Dark Passage (1947)
Dark Passage (1947)

Genre: Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: September 27th, 1947 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Delmer Daves Actors: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead, Tom D’Andrea, Douglas Kennedy, Clifton Young, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson

 


 

E

scaping from San Quentin in a barrel that ends up careening down the side of a hill (utilizing a series of first-person perspectives quite uncommon for the time), Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) hopes to flee to San Francisco. He was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife three years earlier, which means that he’s a desperate man, willing to do just about anything to avoid recapture. Just as he knocks out a driver to steal his clothes and car, painting instructor Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) pulls up, offering to help Parry elude the authorities’ dragnet. And all the while, Vincent’s face is never revealed; the camera positions itself where his head might be, viewing his hands in the frame and seeing only the things he would see.

Irene’s motives aren’t clear at first, until she presents a newspaper clipping that shows she believed he received a raw deal during his trial. Of course, this means that her motives are still unclear – until the facts of his case are revealed to resemble those of her father, who was successfully prosecuted for the murder of her stepmother and died in prison. That evening, Parry gets back on the road, unluckily climbing into the taxi of an unusually talkative driver (Tom D’Andrea) who happens to recognize the wanted man. Fortunately, however, the cabby sympathizes with Vincent, directing him to Dr. Walter Coley (Houseley Stevenson), a plastic surgeon who can fashion the felon with a new face. And Parry’s only true friend, George Fellsinger (Rory Mallinson), can provide a place to hole up for the week it will take to recover.

The unorthodox doc offers not only an avenue for a fresh start, but also a horrifying series of hallucinations and the potential for a grisly transformation. And Vincent’s worries aren’t over once the operation concludes – the plot continues to thicken, with bodies piling up and people out to get him (law enforcement as well as others), even in his weakened state. It’s a striking mystery, with lots of enemies and meager allies, allowing just about anyone to be behind the conspiracies and deceit.

In this third pairing of Bogie and Bacall, the plot is outrageously unique, especially considering that the leading man isn’t fully revealed until more than an hour into the picture. Like a cross between the Invisible Man and “Chinatown’s” Gittes, the star doesn’t get to be himself for virtually half of the time. Once Bogart becomes Bogart, the romance transitions into something slightly more formulaic, though the hunt for Parry only grows tighter, the reward larger, and his opponents more numerous. With no comic relief, an abundance of villainy (or irritating acquaintances), and hurdle after hurdle to an uncertain freedom, “Dark Passage” is a sinister, twisty, morbid, tragic, wholly unpredictable film noir. Despite its originality and unyielding severity, the resolution is mystifying, in part due to the extraordinary contrivances and the lack of a typical approach to justice – as well as with its abruptness. Still, the refusal to play by traditional rules is thoroughly refreshing.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10