“I was a small time crook until this very minute. Now I’m a big time crook, and I like it.”
Dark Passage, directed by Delmer Daves, is a marvelous noir title set in San Francisco and starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Based on a novel by David Goodis, Sid Hickox’s stylish cinematography highlights the city through some spectacular, atmospheric shots. Dark Passage is in many ways a peculiar film. We don’t see Bogart’s face for a large portion of the film, and instead the camera acts most of the time as Bogart’s eyes.
The film begins with the escape of Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) from San Quentin. With sirens wailing and dogs baying, Parry flags down a car for a ride. Now at this point, Parry is shirtless, and he looks and acts suspicious. After Parry cold cocks the driver of his first ride for asking too many questions, he meets wealthy, beautiful Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall). She’s an artist and claims she was painting near San Quentin. Fully aware that she has a fugitive on her hands, she stuffs Parry into her car, hides him under a stack of canvases, and drives him into San Francisco past various roadblocks and police checkpoints.
Back at Irene’s plush apartment, Parry discovers why Irene is sympathetic to his case. Parry was serving a sentence in San Quentin for murdering his wife, and apparently Irene’s father died in San Quentin after being convicted of murdering his second wife, Irene’s stepmother. Irene believed in her father’s innocence, and she also believes in Parry’s innocence. In fact, drawn to the similarities between her father’s case and Parry’s, she attended every day of Parry’s trial.
Parry was convicted mainly on the testimony of the acidic Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead), and unfortunately she’s a presence in Irene’s life too. Irene, it seems, dates Bob (Bruce Bennett), and Madge isn’t exactly ready to let Bob go. In fact Madge is one of those women who doesn’t let anyone go once she has her hooks in him. And apparently, she once had her hooks in Parry….
While the film’s coincidences weaken the plot a trifle, Dark Passage is still an exquisite film. One of the many things I really liked about this film is the way that whenever Parry steps outside of Irene’s apartment, he rapidly gets himself into trouble. He’s definitely not street smart, and the impression is that he cannot survive out there in the tough, cold world for long. Each scene is beautifully constructed: the all-night cafe, the bus station, the cliff top fight, shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and Madge’s apartment. Dark Passage really is a work of art on all levels, and if you are a noir fan, you shouldn’t miss this one.