The Case for Dark Passage

He was a guy with plenty of trouble, but maybe I like ’em that way. His case reminded me of my father’s, and I spent everyday at his trial. Wrongly convicted, he’s been San Quentin Quail since they waltzed him out of court with those free bracelets they seem to give everybody traveling in a government car with an escort.

I was up in the hills above the bay all morning, doing a bit of painting with my oils, and as I packed up, and started the engine, I heard about Vincent Parry making a break for it on the car radio. So I headed toward the county road where he might have gone.

As I stepped out of the car into the bushes by the open coupe with the carnival-tent seat covers, the driver’s seat door had been left open, and as I looked over the car, I raised my eyes and saw Parry. The look of fear and desperation in his eyes had frozen his features, and made me take a quick breath, but somehow I convinced him to hide in the back seat of the wood-paneled wagon and cover himself with the canvas I had used to protect my paintings.—Irene Jansen

Maybe that’s how Irene Jansen would have explained to the police how she happened to find Vincent Parry that day, but as her cards played out, she ended up on an extended excursion South of the equator. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Dark Passage, a film written and directed by Delmer Daves from a David Goodis novel, was only the second prominent film of the forties to make use of the first-person camera to tell a tale of lies, corruption, justice and redemption. (Lady in the Lake with Robert Montgomery was the first.) Daves fought with the studio powers that be to film some of the major scenes outside of the studio, all the way up in San Francisco, and fans still trek to the sight of Irene Jansen’s apartment. And that wasn’t the first time Jack Warner threw a fit about Dark Passage.

On the set with Director Delmer Daves and Humphrey Bogart

On the set with Director Delmer Daves and Humphrey Bogart

The next time Warner steamed up happened when he realized one of his biggest stars, Humphrey Bogart, wouldn’t appear on screen until after the first 62 minutes. “I can just hear Jack Warner scream,” Bogie said.

Why does this film still attract me with my daily cravings for good storytelling? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just funny that way, but Dark Passage, a film Leonard Maltin calls “not great” but “good,” has my attention the minute the credits quit scrolling by.

On the back of a truck leaving San Quentin sits a barrel with someone’s fingers curling over the edge ever so slightly in a desperate grasp for freedom and for courage to roll the barrel off of the back of the speeding truck and down a bumpy ravine. As its rolling, the camera reveals what the man in the barrel must be seeing while it’s gaining momentum falling down by jerks and tumbles, and it lands with a thud.
A man crawls out of the barrel, weaving to and fro, obviously stunned by the rough journey. He ducks into a huge concrete pipe to avoid being seen. (The 80’s film Foul Play featured an similar sequence as an homage, planned or otherwise, to Dark Passage.)

Clifton Young as Baker picks up Parry...

Clifton Young as Baker picks up Parry…

Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) helps Parry (Humphrey Bogart) with money, clothes, and a place to hide out until a little bit of the heat wears off, and when he leaves, he gives a touching goodbye to Jansen. Just then, he takes a cab to leave, and the cabbie (Tom D’Andrea) helps Parry find a doctor to perform plastic surgery on him so that he can hide. So guess where Parry goes to recover? Yes, that gorgeous Art Deco apartment of Irene’s.
A view from the patio..

A view from the patio..

She even has a glass tube for him to sip his orange juice with because he isn’t having dinner for awhile. Just plenty of liquid refreshments until the bandages come off.

And there are so many coincidences, scuffles, and near-escapes that viewers sometimes have to work a bit to suspend their disbelief, but it’s all worth it.

On the set with Director Delmer Daves and Humphrey Bogart

On the set with Director Delmer Daves and Humphrey Bogart

If director Delmer Daves had a “Paranoia” trilogy like Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor), Dark Passage would be there right along with The Petrified Forest, The Red House, or maybe Destination Tokyo. Lauren Bacall said during her Private Screenings with Robert Osborne on TCM that “Del Daves was a very emotional man.” When Bacall was watching Bogie leave after his recovery as Parry, Bacall was teary-eyed, and she said Daves was crying all during the filming of the scene.

The Characters “Straight From Characterville”

I think several bloggers and some critics have made a good case for claiming one of the main characters of this film is actually….San Francisco. A murder occurs under the Golden Gate Bridge, Bogie is seen traipsing through several famous parts of town, and San Quentin looms from the very beginning. The Filbert Steps lead up to Irene Jansen’s apartment, which is located on 1360 Montgomery Street at Filbert Street. (The cast stayed at Nob Hill’s fancy Mark Hopkins hotel while filming, and the family atmosphere extended itself into the film as Daves used his son and daughter in the train station sequence as Parry makes his last stateside call to Irene.)
When Jansen crosses the Golden Gate Bridge in fear of being caught, and passes through the toll booth, actor Vince Edwards (Ben Casey) is supposedly manning the booth, and we see him for a few seconds on screen.

"George was my best friend..."

“George was my best friend…”

Rory Malinson as Parry’s best friend, George, immediately sounds just like Randolph Scott, and he even appears a little like what Scott’s brother might look like, but it’s the moment when George allows Parry into his apartment that we see just how kind a friend George really is, and that moment creates in the viewer even more sympathy for Parry. When Parry finds George dead, it breaks what’s left of his heart.
Houseley Stephens and Tom D'Andrea

Houseley Stephens and Tom D’Andrea

Tom D’Andrea as the cabbie, has some of the dialogue that supplies a little comic relief amid all the paranoia. “Up we go, slippety-slop” as he describes driving a fare all the way to the Pacific Ocean holding a bowl with two goldfish. “But I like goldfish. I’m gonna get a couple for the room–you know. Dress it up a little bit. It adds class to the joint. Makes it a little homey.” D’Andrea’s comic timing makes his moments on screen thoroughly enjoyable.
"I'm so sorry I made that crack about Bay Meadows..."

“I’m so sorry I made that crack about Bay Meadows…”

As the counterman who calls Parry on his untimely request for information on Bay Meadows, Tom Fadden makes us feel how unhappy he was to alert a detective to Parry’s trail, but he is as memorable in his role, as D’Andrea was as the cabbie.




Agnes Moorehead, however, steals the show with her catlike manner. Her first moments on screen occur as she is ‘rapping’ on the front door of Irene’s apartment, and we hear her voice as it is grating on our sense of peace and tranquility. This moment reminds of so much of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” Once Madge Rapf appears (and yes, it’s after much ‘rapping’ and a possibly subtle play on words), I keep hearing the word “Nevermore” reverberate in my 9th-grade consciousness, almost in sync with Madge’s frenetic knocking on Irene’s door.

After Madge lets Parry into her apartment, unaware of who he is, she picks up a pillow and drops it right down in front of Parry so that she can sit on her knees to open the box of candy he has brought her, almost surrounding Parry as her prey. Then she gently caresses the face of Parry’s watch, with her perfectly manicured nails as she reveals to him how she is ready to caress Parry on the face. At that moment, she recognizes Parry’s voice. “What is it? Is it the eyes that don’t quite go with the face?” Parry asks.

"I'm the pest now, Madge!"

“I’m the pest now, Madge!”

Madge’s venomous spiel about Parry, his wife, and Irene precedes her own self-destruction. But Moorehead looked fabulous in the striped dress that had a dark, satiny sheen that reflected light right before Madge takes the ultimate cop-out– a bully who’s a coward at heart. Madge jumps to her own grave, but looked fabulous right before she yanked the heavy silk curtains back, and took her final, miserable leap into what surely must have been considered 1947’s version of automatic doom and hell.

The Clothes
Thank you, Bernard Neuman, brother-in-law of Ruby Keeler. Lauren Bacall looks absolutely stunning in all of her ensembles, as does Agnes Moorehead in a striking leopard ensemble in her first appearance in the film. Neumann was previously responsible for all the gorgeous gowns in Roberta.

What else is there?
The fabulous art and set direction, stalwart Bruce Bennett, smarmy Clifton Young as Baker, the psyche-stirring dream sequence when Parry is under sedation for his plastic surgery operation in a seedy back alley office, and more. I just need more time to tell about it all.

14 thoughts on “The Case for Dark Passage

  1. Pingback: Let the debate begin! | Citizen Screenings

  2. Ha! I loved the line about Jack Warner screaming due to Bogart’s not being visible for the first hour.

    This is a compelling film. I can’t NOT watch it. It’s also daring and really well done. However, I have a grudge against this film for not having more scenes with Agnes Moorehead.

  3. How have I not seen this film?? I think it’s one of the few Bogart/Bacall collabs I haven’t seen, but
    I really enjoyed reading this post and all the background information. Based on that I think I’ll be in the FOR camp, I’ll let you know once I’ve watched it!

  4. Pingback: The Great Debate Blogathon: Day 2 | The Cinematic Packrat

  5. Fantastic write-up, Christy! I love this movie and the hour+ POV from Bogie’s perspective went far in making me a classic movie fan in years long past. You more than do it justice here – love the backstory, history and story commentary! Bravo!


    • Thank you! The first person perspective of this film is what initially drew me in, and then I was mesmerized by the setting, the clothes, and will never forget the first time I saw Agnes Moorehead take the plunge. Much appreciated comments, dear Aurora!

  6. Great post. I can only apologize for taking so long to comment on it. I saw this many moons ago, and can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t like it. Excellent film.

    Another interesting sounding POV movie is Lady in the Lake (1947) by MGM. It was directed by and starred Robert Montgomery as a detective solving a crime. The entire film is from his POV and starred Robert Montgomery as a detective solving a crime. The entire film is from his POV. You only see him through the use of reflections and such (ala the first few minutes of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, 1931). I believe the only third person POV of him is at the very end (which I think was added in by the study and which caused Montgomery to be VERY angry at MGM).

  7. Great review if one of my favorite films. Hope one day to see some of the San Francisco locations.
    Love Tom D’Andrea as the cabbie.

  8. I also love this movie. Have watched it often, usually after midnight with a martini or two. There’s something about the first person POV that makes one feel like the characters are taking to you personally watching it at home. I like the journey.

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