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Noirvember 2021, Episode 12: Dark Passage (1947)

Dark Passage (Warner Bros., 1947) directed by Delmer Daves

There was a time when I dismissed Dark Passage as a picture containing too many implausible elements to be effective. After watching it again last night, I maintain much of its implausibility, but have found other aspects of the picture to appreciate.


In the film’s opening, Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) escapes from San Quentin Prison after being falsely convicted of murdering his wife. Only we can’t see Parry’s face, since much of the film’s first reels tell the story from his point of view. An artist named Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) was fascinated with Parry’s case from the beginning and just so happens to be in the area where he has made good his escape, after a not-so-lucky encounter hitchhiking.

Irene hides Parry in her San Francisco apartment long enough for him to come up with a plan suggested by a cab driver. (Makes sense, right?) The cabby (Tom D’Andrea) recognizes both Parry and his plight, suggesting a plastic surgeon he knows who can fix him up for $200. (Are you keeping track of the implausibilities? I think we’re up to at least three.)

There’s more. Parry’s only friend George (Rory Mallinson) gets murdered, leaving Parry as the prime suspect. But Parry learns that Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead), the woman he suspects murdered both his wife and George, is Irene’s friend.

There’s still more, but I’ve probably told you too much. All of these things were extremely bothersome the first time I watched the film years ago, but none of them weighed too heavily on me this time. Fate is stressed early on in the film, and if you buy into that, Dark Passage goes down a lot easier. (Maybe it also helps that I read the David Goodis novel of the same name a couple of years ago and enjoyed it.)

Initially I thought that there’s not enough Bogart in Bogart in the film. Parry is an innocent man, but without the tough guy mannerisms of typical Bogart roles. In Dark Passage he’s smart, but varies between direct action and indecision. He knows what he wants (or thinks he does), but isn’t quite sure how to make it happen. Should he trust Irene? Should he simply leave and go it alone? Indecision is not typical for a Bogart role, but he does pull it off well. The person who really knows what she wants is Irene, and Bacall makes her believable and likable.

Dark Passage must have been a risky project for Warner Bros., especially since Bogart’s face doesn’t appear for quite a long time. The point of view shots were also risky (just ask Robert Montgomery, who tried the trick, mostly unsuccessfully, for the entire running time of Lady in the Lake).

On the plus side, the San Francisco locations are spectacular, and Sid Hickox, who also shot Bogart and Bacall in To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, does fine work here.

I like Dark Passage better than I used to, but can’t bring myself to consider it top-shelf noir. But it’s still a lot of fun.

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