Film Score: Franz Waxman Cinematography: Sidney Hickox
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead and Bruce Bennett
Dark Passage tends to be forgotten among the surfeit of riches that are the forties films of Humphrey Bogart at Warner Brothers. The reason is probably because the story is so sordid, at least in comparison to the more morally upright roles he played in films like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. In fact, the movie received poor reviews from critics at the time and was pulled by some theaters. Even today, amid his films with Lauren Bacall, the film takes a backseat when it really shouldn’t. Part of the reason is no doubt the use of the subjective point of view during the first act of the film. This was something MGM had done earlier that April with The Lady in the Lake and it didn’t go over too well with critics or audiences. Director Delmer Daves tried the same thing here, but fortunately Bogart becomes Bogart again by the middle of the picture and puts the audience on more familiar territory for the rest of the picture. The story is based on the hard-boiled novel The Dark Road by David Goodis. Delmer Daves made his start in films by writing screenplays, including The Petrified Forest, which also starred Bogart, and worked on the script after Goodis had turned in his adaptation. Daves wanted to shoot on location in San Francisco, and eventually the studio gave in an allowed him to take his cast and crew there to shoot exteriors.
Franz Waxman eschews the Warner Bros. opening theme and gets right into his main title music for the picture. The story begins with Humphrey Bogart breaking out of San Quentin prison north of San Francisco. He escapes in an empty trash barrel and there is a nice subjective shot from inside as he rolls down a hill after rocking off the back of the truck. But the subjective shots continue as he flags down a ride and knocks out Clifton Young to steal his clothes. Before he can drive away, Lauren Bacall stops and tells him to get into her car. Bacall gets them through a roadblock by hiding him under a tarp, but won’t explain why she’s helping him. Bogart goes with Bacall to her place, and later Agnes Moorehead stops by but he tells her through the door to go away. That night Bogart gets in a cab and has a terrifically written conversation with the driver, Tom D’Andrea. Turns out the cabbie recognizes his face, but he’s a good guy and gives Bogart the name of a doctor, Houseley Stevenson. Then the reason for the subjective point of view becomes clear as he meets with the plastic surgeon in order to change the way he looks. Rory Mallinson is a musician friend of Bogart’s who helps him hide after the surgery. Turns out Bogart knows Moorehead. She’s a busybody that nobody likes, and the one whose testimony put Bogart in prison by claiming he killed his ex-wife. Bogart would like to find out who really did it.
The story takes some real unexpected turns after the surgery and for a while, with Bogart shambling around in his bandages, it’s like something from a monster movie and the effect is startling. Bacall is terrific in the film, doing most of the talking in the middle of the picture, though the fact that her motives remain hidden for most of the film doesn’t really sit well. Bogart finally comes into his own when the bandages come off, and then he really takes over the picture. The rest of the cast is solid, but Agnes Moorehead is magnificent. She’s the quintessential shrew and she plays it to the hilt, and the climax of the film with her and Bogart is wonderful to watch. The sets are very well done, a modern apartment building where Bacall lives and a perfectly dingy operating room for the plastic surgery. Everything’s a big step up in quality from The Big Sleep a couple of years earlier, especially the real exteriors in San Francisco. Directory of photography Sydney Hickox does some nice work, including a nifty dream sequence while Bogart goes under the anesthetic. His lighting is nearly flawless, and the shots of the actors at dusk with the skyline in the background are particularly impressive. Franz Waxman, in one of his only scores for Warners, makes use the song “Too Marvelous For Words,” which had first appeared in the musical Ready, Willing and Able a decade earlier. Dark Passage is admittedly an odd film, but that’s really a great part of its charm, and allowing yourself to go along for the ride can make for a great viewing experience.