Dark Passage (Blu-ray Review)16 May, 2016 By: Mike Clark
Available via Warner Archive
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Bennett.
This third of four Bogart-Bacall teamings (all within a four-year period) can be enjoyed by those fanciers of star-power willing to overlook even the rudiments of logic when it comes to jumbo coincidences and the making of the difficult look relatively easy. Other viewers may not be as charitable, given that the movie’s very opening deals with the immediate aftermath of an un-detailed escape from San Quentin — which, just by itself, would be a rare enough occurrence that you could dine out in it for decades if you weren’t concerned about blowing your cover.
Though we don’t see his face for something like an hour into the narrative (a gutsy commercial move in the ’40s), Bogart himself is the escapee — serving undeserved time for a wife murder in which he must have hired some small-town storefront notary to handle his defense. A con on the run can’t be choosy, so Bogie and his wet shoes are forced to hitch a ride with a creepy-faced guy whose convertible has distinctive seat covers. Put this down as a bad choice because this creep will be back to cause some mayhem, but otherwise our hero’s luck is good. In a city as large as San Francisco, he manages to meet the one woman who can help him, the one cab driver who can do the same and the latter’s buddy, who comes forth with a crucial favor (for a fee). Bogart also manages to figure out the truth (which, of course, baffled the courts) in remarkably short order.
This all sounds a little vague, but spoiler alerts deserve to be out — even if it is tough to believe that many viewers will believe what they’re seeing. Independently wealthy and with some family history that puts her on the escaped stranger’s side, Bacall is the first to offer help and a hiding place — these being dream digs that were apparently damaged beyond repair for real in San Francisco’s 1989 earthquake (the one that hit on live TV during that year’s World Series). In the final two Bogart-Bacall pairings — that is, the two Howard Hawks didn’t direct — I always find it difficult to accept these two as a credible screen couple before pausing to go, “Oh, wait.” At least Bacall can see Bogie’s face during the early going, though the audience can’t; the extended early portion of Dark Passage is all from Bogart’s first person POV — a la Robert Montgomery in his experimental version of Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake, which had opened about eight months before this picture. Then, for another substantial helping of screen time, his face is swathed in a massive bandage, following plastic surgery that makes him look like something out of Catch-22.
One of the things I like about this movie is the seamlessness with which the second-unit San Francisco footage (which appears to be substantial) is combined with the studio work — something that the AFI Catalog for the 1940s notes was well received by critics of the day. Another includes some of the supporting casting, which includes Tom D’Andrea as the hack who helps. Perhaps best remembered as William Bendix’s best buddy (“Gillis”) in TV’s “The Life of Riley,” D’Andrea must have come out of the womb to a doctor or midwife who prophesized, “This child has been born to play cab drivers” (or maybe infantrymen). I also like former “Our Gang” player Clifton Young as the guy with the seat covers, making me wonder why he didn’t have more of an adult career, given a face that advertised malevolence from the get-go. It turns out that he died in a 1951 fire brought on by his smoking in bed, though by this time his movies weren’t as ‘A’-list. I will never forget him, though, as the heavy in 1950’s Bells of Coronado, one of the two Roy Rogers exercises in contusions in which Young made mischief. In its finale, Roy pursues him up a tower of derrick until Young has nowhere to go but south. Anyone else would have sat himself down, rolled a doobie and waited out this punk. But noooooooooo, Roy has to climb up the structure himself so that he can orchestrate Young’s requisite Big Bounce to climax the picture.
The most memorable performance here, though her scenes are few, comes from the great Agnes Moorehead in one of the few big-screen roles I can recall to give her a sexual dimension (leaving “Bewitched” out of this, I usually think of her as spinsters, professionals, platonic spouses or Jerry Lewis tormentors). Her last scene is the last even before its memorable wrap, but what I didn’t remember until this recent viewing was all the vitriol she spouts in the lead-up. Cast as the kind of meddler you try to get out of your house even when she’s panicked that her life is in danger, this is definitely a woman scorned who knows how to exact revenge.
Overall, though, this has to be least of the Bogart-Bacall quartet and only the second best movie Delmer Daves directed in 1947 (that would be The Red House, whose public domain status has made it something of a problem on Blu-ray). It’s pretty well a given that Warner Archive is going to make a handsome Blu-ray, and here’s another one — completing the release of all four B&B teamings to a high-def, hold-it-in-your-hand existence.