The Man With Bogart’s Face
***This Review Contains Spoilers***
Dark Passage is one of the more experimental movies of Hollywood’s golden age with the majority of the film’s first third being filmed from the first person point of view of Humphrey Bogart’s character. I never thought a black & white movie from the 1940’s would remind me of a modern video game. I would like to see more films which experiment with this point of view style. MGM’s Lady In the Lake (also released in 1947) was filmed in POV for the entire film which the studio promoted by claiming the POV style was the most revolutionary style of film since the introduction of the talkies. Nope, it didn’t catch on. The use of POV took me off guard at first as I wanted to watch some Bogart but I did not get to see him on screen. Bogart’s distinctive voice alone though helps carry the picture, thanks in part to his many witty remarks. We’re then given a section of the movie in which Bogart doesn’t talk and is wrapped in bandages looking like a horror movie character (these scenes also make me squeamish). Considering we have to wait a whole hour until we finally see and hear Bogart in his entirely makes Dark Passage nothing short of a daring role.
For the plot, you do need to suspend your disbelief at the number of highly improbable coincidences. Irene (Bacall) just happens to be out painting near San Quentin on the day Vincent Parry (Bogart), the man she has an obsession with escapes and she knows where to find him. Oh, and she also happens to be friends with Madge (Agnes Moorehead) who gave false testimony in court against Parry that he murdered his wife. I find it is easy however to just roll along with the ridiculous plot as the movie plays out like a dream, culminating in the satisfaction of seeing Bogart get his revenge on Agnes Moorehead (a useless old bag and a real love to hate character) and seeing these two characters getting their happily ever after together in South America. One minor complaint I have is the reveal of Frank Parry’s face on the newspaper, prior to getting plastic surgery; because the character doesn’t actually have Bogart’s face, I would have preferred the mystery of not knowing what he looks like. Also, a plastic surgeon who can give you the face of Humphrey Bogart? Someone should have told Woody Allen that in Play It Again Sam. Dark Passage in part sees the return of gangster Bogart but still has the romantic elements of his on-screen persona which he developed after achieving stardom. Right from the very beginning, we’re in classic gangster territory, a prisoner escaping from San Quentin, the type of setting not seen in a Bogart film since High Sierra. The on-location filming in San Francisco also really adds to the film, giving you a sense of the world the movie inhabits and Irene’s apartment with the two floors and the art deco designs – I want it!
I once said ‘All Through the Night’ was the most Hitchcockian film Bogart starred in but Dark Passage wouldn’t be far behind it. We get the innocent man falsely accused on the run while trying to prove his innocence. The focusing on landmarks (the Golden Gate Bridge), while the San Francisco setting has some Vertigo vibes. The trippy plastic surgery sequence feels reminiscent of the Salvador Dali dream sequence in Spellbound; while Madge’s death rings a bell of the character death shots in Vertigo in which someone falls from a great distance.
When attempting to review a movie, I can’t always predict how much I will have to say about it. Occasionally though you get movies like Dark Passage, which have layers and layers of fascinating details worth talking about. Dark Passage is my favourite Bogart & Bacall film, although to be honest, I was never a huge fan of their partnership. To Have and Have Not bored me and The Big Sleep was, well, a big sleep. Plus I never fully got the appeal of Lauren Bacall; she never struck me as a massively interesting screen presence. I find Bacall plays a much more interesting character than in the previous two Bogie & Bacall pairings. Not a vamp but a lonely single woman who purses painting as a hobby. During the first kiss between Bogart and Bacall, I had the reaction of “Ok, now I’m getting it”.