Dark Passage

January 31, 2010 at 5:07 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Dark Passage is a 1947 film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and his new bride Lauren Bacall. It was the 3rd of 4 films they were to make together and the first in which they were married. The film is based upon the novel of the same name by David Goodis and the screenplay was written by Delmer Daves who also served as the director. Other members of the cast include the great Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Bennett and Clifton Young. 

Delmer Daves is not a household name among noir aficionados, with Dark Passage really being his only noir directing credit. However, he did direct the original 3:10 to Yuma, which is a wonderful noirish western that you may prefer over the remake from a few years ago. Daves was an accomplish screenwriter, who finally got the chance to direct with Destination Tokyo starring Cary Grant and John Garfield in 1943. 

Clifton Young (Baker) had small roles in a few other noir films such as Possessed and Deception, though this is his most important noir role. Bruce Bennett (Bob) seemed to go back and forth between westerns and noirs, appearing in Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Bogie and other noirs such as Mildred Pierce and Mystery Street.  

Agnes Moorehead is a wonder and steals the rug out from under both Bogart and Bacall in this film. There is probably no bigger Bogart fan in the world than me, but the best performance in this film is Agnes’s portrayal of the selfish, over-bearing Madge. Agnes rose to prominence along with most of her entire cast masts with Citizen Kane and continued to star in Orson Welles films and also appeared in the noir 14 Hours.  

 The film is noted for its POV focus, much like Lady in the Lake, though it is less a gimmick in this film and more a part of the plot. Bogart plays Vincent Parry, and the movie opens with him escaping from prison. He is picked up by a man named Baker (Clifton Young), but Baker becomes wise to the fact that Parry is an escaped convict. Parry then slugs Baker and begins to steal his clothes and car. However, a beautiful young painter Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) comes to his rescue and drives him out of trouble and to her apartment. 

It turns out the Irene is a devotee of Parry and visited his trial. Parry was convicted of killing his wife, as was Irene’s father. Irene is certain that both Parry and her father were innocent. However, in Parry’s case, the marriage was seriously on the rocks and his love for his wife was virtually non-existent. 

Because his face plastered all over the newspapers and his description all over the airwaves, Parry decides, with the help of a saintly, crooked cabbie, that plastic surgery is the ticket to ultimate escape. Even after the surgery, Parry has difficulties hiding from the cops. He ultimately decides to find out who killed his wife, so he can clear his name and live a normal life. 

Elements of Noir (Spoilers) 

This film is packed with elements of noir. The title lets you know right away that the film is going to be dark, much of the film is shot at night in San Francisco, and several of the characters exhibit the characteristics of those that inhabit the noir world. Vincent Parry is a man who has been dealt a horrible blow by fate, one that he feels unable to do much about. 

Parry wants to find the person who killed his wife, but he also seriously considers simply running away. He says, “…got the Indian sign on me. It seems I can’t win.” Parry thinks he has no way to win against what has already determined for him. Even though it is not true in Parry’s situation, the cabbie reveals a common noir thread—fatalism. He talks about a friend of his that got into a big fight with his wife and threw a bread knife at her. “She ducked,” the cabbie said. “Maybe if your wife had ducked there’d be no trial, no Quentin, no on the lamb.” 

Irene Jansen is the damaged woman who helps the damaged man get things back together. She is too nice to be a femme fatale, but she does have the stones to help out a man escaping from prison. 

Madge, on the other hand, is pure noir and black in her soul. She cares “nothing about no one” and it is mentioned several times early in the film that even if she doesn’t want something, she can’t stand for someone else to have it. She is the femme fatale, though lacking a bit in the femme department. 

Though he had little experience with noir, director Daves produces some wonderful images. The shadows and chiaroscuro lightning are wonderful in this film, and the long, wide shots of San Francisco in the daylight are wonderful, reminiscent of sprawling wide open shots you would see in a western.  


While not Bogart’s best performance or his best film, Dark Passage is certainly a film noir treasure. It is wonderfully directed by Delmer Daves, Agnes Moorehead is great, and Bogart is still good in the movie, just not great. The story keeps you going and the gimmick does not take over the film like it does in Lady in the Lake

Bogart’s face is not seen in this film during the first hour, a rarity in the days of star power. The reason this works, more so than in Lady in the Lake, is that it is much more a part of the plot. Early in the film you see Bogart’s figure, but he remains in the shadows to help cover his face. Later on, he is covered by bandages because of the surgery. It is the taking off of the bandages that first reveals the face of Bogart, though all throughout the first hour, you know its Bogie because of the voice. 

This film does not get the recognition it deserves. Many only know it because of the early POV and that Bogie’s face is not seen for the first two-thirds of the film. However, when you are watching the film and in that world, you are entertained, on the edge of your seat in many instances and you want to know what is going to happen next. Add to that the great images and that is all you can truly ask of any film.


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