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.



Joan Collins was never one to veil the truth as she perceives it, especially in her autobiography entitled Past Imperfect, and I thoroughly enjoyed her frankness during her TCM “Word of Mouth” segment when she describes the whack that June Allyson awarded her during the filming of their encounter backstage at the “Footlights Home Benefit” during the second act of The Opposite Sex (1956), a partially musical “remake” of Clare Booth Luce’s The Women.

The only version for purists is the original, The Women (1939), with Joan Crawford as Crystal and Norma Shearer as Mary Haines…

Now The Opposite Sex certainly has its detractors, but I am not one of them, and The Opposite Sex doesn’t seem to be as vilely regarded as the remake in 2008 starring Meg Ryan and Annette Benning, but I guess in some circles it could be. No other version, however, has the fabulous Helen Rose gowns as in 1956!

Dolores Gray (in a fabulous rose pink “mermaid” gown designed by Helen Rose), June Allyson, and Joan Collins imperfecting her past…

Joan Collins, Dolores Gray, Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller, Joan Blondell, Agnes Moorehead, and Jeff Richards
(Hmm…..Joan Blondell is in this photo, but June Allyson isn’t.)

Link to the trailer for The Opposite Sex (1956):

According to Collins, the slap delivered by June Allyson as “Kay Hilliard” thwacked Collins so soundly that her head jerked back and little “Junie Bug” (as husband Dick Powell nicknamed Allyson) sends Crystal’s earrings flying. Collins’ face was so red that she couldn’t prance in front of the cameras for at least 24 hours.


Here’s a publicity still of the staged slap while June Allyson and Joan Collins are wearing their gowns for the final scene, not the scene during the “Footlights Home Benefit Show when the smack actually occurs…

No one wants to miss what really happens next when Crystal tells Kay “If Steven doesn’t like what I’m wearing, I take it off!” so follow the link to see the real slap in real time:

Personal animosity wasn’t involved, just an overzealous June. At least she didn’t knock Joan Collins out cold like Jane Fonda did in 1977’s Julia when Fonda punched poor John Glover as “Sammy.” Glover rolled backward in his chair and didn’t move when he landed on the floor of the bar. There wasn’t any animosity involved between Fonda and Glover either, but these are probably two of the toughest injuries ever inflicted by actresses in the course of their “responsibilities to their craft.”

Don’t miss Diva Dolores Gray as Sylvia Fowler when she does her best Joan Collins/Crystal Allen imitation:

Other dueling divas on the set of The Opposite Sex were certainly apparent in front of the camera. Ann Miller as “Gloria” and Dolores Gray as “Sylvia” clang around the cupboards and cha-cha-cha around the cabinets before they roll around on the kitchen floor pulling hair and ripping shoulder pads that even Joan Crawford would be proud to sport. Meanwhile, Agnes Moorehead and June Allyson tackle damage control as pots, pans, fruit, and eggs are much worse for wear before the fur finally settles, and I’ve always felt that Texan Ann Miller relished her part in the fracas a lee-tle bitty-bit more than Dolores Gray.

But the cold, icy river running through it all wasn’t even part of the Fay Kanin script of the Luce play that Kanin wasn’t particularly proud of. There were two women on the set who both had very intimate knowledge of the same man, and this time Joan Collins wouldn’t be a culprit, either on or off screen.

When Joan Blondell made six films with James Cagney at Warner Brothers in the 1930s , she appeared onscreen with him more than any other actress. Later, Cagney would claim that the only other woman he ever loved other than his wife was Joan Blondell, but Blondell was never married to Cagney.

Blondell did claim, however, that she loved all three of her husbands and that George Barnes, her first husband, provided Blondell with her first real home.

Dick Powell, her second husband and king of the noirs, provided her with security, and Michael Todd, who lived lavishly and spent all her savings before he married Elizabeth Taylor, was the man Blondell claimed as her “passion,” even though Powell had adopted her son Norman from her first marriage to Barnes. During Blondell’s divorce from Powell in 1944, she claimed cruelty as there were always visitors coming and going in their home, and when she complained of this to Powell he told her “if you don’t like it, you can get the hell out!” Blondell’s novel, Center Door Fancy, a thinly disguised account of some of her experiences, was published in 1972. In the latter part of her career, Blondell appeared in the briefly popular television program Here Comes The Brides from 1968-1970, and made periodic appearances on various television programs until 1981.

