Parry beats him unconscious. Irene Jansen, who had been painting nearby, picks up Parry and smuggles him past a police roadblock into San Francisco, offering him shelter in her apartment.
An acquaintance of Jansen, Madge, comes by Irene’s apartment. Parry, without opening the door, tells her to go away. Madge was a former romantic interest of Parry’s whom he had spurned. Out of spite she testified at his trial, providing a motive as to why he would have killed his wife. When she returns, Irene explains that she had followed Parry’s case with interest. Her own father had been falsely convicted of murder, and since then she has taken an interest in miscarriages of justice. She believes that Parry is innocent.
Parry leaves but is recognized by a cab driver, Sam. The man turns out to be sympathetic and gives Parry the name of a plastic surgeon who can change his appearance. Before the operation, Parry goes to the apartment of a friend, George Fellsinger, for help in proving his innocence and arranges to stay with him during the recuperation from surgery. Dr. Coley performs the operation. Parry, unable to speak, his face wrapped in bandages, returns to George’s apartment only to find him murdered. He stumbles back to Irene’s house, collapsing at her doorstep. Irene nurses him back to health.
Madge and her ex-husband Bob, who is romantically interested in Irene, come by. Madge is worried that Parry will kill her for testifying against him and asks to stay with Irene for protection. Irene gets rid of Madge and deflects Bob by saying that she has already met someone to whom she is attracted, “Vincent Parry”. She feigns that she is lying, but actually she is telling the truth, as Parry hides in a bedroom. Bob takes Irene’s statement as a joke, but accepts that Irene is interested in another man.
As he recuperates, Parry learns that he is now wanted for the murder of his friend George, his fingerprints having been found on the murder weapon, George’s trumpet. After his bandages are removed, Parry reluctantly parts from Irene, declaring that she will be better off if she is not part of his life.
Parry decides to flee the city before trying to find out who really killed his wife. At a diner, an undercover policeman becomes suspicious because of Parry’s behavior. The policeman asks for identification, but Parry claims to have left it at his hotel. On the street, Parry darts in front of a moving car to escape.
At the hotel, Parry is surprised by Baker, who holds him at gunpoint. Baker has been following Parry since they first met. He now demands that Irene pay him $60,000 or he will turn Parry over to the law. Parry agrees, and Baker obliges him to drive the two of them to Irene’s apartment. Claiming to take a shortcut, Parry drives to a secluded spot underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. There he succeeds in disarming Baker and questions him, becoming convinced that Madge is behind the deaths of his wife and friend. The two men fight, and Baker falls to his death.
Parry goes to Madge’s apartment. Knowing that she doesn’t recognize him with his new face, he pretends to be a friend of Bob’s who is interested in courting her. Parry eventually reveals his true identity and accuses Madge of having killed both his wife and George. He shows her that he has all the evidence written down, and attempts to coerce her into making a confession. She points out that without her signature the accusations will then be worthless. While turning away from him, she accidentally falls through a window to her death.
Knowing he cannot prove his innocence, and that he will likely be accused of Madge’s murder as well, Parry has no choice but to flee. He intends to go to Mexico and then to South America. He phones Irene, revealing his plans; she says she will meet him there. The next time we see him, Parry is relaxing with a drink in a beach bar in Peru, when he sees Irene across the dance floor. They embrace.
When discussing the films Bogie and Bacall made together, Dark Passage was, and to a degree still is, seen as ‘the other one’. Not The Big Sleep, not To Have and Have Not, not Key Largo, but the other one. The director had something to do with this, for while John Huston and Howard Hawks are accepted masters, Delmer Daves was not. He’s known today for the westerns he made in the mid-fifties, and 3:10 to Yuma is covered later in this piece. Yet Dark Passage still lingers, the ultimate deeply flawed film which has too much to be cast aside. Even the title makes one tingle.
Bogart played Vincent Parry, an escaped convict wrongly accused of murdering his wife and off to try and find out who did. He’s helped, seemingly for no reason, by Irene Jansen, who helps him past the police blocks and back to San Francisco where she puts him up for the night. Realising the danger he’s putting her in he decides to go, and encounters a philosophical taxi driver who ‘likes his face’ and decides to help him change it. The cabby takes him to a discredited but excellent plastic surgeon who changes his face. Vincent thinks he has a place to stay with his friend George, but when he gets there he finds him murdered, too, and is forced to go back to Irene’s. Time is running out if he hopes to find out who did murder his wife and George and clear his name.
One of the reasons it wasn’t popular at the time was undoubtedly the fact that Vincent doesn’t get justice. He gets a happy ending of sorts, but he’s still a fugitive as the murderer dies and he’s still the murderer in the eyes of the law. It’s an ending that feels false, like The Shawshank Redemption 47 years early. Indeed, the whole narrative seems like a series of scenes strung together, and less interested in Bogie’s fate than in observing the characters he meets along the way.
What most people remember, however, is the stunning use of subjective camera that is not only used for the first half an hour of the film, but is not merely a gimmick. It allows us to hear Bogie’s voice but not see him, so when the surgery is over, we know it’s his face we’re going to see. It’s a process rarely used because it can seem pretentious in the wrong hands, but it works remarkably well. Yet more startling still is just how much of it is shot out of the studio. While it’s true that quite a few noirs of the period were shot in the streets, they weren’t at Warners (compare it to The Big Sleep, shot by the same DP, almost entirely shot in a studio). Daves uses San Francisco and its legendary undulating topography. Indeed, Passage makes use of Frisco in a way even Vertigo didn’t match. There’s a real sense of the vertiginous streets with slopes like the Matterhorn, endless staircases that leave you feeling like you’re going to die.
And within this disorientation, the two stars are quite touching, Bacall with those legendary eyebrows like Van Gogh’s crows upside down, and Bogie smoking through a holder and drinking through a straw. Yet it’s the supports you remember. Bennett is an ultimate stooge, a complete waste of space, but he’s more than balanced by Stevenson as the old doctor, d’Andrea as the salt of the earth cabby and Young as the slimeball would-be blackmailer who gets his by the Golden Gate. Not to mention Moorehead, that ever vicious old termagant, getting her kicks through others’ misery. Yet even the uncredited bits are gems, as with dear Mary Field, the spinster aunt at the bus depot who’s given a reason to smile for once. There’s enough here to make any noirfan come over all tingly, but also enough to make one understand why, when writing of Daves, Andrew Sarris observed that “he doesn’t so much transcend his material as mingle with it.”
Agnes Moorehead steals the show!
Even if she has only two or three scenes she steals them all.And it speaks volumes when the stars are Bogart and Bacall.
This is my favorite B/B among the four films they made together.”The big sleep” has a plot I’ve never understood -Hawks used to say it was the same to him-,”to have and to have not” fails to excite me (Bogart a resistant and Gaulliste at that!”Key Largo”,on the other hand, is a close second to Daves’ movie .
Not that the subjective viewpoint/camera was that much new.Robert Montgomery filmed his hero the same way in 1946 (“Lady in the lake” ,and we only saw his reflection in the mirrors).Hitchcock knew the technique as well and he used it with virtuosity during short sequences.But Daves who is best remembered for his westerns (“broken arrow”) pulls it off effortlessly.The depth of field gives a dreamlike atmosphere to the first sequences with Bacall and the surgeon -dream which becomes nightmare during the operation when Bogart sees in his bad dream all the characters involved in the story- There are plot holes of course,particularly Madge ‘s character .Parry is in Irene’s house and presto here she comes.It takes all Agnes Moorehead’s talent to give this woman substance.
The first third is Bogartless,as an user points out.But he could add that the last third is almost Bacallless too.
Only the ending,which I will not reveal of course ,is not worthy of a film noir!Maybe the producers imposed it.