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DARK PASSAGE(director/writer: Delmar Daves; screenwriter: from David Goodis’ novel; cinematographer: Sid Hickox; editor: David Weisbart; cast: Humphrey Bogart (Vincent Parry), Lauren Bacall (Irene Jansen), Bruce Bennett (Bob), Agnes Moorehead (Madge Rapf), Tom D’ Andrea (Sam, cabbie), Clifton Young (Baker), Douglas Kennedy (Detective), Rory Mallinson (George Fellsinger), Houseley Stevenson (Dr. Walter Coley); Runtime: 106; Warner Brothers; 1947)
“The film is almost stolen by bizarre performances by both Agnes Moorhead and Clifton Young .”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I enjoyed this film much better this time than when I first saw it in a theater many years ago, as I watched this B/W noir thriller recently on TMC. The film is based on Davis Goodis’ novel about Vincent Parry (Bogart). He’s an innocent man convicted of murdering his wife who escapes from his life sentence in San Quentin, has plastic surgery only on his face and tries to clear his name while being aided by an attractive, wealthy young woman, Irene Jansen (Bacall). Her father was recently executed in San Quentin, after being framed for her stepmother’s murder. Delmar Daves, the writer/director, has done a more than credible job in catching the tense atmosphere involving the characters and the San Francisco locale. The film is almost stolen from Bogey by bizarre performances by both Agnes Moorhead as the nosy Madge and Clifton Young as Baker, the small-time hood with the crooked smile and the even more crooked heart.

Parry is never seen as we only hear his voice for about an hour into the film, seeing a picture of him only in the newspaper as an escapee. He tells his tale from his subjective viewpoint. This method of filming puts us in the convict’s shoes. From Parry’s angle of vision we first see him as a shadowy figure escaping from prison, rolling down a hill and heading for San Francisco. The unlucky Parry hitches a ride with the much too inquisitive Baker. When it is evident that Parry is recognized by his ride, Parry punches him out. Parry is quickly given a lift by the artist Irene who just happens by. He is surprised that Irene knows all about him and is offering to help him escape; but, as reluctant as he is to get her involved in his plight, he needs her help as there is a police roadblock ahead and he must get back to San Francisco to figure out who framed him and why.

Irene takes him back to her swell pad, buys him new fancy clothes, and lays a thousand dollars on him. While she is out shopping Parry is listening to some swing music and Irene’s friend Madge, the one who gave the false testimony that convicted him, rings the doorbell and leaves after Parry in a muffled voice tells her to beat it. Parry is convinced she will return and decides to flee the country.

Inside Sam’s (D’ Andrea) taxi, Parry is told that he looks like he’s in trouble but has an innocent face. The cabbie says that he’s an expert at determining if a person is good or evil by just looking at the person. The cabbie decides, after listening to his tale, to help by taking Parry to a plastic surgeon (Stevenson), who makes him look older and unrecognizable from his old appearance after the successful operation. Since Parry must keep his bandages on for a few more days he seeks out his one close friend whom he trusts, a good-hearted soul, George (Rory), who doesn’t bother anyone, he just plays the trumpet and whose only ambition is to go some day to Peru. When Parry returns from the surgery to stay with George, he finds his friend bludgeoned to death on the floor and realizes he is being framed again. As Parry rushes out of the apartment, he sees Baker’s car parked in front of the house. When he reaches Irene’s house, the only other person he feels he can turn to for help, he collapses in her hallway. Irene revives him, as he tells her why he is here again. The next morning she shows him the newspaper story, which accuses him of killing his friend.

Madge comes over with Parry hiding in the bedroom, as she tells Irene she is scared that Parry will kill her and wants to stay there. Also in the apartment is Bob (Bennett), who has a Platonic relationship with Irene. He was a former boyfriend of Madge’s. Eventually Irene gets Bob to take Madge home. Before the dawn comes up, Parry takes off his bandages and it turns out that he looks just like Humphrey Bogart.

Parry once again leaves Irene’s place, planning to leave the country. The ill-fated fugitive with a different face, still gets stopped by a cop while in a diner and has to make a daring escape from him. But Parry is located in his hotel room by the wormy Baker, who was following him. Baker holds a gun on him, and tells him that he wants Irene to give him $60,000 to keep quiet or else he’ll tell the police and collect a $5,000 reward.

Warning: spoiler to follow in the next two paragraphs.

Once in the car heading toward Irene’s, Parry out tricks Baker and gets the jump on him. While questioning him he learns that it was Madge who tailed him to George’s and then to Irene’s place, and figures out that she is the one who murdered both George and his wife. When Baker makes a lunge to take away the gun from Parry, he stumbles off the cliff and dies from the fall.

Parry then goes to Madge’s place and confronts her, he gets her to confess but she will not sign the confession as she tells him no one will believe him. When they tussle in front of her window, Madge falls fatally to the street. Afraid that no one but Irene will believe he is innocent, Parry flees to Peru. The last shot shows Irene and Parry happily dancing in a beautiful oceanfront nightclub somewhere in Peru, a happy ending for a film noir.

The use of the first person point-of-view camera through the film’s first thirty minutes was interesting and actually better done than the use of such a similar camera gimmick in “Lady in the Lake,” which did it one year earlier. What makes this film noir slightly different is that Bogart’s troubles are from external matters not from his own character flaws, like in most noir films. His problem is, that he got into a situation where it is not likely the authorities will believe him. The fatalism commonly part of most noir protagonists, is just not relevant to the Bogart character who ends up in a happy relationship with the one he loves, anyway.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”