Blondell revealed in her memoirs that she had been raped in 1927 by a police officer as she was closing the library where she worked, but through all of her life she maintained a good sense of humor and a belief in herself and her talent.

She had one daughter with Powell, Ellen, and June Allyson became Ellen’s stepmother in 1945.

June Allyson, born Eleanor Geisman in 1917 in New York, was eleven years younger than Blondell, and had taught herself to dance by watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the movies. She got her first big break when Betty Hutton was ill with the measles and took over Hutton’s part in a Broadway play, Panama Hattie, and was awarded a studio contract with MGM shortly thereafter. Dick Powell was Allyson’s first husband, and they adopted a girl because it was thought that Allyson couldn’t conceive due to a childhood accident when a tree crushed her while she was riding a bicycle, but two years later in 1950, Allyson became pregnant with their son, Dick Powell, Jr.

Unfortunately, June and Dick didn’t seem much happiier than Joan and Dick because Allyson also separated from Powell and had a very public affair with Alan Ladd in 1955.

Joan Blondell had a wonderful sense of humor, and enjoyed teasing her friend Bette Davis about her husbands. Since they were all Gentiles, Blondell called them “The Four Skins.” But things were not particulary jovial around June Allyson, especially on the set of The Opposite Sex. It seems Blondell and Allyson did not socialize on the set much because of some of the issues surrounding Blondell’s divorce from Powell and June’s reluctance to involve herself socially with her husband’s ex-wife, as well as issues arousing from the care of Ellen, Blondell’s daughter with Powell. Ellen, however, supposedly approached Allyson to help her mother secure a role in Allyson’s latest film as Blondell hadn’t worked onscreen in several years. In the film, the two Powell lovers appear to have tabled their acrimony for the sake of their careers and the film.  Allyson, whose personal issues led to fighting her own mother for custody of her children after Powell’s death, created some obvious parenting issues that Allyson continued to deal with which may or may not have been due to her admitted alcoholism.

Designer Helen Rose’s creations en masse as the ladies await lighting and camera setups for the final party scene….June and Joan are not sitting very closely to each other, and it just may be that the girls are reclined in order of their importance in the script, but they are still far apart…

Blondell’s and Allyson’s only scene together as two of the principle characters…

In 1956 on the MGM lot, there were a few more “Dueling Divas” than the ones appearing in front of the camera, and somehow all those costume fittings, the on-set antics, actresses’ accusatory looks that shoot daggers might have been staged, but contract commitments still had to be honored no matter what an actor or actress may felt about a fellow player.

Dolores Gray, Alice Pearce (eventually Gladys Kravitz on Bewitched), and Ann Sheridan at Sydney’s “Groomopolis”

…and one of the most lambasted musical numbers ever, “Yellow Gold,” a song sung by a man praising the joys of being a “Bananyonaire” are all possible subjects for those who must sharpen their more critical senses on a simple film from the 1950s.

June Allyson, Joan Blondel, and Joan Collins all wrote about their experiences in novels and autobiographies which detail some of their The Opposite Sex experiences. But for me, I will write about how much this film is still a guilty pleasure, and I still find something to enjoy when I revisit the film, even if it is just former baseball-player-turned-actor Jeff Richards as Buck Winston…”Mayummmmm………….”


Read more about some of these divas:
Joan Blondell: A Life Between Takes by Matthew Kennedy
Center Door Fancy by Joan Blondell
June Allyson by June Allyson
Past Imperfect by Joan Collins
Passion For Life by Joan Collins

An Interview with Ray Hagen on the Remembering Ann Sheridan Blog:

Both Ann Miller and Ann Sheridan are Texas gals!

Joan Collins introduced this guilty pleasure of mine, The Opposite Sex, on the Turner Classic Movie Channel with late host Robert Osborne in October of 2015. Collins verified what I’ve thought all along—-her character of Alexis on Dynasty grew from the heart of her performance as Crystal Allen. Robert Osborne and Joan  look lovely, don’t they?

UPDATE: The Opposite Sex was screened poolside on Friday evening at the #TCMFF 2019. More than 300 fans were able to enjoy the film in the ambiance of The Hollywood Roosevelt grotto and Tropicana Bar.

UPDATE: Shirley Jones and Joan Collins might not be speaking since Collins won her lawsuit against Jones! Follow the link to read more about it: