Monday, September 27, 2010

DVD Review: Dark Passage (1947)

Dark Passage (1947)

(Released: 2005 by Warner Home Video)
Another (Not so long, this time!) DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

When is a Humphrey Bogart film NOT EXACTLY a “Humphrey Bogart film”?

Um… when he spends half the film “not as Humphrey Bogart”?

Dark Passage” might have been a very conventional film except for one unusual quirk.

Dark Passage” is the story of “Vincent Parry”, who was framed for killing his wife, and who has just escaped San Quentin. Vincent is befriended by “Irene Jansen” (Lauren Bacall), who aids in his flight and hiding. Irene knows more about the case than she initially lets on. Hey, ya gotta have SOME intrigue along with the romance.

All this sounds good, but conventional… but, ah… that “quirk”.

On the advice of an unexpectedly sympathetic cab driver (Tom D’Andrea), Vincent seeks the services of a shady plastic surgeon, who changes Vincent’s face from “what it looked like before” (seen plastered all over newspaper front pages screaming headlines about the “ESCAPED KILLER”) into the FAMILIAR FACE OF HUMPHREY BOGART!

The odd thing is that we don’t see Bogie’s full face until an astonishing 1:02:34 of the 1:46:07 film!
More than ONE FULL HOUR, and more than HALF THE FILM, goes by before we glimpse the bankable face of its star!

Oh, Bogie plays the entire film as “Vincent Parry”. But, until the big reveal, we see the character of Vincent only in long shot or in shadow! Or, for much of the time, we experience the film from Vincent’s Point-of-View, accompanied by Bogart’s first person narration. If, say, Vincent is speaking with Irene, we see Irene looking DIRECTLY AT US… just as Vincent would see her.

Then, there is a sizable segment of the film where, after undergoing the plastic surgery which would alter Vincent into the image of Humphrey Bogart, where Bogie would have his face wrapped in BANDAGES! Ultimately, we are left with about 43 ½ minutes of “face time” for Bogart – actually less, allowing for the scenes (from that point) in which he does not appear!

Beyond “The Missing Face Case”, and also notable for it’s sheer creepiness (…in a film where one might not expect “creepiness”) is the portrayal of the underground doctor (Housely Stevenson) and the sequence of great fear and hallucination when Vincent is under anesthesia for the surgery! Images swirl, taunt, cackle, and do various and sundry psyche-damaging things.

Some pretty gutsy moves on the part of director Delmer Daves to lift this routine crime drama above the ordinary.

Oh, and the legendary chemistry between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall is on full display. No small feat, considering that Bogie was either “faceless” or “bandaged” more often than not! Bacall really picks it up here, to overcome any shortfall!

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.

If there were a “CON” to list, it would have to be that the Extra Features are not as plentiful as releases of the more famous Humphrey Bogart films. What there is, though, is very worthwhile! Other Bogart sets may simply have me spoiled.

Most notably, there is NO COMMENTARY TRACK to accompany this film! Such features on other Bogart films have proved to be of great interest, and so the lack of one here is unfortunate. Bogart biographer Eric Lax is involved with the included documentary feature, and I wish he had provided one of his informative commentaries for “Dark Passage”, especially in view of the quirks of the film.


The Film:
The story is an average 1940s crime drama, with an “okay” ending – save for the flourishes and oddities described above that make it special. Print quality is fine for a film of its age.

The Cast:

Humphrey Bogart as “Vincent Parry”. (Prison escapee)

Lauren Bacall as “Irene Jansen”. (Romantic interest and tough cookie)

Clifton Young as “Baker”. (Young hood out to extort Vincent)

Bruce Bennett as Irene’s unfortunate suitor “Bob”. (Bennett was also the unfortunate interloper “Cody” in Bogart’s “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”)

Agnes Moorehead (“Bewitched”, “The Twilight Zone”) as “Madge” the miserable malcontent.

Tom D’Andrea as “Sam the Cabdriver”.

Houseley Stevenson as shady plastic surgeon “Walter Coley” – who makes the “over-the-top most” of a bit part!

Extra Features:

“Hold Your Breath and Cross Your Fingers: The Story of Dark Passage” (Runs 10:30).

A “making of” documentary. Nice, but no substitute for a true commentary track. Participants include: Film historians: Leonard Maltin and Robert Osborne, and Bogart biographer Eric Lax. Among the notable beats beyond the casting and story are Bogart before the HUAC and Jack Warner’s understandable displeasure at the unprecedented lack of screen time for Bogie’s face!

Theatrical Trailer for “Dark Passage”
Interesting trailer, oddly notable for the LACK of participation by “The Voice of Warner Bros.” Robert C. Bruce, who seemed to be a WB trailer mainstay.

Instead, as if in homage to the film’s other quirks, this trailer is hosted by a theatre usher who looks like a 1940s version of FAMILY GUY creator Seth MacFarlane! (Really, he does! Check it out! – Or, maybe I’m just seeing things after unexpected MacFarlane cameos in both STAR TREK ENTERPRISE and FLASH FORWARD! You decide!)

“Slick Hare”: A (1946) Bugs Bunny cartoon directed by I. (“Friz”) Freleng and written by Tedd Pierce and Michael Maltese. This classic short features Elmer Fudd as a waiter in a high-priced Hollywood restaurant, where Humphrey Bogart (in his best tough-guy mode) orders Rabbit. Will Bugs Bunny be on Bogie and Bacall’s “Bill of Hare”?

There are certain people (You KNOW who you are!) whom I will never convince that these cartoons were originally made, not for children, but for the adult movie-going audience. Perhaps they were juvenile in their approach very early on (1930s) – and maybe more so toward the very end of their run in the mid-to-late 1960s. But, there is no doubt that the product of this “middle period” was created expressly as adult entertainment. Consider this cartoon’s inclusion in the “Dark Passage” set as evidence.

Beyond that, just check the “guest list of animated cameos”: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Ray Milland, Sydney Greenstreet, Carmen Miranda, the young and skinny version of Frank Sinatra, Leopold Stokowski, the Marx Brothers, and many more I simply cannot recognize.

When one considers the all the films of Humphrey Bogart, “Dark Passage” may not be a great film – but it IS a GOOD film (…lifted considerably by fine performances and unusual filmmaking choices and techniques), with equally good DVD Extra Features to back it up. It is recommended for Humphrey Bogart Fans – particularly fans of the “Bogie and Bacall paring”, and enthusiasts of the period, and its particular brand of crime story.

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