DARK PAST, THE
(director: Rudolph Maté; screenwriters: from the play “Blind Alley” by James Warwick/Michael Blankfort/Albert Duffy/Philip MacDonald/Oscar Saul/Malvin Wald/; cinematographer: Joseph Walker; editor: Viola Lawrence; cast: William Holden (Al Walker), Lee J. Cobb (Dr. Andrew Collins), Nina Foch (Betty), Adele Jergens (Laura Stevens), Stephen Dunne (Owen Talbot), Lois Maxwell (Ruth Collins), Barry Kroeger (Mike), Steven Geray (Prof. Fred Linder), Wilton Graff (Frank Stevens), Robert Osterloh (Pete), Kathryn Card (Nora), Bobby Hyatt (Bobby), Hermine Sterler (Helen Linder); Runtime: 75; Columbia; 1948)
“A stagy remake of the Chester Morris film “Blind Alley” (39).”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A stagy remake of the Chester Morris film “Blind Alley” (39). This is a tense hostage-gangster film set in the 1940s, so the hoods wear fedoras and business suits. It seems more like a play than a film, and that is not surprising since it was originally a play.
Dr. Andrew Collins (Cobb) is a police psychologist in an unnamed big city and when a young kid is arrested, Collins takes an interest in his case. Collins tells the arresting officer that he can help if the kid is given psychiatric help instead of a jail sentence, and maybe he can be prevented from being a career criminal. His bleeding-heart liberal attitude is not thought of much at present but in this film it seems to be the voice of reason, as if criminal behavior can be explained away by a bad environment and by getting counseling when in trouble. But to convince the doubting detective who arrested the rough kid, Collins tells him, via flashback, the episode he had with the notorious gangster Al Walker (Holden).
At the time, Collins was a psychology professor in a small-town university near the Canadian border and he was entertaining guests in his isolated lakeside cabin retreat with his wife Ruth (Maxwell), while their young son Bobby (Hyatt) was asleep in his room. The guests are stockbroker Frank Stevens (Graff) and his wife Laura (Jergens) and her male companion, a writer named Owen (Dunne). They hear on the radio about the jail escape of the dangerous hood Walker, who in his escape kills two guards and the warden.
Walker’s gang heads for Collins’ weekend retreat as his loyal girlfriend, Betty (Foch), arranged for someone to come there that night for their getaway by boat. They figure to wait there with the professor, until their friend arrives with the boat. The gang includes Walker’s two henchmen, Mike (Kroeger) and Pete (Osterloh).
Taking the Collins’ and their friends and their two servants hostage, Holden snarls and Cobb intently stares at him as they curiously confront each other. They are only interrupted by Fred Linder (Geray), who is a next-door neighbor and a college colleague of Collins’. He has repaired Cobb’s hunting gun for their hunting trip tomorrow and comes over with the rifle, when he’s also taken hostage.
Walker is impressed with the shrink’s cool behavior and the two start talking in earnest when Betty tells the shrink about the recurrent dream that Walker is having, one that frightens him and causes him trouble sleeping. The shrink says he might be able to help, if Walker is honest with him about the dream. The shrink figures that the dream holds the key to what motivates Walker’s criminal behavior. It’s all pop psychology, but the actors are so serious about it that it’s amusing to hear them say their lines with a straight face. The symbols of the dream are translated to mean that Walker had his abusive father killed when he was a young boy by betraying him to the police and that everyone he now kills, is his father again. To believe this film you must swallow that the shrink in the few hours spent with Walker, has cured him of ever killing again.
This is pure Hollywood hokum. Though, it is well-acted.
REVIEWED ON 4/16/2001 GRADE: C-