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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.