Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mini-Review: Dark Passage (1947)

This past week I decided to catch up on some film noir watching, so I caught Dark Passage. The story centers on a man who escapes from prison after being falsely convicted of murdering his wife. Once out of jail, he plans on determining who set him up. Naturally, complications arise along the way. This film represents the third out of four films that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (real-life husband and wife) made together. I’m a big fan of this couple’s films and this was the only one that I had yet to see. And, while I can’t say it’s the best of the bunch, Dark Passage certainly entertains enough to warrant a viewing.

One element of the film that sticks out, especially for the time, is the technique of using first-person. For about the first third of the film, most of what you see comes directly from the perspective of Bogart’s character, Vincent Parry. While this might seem gimmicky, the technique actually plays into the film’s story. Since Parry’s face is plastered all over the newspapers, he must change his appearance, opting for plastic surgery. Only after surgery do we see Bogart on screen (albeit in a face covered by bandages). Although the filmmakers could have chosen to use two actors to play the part, I’m kind of glad they chose this alternative route as it allows for some seldom-seen experimentation for this era. Accomplishing some of the first-person shots would have been much more difficult back then, requiring plenty of planning for the bulky equipment. In the end, I think the technique pays off, although in this case I’m glad it was relegated to the first half hour.

While the film contains many of the classic noir elements and moves along at a good pace, there are a few issues I have with the film that bring it down a bit. The chief problem I had was the coincidental nature of the story. For example, characters appear whenever the story needs them to appear. This seems to happen throughout the film and is responsible for major plot points. Another thing that bugged me was the willingness of characters to help out Parry. Even when they know he’s an escaped convict wanted for murder, people just decide to help him out. Even though the viewer knows that Parry is innocent of his crime, there’s no way for the characters within the film to know that. For all they know, he could be waiting for the opportunity to kill them! It all boils down to convenience, I suppose.

Ultimately I did enjoy Dark Passage a fair deal. Seeing Bogart and Bacall on-screen together is always a treat and the aesthetics of the film-noir genre are a personal favorite of mine. So, if you run across Dark Passage, I’d say give it a shot if you can look past a few flaws with the script. It’s an enjoyable look back at one of Hollywood’s most famous couples.

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