Articles, Films, Lobby

Dark Passage (1947): Not so dark

Dark Passage (1947)


I start viewing each Humphrey Bogart picture with a heightened anticipation, so strong is the Bogart persona in any movie.  Alas, Dark Passage is one of the few  Bogart pictures that disappoints.  Bogart goes through the motions of an escaped con on the run trying to clear himself of a murder charge, and Lauren Bacall look great, but for a thriller the whole affair is flat.

Based on a story by David Goodis, the screenplay relies on too many implausible coincidences.  The pedestrian direction of Delmer Daves (The Red House) constrains the  camera of cinematographer Sid Hickox (To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Possessed, White Heat), and the Franz Waxman score is sadly undistinguished.  You don’t see Bogart’s face  for the first half of the movie, with the camera taking a point of view angle – it didn’t work in Lady in The Lake (1947) and it doesn’t work here.  The ending is lame, and the climax is ho-hum even though a dame falls out of the window of an apartment building!

Dark Passage (1947)

Deep focus outdoor scenes on the streets of San Francisco sustain visual interest, and the hilly topography results in some great angled shots.  Snappy lines of dialog enliven some static scenes, and there are interesting bit-roles that to a limited extent mitigate the film’s overarching weaknesses.  Agnes Moorehead is entertaining as a closet psychopath, but her camp characterisation is out-of-place in an otherwise earnest scenario.   A veteran bit-player with an  expressively craggy visage, Houseley Stevenson, is great as an eccentric  bootleg plastic surgeon.  Tom D’Andrea as a helpful cab driver,  Clifton Young as a small-time hood turned blackmailer, and  Tory Mallison as Bogart’s only friend, contribute immensely in roles that are pivotal to the story.  To give Daves, who adapted Goodis’ novel, due credit, the taxi cab scene is great – with Bogart’s “old” face in shadow in the back seat working so much better than the POV gimmick.

As for Dark Passage being a film noir, I suppose at a stretch you could say that there is an underlying theme of entrapment, but there are no noir atmospherics or motifs.


  1. Dcd

    Hi! Tony,
    I agree with your over all “critique” of the 1947 film “Dark Passage” because of all “The Bogart,” films that I own this is the one that I watch only once a year. Go Figure! No Longer!…

    …Because you mentioned in your review some of the reasons…(The pedestrian direction of director Delmer Daves, lack of motif, the film noir atmospherics is missing and the implausible coincidence.)…why I may watch this film at least once or twice a year.

    Now, if I may digress a “bit,” when it comes to the 1947 film Lake in Lady at first, my opinion of this film was very negative, but after several viewing(s), I started to appreciate this film a little more…so much that I decided to add the Warner Bros. Volume III to my collection next month in order to own a “pristine” copy of this film with all the extras.

    Take care!
    Dcd ;)

    “Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.”-author Ross Macdonald

  2. Dcd

    “Warner Bros. Film Noir Collection Boxset Volume III to my collection next month…”
    Hi! Tony,
    Oops! I forgot! to mention the entire title in my previous post. Just in case, your readers, aren’t aware of or familiar with the Warner Bros. Film noir boxset.

    Dcd ;)

    “Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.”-author Ross Macdonald

  3. Dcd

    Hi! Tony,
    …What do you mean when you use the term “The pedestrian direction?”
    Please clue me!…
    …my “self-proclaimed” mentor.”

    Disclaimer Alert!
    (Fwiw, I proclaimed, Tony D’Ambra, my mentor on my own… Knowing Tony, he probably wish, I would stop referring to him as “my mentor.”) :( (Testing)

    Take care!
    Dcd ;)

    “Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.”-author Ross Macdonald

  4. Thanks for your comments Dcd. By ‘pedestrian’ I mean average or undistinguished – it is a usage more Aussie/British than North American.

    I like you new tag line by the way – very true and very apt …

  5. It’s my favorite movie—partially because of its shortcomings. The best part is Dr. Coley the disbarred plastic surgeon. I’m going to freeze your face!

  6. I can understand that Aaron. I agree the best part is the sequence with the plastic surgeon – with his great facial impersonations of a bulldog and a monkey:

    Dr. Walter Coley: Ever see any botched plastic jobs? If a man like me didn’t like a fellow… he could surely fix him up for life. Make him look like a bulldog, or a monkey. I’ll make you look as if you’ve lived.

    Vincent Parry: I have, doc.

  7. I like the definition of Noir as I quoted from a book review on this site:
    The Philosophy of Film Noir (The Philosophy of Popular Culture)
    From Publishers Weekly: represents a “systematic deconstruction of the American Dream.” Examining classic noir films and books by writers such as Albert Camus, Dashiell Hammett and James Cain, contributors discuss essence of film noir as reflecting a sense of disenchantment, “inversion of traditional values” and the “spiritual defeat of modernity.”

    This is no denial or dark picture or a disenchantment or foreboding picture of modern exitence that is Noir. It ends in an extremely romantic and unsatisfactory vein for it to be Noir. I did not care for this film either. But at times,I am addicted to the insulated world of romanticism and its secluded and private entrances and exits.

