I’ve gotten used to the idea that black and white means that it’ll be a pretty good movie one way or another. Maybe it’ll be funny, maybe the story will be a classic, but there’s something special about it. Well, that kind of soaring generalization is just waiting to be shot down. There is some logic underneath it. It costs money to put something on DVD and the older it is the more work is involved either remastering it or throwing together some old trailers. So they’re not going to make the DVD unless they’re convinced it’ll sell. They can’t all be winners. Dark Passage (1947) isn’t really a winner.
Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) is on the lam. He was falsely convicted of killing his wife, Gertrude. He escapes from San Quinton in an oil barrel. First he gets in the car with Baker (Clifton Young) who’s pretty curious and finally puts it together when a news bulletin reports on Parry’s escape. BAM! POW! Parry’s got some new threads and a car. Before he can take off, though, Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) comes up to Parry and offers her assistance. Once in town, Irene gives him money and gets him a cab. The cabbie (Tom D’Andrea), though, also knows who Parry is, but also wants to help and knows a guy (Houseley Stevenson) who does plastic surgery. Finally, in cosmic neatness, Irene knows the woman, Madge (Agnes Moorehead), a friend of Gertrudes—you remember Gertrude, don’t you dear—who testified against Parry at his trial.
Delmer Daves writer/director does some interesting camera work for the time. It’s first-person perspective for the first twenty minutes of the move. Reminds me a lot of the beginning to an RPG (role-playing game) where the setup is given to you and everyone else is oddly center-frame. But it isn’t in the spirit of a new and interesting style, it’s because Bogart’s face is the post-op face and they don’t want to try and dub his voice on another guy. They did put a lot of work into it, though. When Parry is dragging stuff or punching people, I’m almost certain that they’ve got two hairy-armed gentlemen on either side of the camera working independently. Mostly it works, but Bacall isn’t perfect when acting with a camera. Reminiscent of RPG, actually.
The story, though based on a novel by David Goodis (The Dark Road), is an odd one. This isn’t a self-assured, wise guy Bogart that I’m used to. This is a rather dense, tough-ish individual who has some ideas of clearing his name but no capacity to do it. When he puts it together, he confronts the true culprit and tries to convince that person to confess—that person does not confess. Parry is stumped. “Uh, re-write team, we’re gunna need your help over here.” It also suffers, almost exactly like Key Largo (1948) and equally as To Have and Have Not (1944), from a stumbling end scene. A modern movie has the ability to film such an ending, detached and wordless on a beautiful landscape and some subtle music. Then, it was loud, up-close, and on set.
I can’t really fault the actors. They all put in okay performances in an odd story. I imagine this is what the vast majority of those old movies were like. The endless war and gangster movies they had to make as well as drippy comedies. Actors weren’t free agents in those days. They were on contract with studios. I’m not sure of the exact details, but I know deals had to be made for actors to work in other studios and there were penalties for not doing as the studio wanted. All the actors here wanted to do this movie, but for the rest of the mediocre back-catalog, the studio system had some effect. This one just happens to be a bit lackluster. It’s an interesting premise, but never gets in stride.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Film noir? This is, at least, a dark story, but no witty banter, hard-boiled characters, or considerable mystery. I’ll let it pass because it’s closer than some I’ve seen with the same label, but not by much.
Franz Waxman’s soundtrack is fine and unnoticeable—a good thing in modern films, probably not so much in older ones that need more manipulation to heighten the slow-moving action.
So I talked about the DVD industry and I think I have my answer as to this one. While I started “Vincent Parry is on the lam,” this DVD case starts “Bogie’s on the lam and Bacall’s at his side”. It ends “Lest Irene get ideas, post-surgery Vincent tells her: ‘Don’t change yours. I like it just as it is.’ So do we.” Turd sandwich or no—and it isn’t, but all I’m saying is—this movie, with Hollywood royalty in cast, was going to get onto DVD.
Worth watch if you’re a completest, but certainly not for the entertainment-seeker. I bought it in this 4-Pack ($25) with To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep (1946), and Key Largo. That’s really the only reasonable way to own this.