Saturday, June 2, 2012

Stubs - Dark Passage

DARK PASSAGE (1947) Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Bruce Bennett, Agnes Moorehead, Tom D’ Andrea. Directed by: Delmar Davies. Produced by Jerry Wald. Screenplay: Delmar Davies. Based on the novel by David Goodis. Music by Franz Waxman. Run Time: 106. Black and White. USA. Film Noir, Drama, Romance

Our survey of five essential Film Noir films, for our Summer of Darkness, next stops at DARK PASSAGE. This film uses a gimmick that was perhaps overused by Robert Montgomery in LADY IN THE LAKE (1947). In that film, the viewer sees all the action through the eyes of the protagonist, Philip Marlowe, played mostly off screen by Montgomery who was also directing. The use of the subjective camera gets a little tiresome and provides for some awkward cinematic moments, like when Marlowe leans in to kiss Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter). No one’s puckered lips look good in close up. 

The subjective camera is also used in this film, but to better effect. We are not supposed to see the face of the protagonist Vincent Parry for the first part of the film, so seeing things through his eyes makes sense until he is unveiled; and we’ll get to that shortly.

The film opens with Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) escaping from San Quentin prison, by hiding away in a supply truck. When he tries hitchhiking he gets picked up by motorist Baker (Clifton Young). Baker’s convertible has very distinctive after-market striped seats. Reports on the radio of an escaped prisoner and Parry’s odd clothing make Baker suspicious. When he pulls over to question Parry, he gets beaten up for his trouble.

Before things get out of hand, Parry is interrupted by Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), who has been out painting in the woods and had also heard the news about Parry’s escape. She seems to know who he is and offers to give him a ride back into San Francisco and a place to stay.

Soon after they get to her apartment, Irene goes out shopping for some clothes for Parry to wear. While she’s gone Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead) shows up. Parry recognizes her voice. Madge, we will learn, is someone whom Parry had been romantically involved with and spurned. Madge had gotten her revenge by falsely testifying at Parry’s murder trial for killing his wife. Parry sends her away without opening the door, but hearing a man’s voice in Irene’s apartment makes Madge suspicious.

When Irene returns, she explains that she had been following Parry’s murder trial, because her own father had been falsely convicted for murder and died in prison. She saw parallels in Parry’s case and attended the trial every day. She believes that Parry is innocent.

Parry for his part feels that he can’t stay and he packs his news clothes and catches a cab. His driver Sam (Tom D’Andrea) recognizes him, but is sympathetic. He agrees to arrange for a plastic surgeon to change Parry’s face. Parry agrees that it is his only path to escape. Before they’re to meet, Parry goes to the apartment of his best friend George Fellsinger (Rory Mallinson), a trumpet player that Parry has befriended. He agrees to allow Parry to stay with him while he recuperates from his surgery.

Parry then goes to the appointed meeting place. Sam is already there and introduces Parry to Dr. Coley (Houseley Stevenson), a discredited plastic surgeon. He promises to make Parry look older, but good.

When Parry wakes up, Sam takes him to Fellsinger’s apartment. But Parry finds his friend has been murdered. Still groggy from surgery and unable to talk with his face bandaged, Parry makes his way through the pre-dawn streets of San Francisco. He even gets some guff from some dock workers who see him only from a distance. Being San Francisco, there are hills and stairways. After climbing the last big set of stairs, Parry sees Baker’s car, recognizing it by its distinctive interior.

Parry gets to Irene’s, but collapses at the front door of her apartment building. With the help of the doorman, Irene drags Parry up to her apartment and sets him up in her bed to nurse him back to health.

While he’s there, Madge and her ex-fiancée Bob (Bruce Bennett) come by for a visit. It is obvious that Bob is romantically interested in Irene. Madge is worried that Parry, who is still on the loose, will kill her. Madge asks if she can stay with Irene for protection, but Irene manages to put her off. She also manages to deflect Bob’s interest by telling him that’s she met someone she’s interested in. When pressed, she tells him Vincent Parry. But Bob doesn’t believe her. He thinks she’s making a joke to spare his feelings and he leaves.

After a few days, Irene removes Parry’s bandages to reveal Humphrey Bogart. (From then on the movie drops the subjective camera.) Parry finds out that he is now also wanted for George’s murder. His fingerprints were found on George’s trumpet, which proves to have been the murder weapon. After his bandages are removed, Parry reluctantly leaves Irene, feeling she would be better off without him in her life.

But Parry doesn’t get far before making a policeman suspicious. When he doesn’t know which track is open for racing, the detective asks to see his identification. Parry lies and says his wallet is back at his hotel. The detective accompanies Parry back to get it. Things look bad for Parry until there is a little deus ex machina, in the form of a fast moving car. Parry darts out in front of it and separates himself from the policeman.

Back at his hotel, Parry finds Baker waiting for him, gun drawn. Baker wants Irene to pay him part of her money to keep him from turning Parry over to authorities. Baker forces Parry to drive to Irene’s. While they are driving, Baker’s price increases, which Parry does not like. He stalls for time driving Baker to a deserted spot under the Golden Gate Bridge. Parry questions him about him following his cab, but Baker admits that his car wouldn’t go fast enough to tail him. Parry is now convinced that Madge is behind the murders of his wife and his friend. But Baker won’t go down without a fight and in the confrontation, Baker falls to his death.

Next, Parry goes to Madge’s apartment. Since she doesn’t know what he looks like, he tells her that he is a friend of Bob’s and pretends to court her. Revealing his true identity, Parry wants her to confess to murdering his wife. But Madge refuses. When he tells her that he’ll go to the police with his evidence, she practically laughs in his face. He has no hard evidence, just accusations and without her confession it’s worthless. But when Madge turns away from Parry, she accidentally falls to her death. And with her, go Parry’s hopes for redemption.

After getting away from Madge’s without being detected, Parry goes to a bus station to begin his escape to South America. He calls Irene to tell her that’s he’s planning to flee to a seaside town in Peru. When next we see him, he is seated in a cantina. Parry looks up to see Irene entering and the two embrace. We can only assume that they live out their days in that small town together.

It’s hard to knock a movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in it. There is usually something worthwhile about it (even THE BIG SLEEP). There is some quibbling I have with the story and plot. It seems odd to me that if Irene knows Madge and Madge knows Parry that Parry and Irene wouldn’t already know each other. The Madge and Bob relationship also seems to be a little suspect, too. She is hard and Bob is so soft, while it is no surprise they still wouldn’t be engaged, you wonder what attracted them to each other in the first place.

This is the second film noir film in a row that I’ve reviewed as part of this survey, that Bruce Bennett had appeared in. Bennett is an interesting actor even though he never made it big. An Olympic Silver Medalist shot putter in the 1928 games, he first appeared in movies under his given name, Herman Brix. Originally cast to play Tarzan in MGM’s film, he suffered a shoulder injury that forced him out of not only the 1932 games, but also the role of Tarzan. Johnny Weissmuller, another Olympic athlete was cast in the part and, as they say, the rest is history.

However, Bennett did play Tarzan in THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN, made by Burroughs-Tarzan Enterprises, Inc. in 1935. Offered to theaters as both a 12-chapter serial and as a feature, the reviews I’ve read state that the film is a mess, with the exception of Brix’s portrayal of Tarzan. Some reviewers pointed out that Brix brought a depth to the role that Weissmuller did not and that it was the first time the character of Tarzan was accurately depicted in films.

Brix would go on to star in another serial, HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS for Republic Pictures. Finding himself being typecast as Tarzan-like characters, Brix changed his name to Bruce Bennett and moved to Columbia Pictures. There he appeared in everything from B-movies to Stooge shorts to A-pictures. After World War II, Bennett continued his career and it was during this time he had his greatest successes, playing in such films as SAHARA (1943) also with Humphrey Bogart, MILDRED PIERCE (1945), DARK PASSAGE (1947), THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948) and MYSTERY STREET (1950). Usually he appears in a supportive role with limited screen time. And despite what are sometimes wooden performances the fact that he appeared in so many classic films means he must have something on the ball. He would also live to be 100 years old, which is no easy feat.

But no one watches DARK PASSAGE for Bruce Bennett. This is the third BOGART-BACALL pairing on film out of four (TO HAVE AND TO HAVE NOT (1944), THE BIG SLEEP (1946) and KEY LARGO (1948) are the other three). And they are the stars. Bogart long ago ascended past purely gangster roles, is now both sympathetic and a believable romantic lead. 

Bacall, who was appearing in just her fifth film is pretty, strong and proving herself to be a great actress. Long after Bogart’s death, she would go on to win Tony’s for her work on the Broadway stage in APPLAUSE (1970) and WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1982). Still very much with us and still acting, Bacall will next be seen in THE FORGER, which stars Josh Hutcherson and Hayden Panettiere.

The supporting cast, including Bennett is strong. Tom D’Andrea and Houseley Stevenson both deserve credit especially D’Andrea as Sam the cab driver. His tale about the passenger with the goldfish is memorable filler and adds comic relief to the drama. Stevenson is sinister in his depiction of Dr. Coley, an unlicensed plastic surgeon Parry is talked into trusting by Sam.

Clifton Young’s Baker is also noteworthy. He has an almost comical looking face that belies the sinister character that lives within. And Agnes Moorehead’s depiction of Madge is also quite good. A former member of the Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater, she comes closest to the femme fatale part. You get the real sense that she enjoys making men like Parry and Bob dance to her tune and that she won’t let anyone stand in her way of getting what she wants.

DARK PASSAGE may not be a great film, but it is certainly good film noir. And well worth a watch or two.

Dark Passage is available at the WB Shop:

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