[Film Review] Dark Passage (1947)

Dark Passage poster

Title: Dark Passage
Year: 1947
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Film-Noir, Thriller
Director/Writer: Delmer Daves
based on the novel by David Goodis
Music: Franz Waxman
Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Humphrey Bogart
Lauren Bacall
Agnes Moorehead
Clifton Young
Bruce Bennett
Tom D’Andrea
Houseley Stevenson
Rory Mallinson
Douglas Kennedy
Rating: 6.7/10

Dark Passage 1947

A star vehicle for Bogart and Bacall, the third among their total four collaborations, DARK PASSAGE is produced in the apex of film-noir fad, Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a convict who has been accused of murdering his wife, is bent on finding the real killer after stowing away on a supply truck out of San Quentin prison in the opening scenes.

A conspicuous gambit is from the word go, directer Delmer Daves has been obstinately taking a first-person perspective of the narrative, accompanied by Bogart’s voice-over narrating his inner thoughts, but never puts Vincent’s visage in front of the camera, not until well over an hour into the movie, would we see Bogart’s weather-beaten face for the first time, simply because, before that point, Vincent doesn’t have a face like Bogart’s!

It is a novel move to tap into the facing-changing gimmick, although the film ineptly takes oceanic artistic license to justify/simplify the whole enterprise, from the Good Samaritan cabbie ( D’Andrea), surely is a chatty loner, who implausibly proposes the idea to Vincent after recognizing him, a wife-murder on the lam, not even for a monetary gain, to a shaggy-dog looking doctor (Stevenson)’s seemingly dubious business, until the pitch-perfect debut of a brand new face without any traceable marks left (an in-joke is to make Vincent look older than his real age, at the expense of Bogart’s senescent bearing and his May-December marriage with Bacall), it might be able to pull the wool over the eyes of audience at that time, but viewed as this day, unintentionally it looks more like droll derision to the orthopaedic progression than anything scintillating.

Flimsy on reasoning and far-fetched in pigeonholing a grand scheme into a meagre group of players (perusing the not-so-long cast list, a film connoisseur could winnow out who would be most adequate to assume the role of final revelation without any trouble), in fact, the film’s whodunit convolution undeservedly concedes the spotlight to the mawkish romance between Vincent and Irene Jansen (Bacall), that’s the selling point! The latter, a strong-willed rich gal, incorrigibly falls for a presumed wife-murderer, her undoubted certitude of the former’s innocence is thinly based on preconceived notion and if taking out of the context of the two stars’ personal intimacy, their liaison doesn’t make sense in either way, but as usual, the girl’s motivation bears the brunt of character underdevelopment, since Bogart’s Vincent at least evokes a dew-eyed veneer of passivity in all the pandemonium which can allure those soft-hearted.

On the plus side, Ms. Moorehead is fiercely catty and menacing to a fault (her narrative arc is ruefully never visualised), Daves makes impressive uses of San Francisco’s film-genic topography and its art deco trimmings, together with DP Sidney Hickox’s sharply expressive deep-focus shots, on top of a cock and bull escapist tale tempered by a soupçon of schmaltz and a big chunk of wishfulness.


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