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The Noirathon: Dark Passage(1947)

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Dark Passage is one of the most underrated and interesting of all of the 1940’s Noir films. Quite why this one isn’t discussed more often is beyond me. It’s a very different looking Noir film to most, and it is also one which provides us with a glimpse of a far more vulnerable and tender side to Noir tough guy/hero Humphrey Bogart.

The Humphrey Bogart we see in this film is far removed from the smooth and tough screen hero we’re used to seeing, that man who can get himself out of any scrape and not be phased by what happens to him. His character in this film however is a desperate, awkward and very frightened man, a man who has no control over his situation. It’s rare to see Bogie in such a role. Personally I would have liked to have seen him play more similar characters because this one shows what a great range he had as an actor.Dark Passage poster Bogie’s romantic and affectionate scenes with his co-star and wife Lauren Bacall, are amongst some of the most tender I’ve ever seen the couple perform on screen. Dark Passage would mark the third time that Bogie and Bacall had worked together in a film. Their final screen pairing would come the following year with Key Largo.

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Bogie and Bacall get intimate as Vince and Irene. Screenshot by me.

Director Delmar Daves shot a large amount of Dark Passage with a subjective camera technique. This technique shows the film unfold before us entirely from the point of view of Humphrey Bogart’s character. For most of the film we don’t see his characters face at all, but we do hear his voice. When we finally do see his face, it is his heavily bandaged face. The film is one hour and 41 minutes long, but it takes about an hour before Bogie’s face actually appears on screen. This visual style more than anything else about the film is what makes it such an unusual one.

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The bandaged Vince. Those eyes sure do look familiar. Screenshot by me.

The point of view photography was pretty risky when you think about it. Bogie was one of the biggest film stars on the planet at the time this film was made. Not showing his face for such a large part of the film was a gamble.  Bogie was the draw for a large amount of the audience and they could very easily have walked out of screenings thinking they weren’t going to get to see the man himself. 

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We see what Vince is looking at for much of the film. Screenshot by me.

Interestingly, Dark Passage is actually not alone in the Noir genre for its use of this camera technique.Actor Robert Montgomery had caused quite a stir when he had directed and starred in another Noir film, Lady In The Lake, which had been released earlier in 1947. That film had been shot almost entirely from the point of view of the character Philip Marlowe, who Montgomery played, and the film became quite the talking point because of the way it was shot.

Delmer Daves also shot much of his film on location in San Francisco and this, coupled with the point of view sequences, ensured that there was quite a realistic and different feel about this film. The film is based upon the 1946 novel of the same name written by David Goodis. Delmer Daves wrote the screenplay in addition to sitting in the directors chair.

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Irene appears to help Vince. Screenshot by me.

The film tells the story of Vincent Parry(Humphrey Bogart), a man who is imprisoned for the murder of his wife, a crime that he insists he didn’t commit. Vince escapes from prison and is pursued by the law. Vince is picked up by a guy who agrees to give him a lift.

A news report comes on the car radio describing this man’s passenger. Vince beats the driver up, drags him into some bushes by the roadside and takes his shoes. Suddenly another car pulls up, and out gets a young artist called Irene Jansen(Lauren Bacall). Vince doesn’t know her, but she seems to know him(this is all explained later in the film). She tells him to come with her and she will help him. Irene drives him to San Francisco.

                               The roadblock sequence. Screenshot by me. 

Vince and Irene encounter a roadblock on the Golden Gate Bridge, which leads to a very suspenseful sequence where Irene has to act casual to throw off the suspicions of the policeman who stops her car. Vince hides underneath a large covered pile of her art supplies and narrowly avoids being discovered. Once in the city, Vince gets help from a back-street doctor (Housley Stevenson)who performs plastic surgery on him to give him a new face. 

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Who’s in the mood for some plastic surgery? Screenshot by me.

The scene where Vince prepares for surgery is a standout, and it is made so by the dubious character of the doctor and his fabulous dialogue and laughter as he prepares his patient for surgery – “Ever seen a botched plastic job? If a man like me didn’t like a fella, he could surely fix him up for life. Make him look like a bulldog or a monkey!”. I doubt a man would want to get a shave off this dude, let alone willingly sit back and let him perform facial surgery on them. As the anaesthetic takes effect on Vince, he enters a bizarre nightmare, one where images and conversations he’s had get all mixed up as he goes under.  

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Part of the nightmare Vince has. Screenshot by me.

Vince emerges with a new face and recovers from the surgery at Irene’s apartment. She nurses him. Once recovered, Vince changes his name and sets about trying to investigate his wife’s murder. His investigation is difficult and dangerous.His only ally in all of this is Irene. The person who knows the truth about his innocence or guilt is Madge Rapf(a scene stealing Agnes Moorehead), the woman whose evidence in court was crucial in getting him put away.

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Agnes Moorehead as Madge. Screenshot by me.

Agnes delivers one of her best performances here. She’s a real nasty piece of work in this film. Madge is the sort of dame who sucks people in, charms them and then discards them like trash. She’s a whole lot of mean encased in one beautiful and glamorous exterior. I hope that Agnes had a lot of fun with this role because it sure looks like she relished playing the part. Such a shame that she didn’t get to play more bad girls in more Noir films. 

Bogie and Bacall are both absolutely terrific here. They convince as a couple thrown together in unusual circumstances who begin to fall in love.  Bogie does a good job of playing a more vulnerable and wounded character than he usually played. Much of his performance here comes via his voice and by the look in his eyes, it’s a more subtle performance than many of his others. He also makes us root for Vince and admire his determination to risk himself in order to find out the truth. Lauren delivers one of her best performances in my opinion. I love her as the determined, confident and fearless Irene. I also find her character so interesting because she is actually quite symbolic. 

                               Irene removes Vince’s bandages. Screenshot by me. 

Irene is the traditional white knight figure(a role usually played by men)to Bogie’s man in distress. She appears to him out of nowhere and saves him several times. She nurses him, supports him and stands by him. She is his guardian angel. She is his safe port in the hellish storm he finds himself caught up in. You could also say that Irene serves as a symbolic mother too, due to her being the one to bring the new Vince into the world so to speak. Vince doesn’t remove his bandages, it is Irene who does that, and in the process reveals his new self to him. Irene is also the one who chooses a new name(identity)for Vince, so if you look at it one way, it is she who brings this new man to life. Farewell, Vincent Parry. Hello to Alan. 

The entire supporting cast all deliver solid performances. The film is an interesting mystery and contains a lot of suspense and thrills. Some of the plot certainly does come across as being extremely far fetched, but somehow the film still manages to work despite that. It is a film that deserves to be much more widely discussed and appreciated today. I highly recommend this one to fellow Noir fans. 

Have you seen this? Leave your thoughts below. This is my final entry for my Noir Blogathon being held this weekend. 

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The Second Lauren Bacall Blogathon: To Have And Have Not (1944)

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Crystal over at In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood is hosting this second annual blogathon celebrating Lauren Bacall. Be sure to visit Crystal’s site to read all of the entries, I can’t wait to read them all myself. 

For this blogathon I’ve decided to write about To Have and Have Not, which is my favourite Lauren Bacall film.

Whenever I watch this film, I always find it so hard to believe that Lauren’s performance in this was actually her film debut.  

Lauren is so natural and confident in this film, that I for one really can’t tell that she is a beginner actor. Lauren steals every single scene she is in, and it is her performance as the feisty Slim that I always remember the most when the film is over. 

Lauren was nineteen years old when she was cast by director Howard Hawks in this film. Up to this point in her life she had been working as a model. Lauren’s photo had been spotted on the front cover of a magazine by Nancy “Slim” Keith, who was the wife of Howard Hawks. Slim showed Lauren’s photo to her husband. Howard sought Lauren out and signed her up for his upcoming film To Have And Have Not

The film was based upon the 1937 novel of the same name, which had been written by Ernest Hemingway. Hawks changed the story location from Key West to Martinique during WW2. Hawks kept the main plot of the novel, but he focused most intently on the relationship that develops between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s characters. I’ve never seen it, but apparently the 1950 film The Breaking Point is a much more faithful screen adaptation of Hemingway’s novel. 

I don’t think that Lauren Bacall could have possibly envisaged how much this film would end up changing her life. Not only did this film help to make her a star, but working in this film also changed her personal life forever.

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Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart as Slim and Harry. Screenshot by me.

During the making of this film, Lauren and her co-star, Humphrey Bogart, fell in love with each other and began an affair. Their affair led to Bogie divorcing his wife, the actress Mayo Methot, and marrying Lauren in 1945. Bogie and Bacall’s marriage lasted until Bogie’s death from cancer in 1957. 

The chemistry between Bogie and Bacall is evident on screen in all four of the films they made together. In To Have and Have Not, I think that their chemistry is absolutely electric. Most of their scenes ooze with sexual tension and a genuine affection for one another.

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An intimate moment for Slim and Harry. Screenshot by me.

I love that we are not watching two actors pretending to be in love in this film, we are actually witnessing the actors real feelings and longing for one another. As the characters of Slim and Harry fall in love with one another in the film, so to do Bogie and Bacall. 

                 Harry and Slim set eyes on each other for the first time. Screenshot by me.

When we watch this film, we are literally watching the mutual real life attraction between Bogie and Bacall develop and grow before our very eyes. The fact that the attraction between them is real helps the film immensely in my opinion. Their chemistry helps us to believe the growing bond and attraction developing between Slim and Harry. 

Bogie and Bacall’s characters affectionately call one another by the nicknames of Steve and Slim, those nicknames were what Howard Hawks and his wife Nancy called one another. Bogart and Bacall would later name their own son Steve.  

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Harry and Slim. Equal partners. Screenshot by me.

The relationship between Slim and Harry is one of my favourites from all of the equal romantic partnerships found in Howard Hawks films.

Both characters are fiercely independent and strong. Both characters also find something in the other that has been missing from their lives up until their point of meeting.

In Harry’s case he finds in Slim a woman who can live with him as an equal, a woman who can accept him for how he is, and a woman who isn’t afraid of risk or of hard times.

In Slim’s case she finds in Harry someone who she feels safe with, she also finds him to be someone who gives her a reason to finally stop drifting. When Slim and Harry are together they can have fun together, they can let their guard down, and they can be intimate and vulnerable with one another. 

Slim is one of the best of the Hawksian women in my opinion. She is strong, confident, sassy, sexy, tough, and very intelligentSlim has clearly been hurt in the past and is quite vulnerable, but she covers her pain with a tough and confident veneer. 

Slim is also very forward in conveying her attraction to Harry. He loves how forward she is and he loves how confident she is around him. Their relationship is a mix of emotional connection, friendship and sexual attraction. They really are the perfect fit for one another. 

The film takes place on the French island of Martinique during WW2. Martinique is under the control of the Vichy government, who are working with the Nazis.  Harry Morgan(Humphrey Bogart)is a sardonic American fisherman. Harry makes a fairly good living chartering his boat out to tourists. He is helped by his alcoholic and loveable friend Eddie(Walter Brennan).

Eddie is the films comic relief and is always randomly asking people if they were ever stung by a dead bee. Many people laugh at Eddie and dismiss him as a drunk, but Harry looks after Eddie, gives him a job, and doesn’t take kindly to any nasty talk about him.

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Frenchy. Screenshot by me.

Harry is approached by Frenchy(Marcel Dalio)who is a member of the growing resistance movement. Frenchy asks Harry to use his boat to smuggle people off the island. Harry initially refuses(perhaps his refusal represents the neutrality of America during the early years of WW2?) to help out because he fears the consequences if he does.

Harry meets a young pickpocket called Marie Browning(Lauren Bacall). He nicknames her Slim, and she nicknames him Steve. The pair develop an instant attraction and like each other very much. Harry changes his mind and agrees to help the resistance out. 

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Harry treating an injured resistance member. Screenshot by me.

Slim also gets involved with Harry and the resistance and helps them out however she can. Harry and his friends must try and evade the notice of the watchful officials.

The film highlights the dangers that the members of the resistance were always in. The film also reminds us how much the brave men and women who were a part of that risked their lives.

I like that Harry changes his mind and lends the resistance a helping hand. As the film goes on he also becomes less sardonic and stops thinking of his own self interest. The film highlights the moral need in times such as WW2 for us all to pull together,overcome differences, stop thinking solely of ourselves, and bravely stand up and fight the enemy.

The film has lots of thrills, action and suspense. As is always the case in a Howard Hawks film, there is also a great deal of character development and focus, this makes the characters come across to us as being real people. 

While the resistance story is very good, I would have liked to have seen more of that storyline and a bit more of the risks the characters involved are taking. I think it is fair to say that what makes this film so memorable is the relationship between Harry and Slim, rather than the resistance storyline. I’m quite sure that this film would not be as much of a classic today if Bogie and Bacall had not been cast in the roles of Harry and Slim. 

My favourite scenes are the following. The opening sequences on Harry’s boat with the tourist fisherman. The “you do know how to whistle”? scene. Slim and Harry being questioned by the authorities. Harry protecting Slim in the shootout, and in the middle of all that she totally keeps her cool and jokes that she has sat on a cigarette.   

All the cast are very good here, but Lauren steals every single scene she is in. It was quite an achievement for Lauren to manage to hold her own opposite all the experienced actors she was working with in this. A new classic film star twinkled into existence in this film. The name of that star was Lauren Bacall.   

I recently discovered a radio series on YouTube which stars Bogie and Bacall. I’m really enjoying working my way through it. The series is called Bold Venture. It aired between 1951 and 1952. The series is clearly influenced by To Have And Have Not. It’s all about the adventures of Shannon(Bogie)and his sidekick/love interest nicknamed Sailor(Lauren). It’s well worth a listen to if you’ve never heard it before. Perhaps we could imagine the radio series to be the continuing adventures of Slim and Steve?

What do you think of this film? What do you think of Lauren’s debut performance here?