  8. Thanks for your contribution here Edward.

    I agree that the closed romanticism of classic Hollywood has its attractions, but in the case of Dark Passage, Bogart’s Vincent Perry seems mostly indifferent to the deaths that occur on his watch – particularly of his only friend George – and there seems to be no remorse or regret. As noted by Alain and Silver in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic reference, Perry in a way doesn’t deserve the out the movie gives him.

  9. Good points by Edward and Tony about Bogart’s Perry not deserving the out the film provides him with.

    I must admit, however, that as this is one of the films I literally seemed to grow up on, watching it repeatedly as a child, my viewpoint will never be entirely objective. As noir, it has little to offer–and I would concur with Tony that it’s not truly noir. However, whenever I do revisit the film (which is about once every four years, ha) I like it well enough, partly because of some of the snappy dialogue you alude you, partly for the Bogart-Baccall chemistry–and though I agree that the point-of-view camerawork of Lady in the Lake didn’t work, somehow, for me, it fits as part of this picture’s psychology.

    There is no city for films like San Francisco. Of course, I’m biased with regards to that statement, too. :-)

  10. Thanks Alexander for your thoughts. Coincidently, Dark Passage was one of the first Bogart movies I watched on TV as a kid, and I too had fond memories of it. But watching it again after a long long time, I was disappointed, but I can understand your attachment – I wanted to like it more.

  11. I wonder what it is about Dark Passage that attracted so many kids to it? For me, like apparently so many others it seems, this was my childhood introduction to Bogart. I remember culling the TV Guide that came with the Sunday paper each week to see if it was on the schedule. It was always a late night favorite. I think the scenes with Dr. Coley and the cabble (Tom D’Andrea) always grabbed me – and they do to this day!

    I have always thought how much I would LOVE to see Dark Passage on the big screen. Maybe Noir City will screen it one day (they’ve stretched the ‘noir’ label a bit before) and I could actually see it in all its glory.

    Speaking of Noir City….I own every single Noir City Sentinel (the pdf newsletter of the Noir City Foundation) except for Number 12. I wonder if they got out of sequence or I missed saving one? It would have been the March, 2007 issue. At that time they went from February ’07 (#11) to April/May (combined issue as #13) which leaves that elusive #12. Is anybody else as big a Noir-wonk as to save all these? I would love to know if #12 ever existed and if so, to possibly get a copy.

    Back to Dark Passage. Wouldn’t you love to see the dream (anesthesia) sequence (“Got the money?” “Got the money?”) up on the big screen? Eddie?????

  12. Thanks Mike for your visit and sharing your thoughts. Yeah, having that surgeon staring down at you from the big screen would be quite an experience!

    I know Dark City Dame gets Noir City Sentinel, so I will email her to see if she can help you out.

  13. Dcd

    Hi! Tony,
    Can you guess who “Birthday” it’s today?
    He wrote such classic books as:NightFall and the Burglar.

    Oh!…so many clues?

    Take care!
    Dcd ;)

  14. Dcd

    Oops!… That should read The Burglar
    I’am still recovering from yesterday!

    It’s very funny! that I never use to notice the author(s) of the books who(m) books the films were eventually, based on when they “appear” or “appeared” on the big screen.
    Until I started to post on Film Noir message boards. (Keeping my “ear” ever so close to the “ground”…Translation: Reading other “Noiraholics” comments.)

    Dcd ;)

  15. David Goodis! How about that? I actually have a softcover version of the book with artwork from the film (Dark Passage). Actually, I just looked and see you can still get it from used sellers – Bogie and Bacall on the cover:

  16. Thanks Dcd and Mike!

  17. Tony I quite agree with you on DARK PASSAGE, although th eopening prison break sequence was admittedly a dazzling tour de force of direction. The rest of the film though is rather flat, and it’s a stretch to count it as noir. Your review is fluid, direct and engaging, and all your points are persuasive.

    Yes Alexander, SF has offered so much, and Mike makes a good point about the Bogart hook.

    DCD?? Well, her contributions are alwaus divine, and no less so here.

  18. By the way, Pauline Kael’s capsule on the film uses these kind of phrases:

    “Bacall-Bogart bummer”

    “miserably plotted picture”

    “picture is almost a total drag, although Agnes Morehead has a sensational exit through stain glass windows.”

  19. Thanks Sam – those quotes from Kael give me some comfort. The opening escape sequence is strong, but in a way ‘brings you up to let you down’.

  20. Hard-Boiled Dick

    Cardboard, flat, flimsy characters. Baked bean dialogue. Tenuous plot. Wimpy tension. Bogart looking sickly tired. Except for Doc Coley’s face cutting scenes, this ain’t noir. No shadows, no low cut angles, no existential confusion and ending – it’s an unreal ending on a beach in Peru, which is more surreal than the attempted surreal scene. Dark Passage is Warner cashing in on Bogart-Bacall’s momentum from To Have and Have Not.

    Lauren Bacall’s striking beauty is the reason to watch this sentimental schmaltz to the end. Agnes Moorehead puts in a good effort as the primary carnivore.

Trackbacks / Pings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *