I really love Warner Archive’s latest Blu-ray release Dark Passage, a film noir about Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart), a recently escaped convict who is trying to prove he didn’t murder his wife. Lauren Bacall is Irene Jansen, a rich young woman who has her own reasons for giving temporary shelter in her tony residence.
Here are five reasons why Dark Passage is worth a chunk of your movie time:
1. Dark Passage Is Stylized Cinema At Its Best
Though Humphrey Bogart is the film’s star, his actual face is obscured through the first act, as viewers see Vincent Parry’s adventures through a first person, POV style that also served as Lady in the Lake’s storytelling aesthetic.
Wherein, Lady in the Lake’s visual style seemed to be more of an arbitrary creative choice by director Robert Montgomery, Dark Passage writer/director Delmer Daves had a logical reason for his approach, as Parry undergoes a cosmetic procedure to hide his true identity. After the POV approach we are treated to Bogart’s face in bandages after the surgery. After 62 minutes, our protagonist’s face is in full view!
Daves and cinematographer Sidney Hickox have also crafted a film that’s filled with eye catching compositions. Whether it’s showing a top down view of Bogart climbing up a flight of stairs or a character falling from an apartment window, Dark Passage is a first rate visual experience.
2. Dark Passage Is Lifted By Memorable Supporting Players
This is the third of their four film collaborations, and one of the reasons why it’s not as roundly praised as To Have and To Have Not, The Big Sleep, and Key Largo lies in the story’s labyrinthine and oftentimes surreal narrative. Trying to apply logic to the story is pretty much useless, as synchronicity and fantastical behavior are liberally infused in the narrative.
If you love when a story does a left handed turn and takes you in a completely different direction (at least for a few minutes), then Dark Passage should be up your alley. For example, Vincent Parry’s taxi ride to an unknown destination turns into a cab driver’s musings about loneliness and the importance of having a pet goldfish. Though the film is blessed with great work from Bogart, Bacall, and Moorehead, it’s the cab driver’s goldfish monologue that features the most memorable lines!
Another memorable character is Bob (Rory Mallinson), a likable and wistful fellow who’s also Parry’s best friend in the entire universe. A failed trumpet player, Bob is the only guy who Parry trusts after he escapes from prison, and Bob’s blatantly undying affection for his buddy leads one to wonder if his feelings for Parry is purely platonic. This flick was made in 1947, and credit goes to Daves for penning a script (which is based on the David Goodis novel The Dark Road) that isn’t afraid to show the unspoken bond between two sensitive souls (this is a different take from the cynical tough guys that populate film noir).
Last but definitely not least, Agnes Moorehead also knocks it out of the park as Madge, a married woman whose affair with Vincent leads him down that “dark passage” thanks to her manipulative and destructive actions. She’s the puppet master of the story, and her final confrontation with Vincent definitely packs a punch.
3. Humphrey Bogart Plays Against Type & Lauren Bacall Is . . . Lauren Bacall!!
Humphrey Bogart’s clench teethed, tougher than leather persona served him well on the silver screen, but with Dark Passage he upends our expectations by playing a highly indecisive and oftentimes weak-willed character.
Though his prison escape is definitely bold, hiding in plain sight simply isn’t in the cards for Vincent Parry as he proves to consistently stumble under pressure. Watching Vincent attack his various problems with a lack of confidence and foresight may be frustrating, but it’s great seeing a different side of Bogart’s acting skills on display.
Lauren Bacall is the aforementioned Irene Jansen, a wealthy young woman who harbors a mysterious bond and obsession with Vincent. After giving him temporary shelter during his escape, Irene divulges her own connection with Vincent (which I’m not going to spoil!), and their inevitable romance leads to my personal favorite Bogart and Bacall smooch:
Bacall also gives a wonderful performance, as their is a ton of complexity to her character that Vincent has yet to discover (of course, he’s too worried about his own safety to delve into Irene’s psychological make-up). By the end of the film, you’ll be guessing if Irene’s feelings for Vincent will lead her to make the biggest leap in her life, and it’s a subtle mystery that makes the film’s climax a memorable one.
4. The Blu-ray 1080 Transfer Is Crispy and Clean
Dark Passage is a Manufactured On Demand title that is available on WBshop.com, and it’s definitely worth the purchase if you’re a film noir or Bogart/Bacall fan,. The image doesn’t look grainy whatsoever, and though the film was released in 1947, the pictures looked sharper than ever on my TV screen.
I’m not a huge stickler when it comes to the quality of the resolution, but for movie buffs who want their images as clear as can be, then Dark Passage gets a clean bill of health.
The Blu-ray also comes with “Hold Your Breath and Cross Your Fingers,” a 10-minute featurette about the making of Dark Passage. The segment details how Bogart and Bacall’s involvement with the Committee for the First Amendment, coupled with the film’s mixed reception from critics, led to the film’s poor box office numbers. Critic Leonard Maltin is also one of the people interviewed on the segment, and though he describes the film as a good but not great film, I respectfully disagree (Dark Passage, even with its slender thread of narrative incoherence, is a film noir classic!!).
5. Dark Passage Inspired The Shawshank Redemption?
Film noirs are expected to have a downbeat ending, as the protagonist is usually in over his or her head. Whether it’s tangling with external forces or their own inner demons, the battle is usually lost. In a final bold stroke, Dark Passage ends on an entirely sunny note, giving us a total tonal shift during its closing moments!!
As AMC asserts, Stephen King must have seen Dark Passage before penning Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, a story which would later turn into the beloved 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption. Both movies deal with guys who are imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit, and both “criminals” dream of a beautiful hideaway where they’ll never be caught!!
BTW – If you’re a fan of standards, the Johnny Mercer track “Too Marvelous For Words” is featured as the love theme between Vincent and Irene.
***I also discuss Dark Passage on this week’s episode of CinemAddicts, a movie review podcast I do with Anderson Cowan. The conversation starts at 44:00 – and unfortunately I mispronounced Delmer Daves’ last name during the podcast (it’s pronounced exactly as it’s spelled, but I incorrectly said Davies). We also review Jason Bourne and the excellent documentary Gleason.
Check out the Soundcloud below: