Film notes: Dark Passage (1947) directed by Delmer Daves

USA / 106 minutes / bw / Warner Bros Pictures. Inc. Dir: Delmer Daves Pro: Jerry Wald Scr: Delmer Daves, based on the novel by David Goodis Cine: Sid Hickox Mus:Franz Waxman Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Vincent Parry), Lauren Bacall (Irene Jansen), Bruce Bennett (Bob), Agnes Moorhead (Madge Rapf), Tom D’Andrea (Sam), Clifton Young (Baker), Douglas Kennedy (Detective), Rory Mallinson (George Fellsinger), Houseley Stevenson (Dr. Walter Coley) Release date: 27 Septemeber 1947 (US) Spanish title: La senda tenebrosa.

Dark Passage (1947) is the third of the four films starring by Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart that they rolled together between 1944 and 1948, although one of the lesser ones. To see my notes on To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946), please click on the titles. For my taste the storyline relies on an excessive number of coincidences which are hard to believe. Anyway, I always enjoy this extraordinary pair that are able to fill the entire screen on their own account. This note is meant to participate in Crimes of the Century, a monthly meme hosted by Rich Westwood at his blog Past Offences. The year under review for March is 1947. Other 1947 films worth watching are Out of the Past, Brighton Rock, The Lady from Shanghai, and Lady in the Lake, to name a few.

DARKPASSAGE_00438126_1209x1800_072420061509 Synopsis: Convicted wife-murderer Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart) escapes from San Quentin in the back of a garbage truck. He hitches a ride with a man named Baker (Clifton Young), but when the announcement of his escape is broadcast over the car radio, Vincent knocks out Baker and steals his clothes. While he is hiding the unconscious man, painter Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) stops her car nearby. Although Vincent does not know Irene, she knows his name and offers to help him. At her apartment in San Francisco, Irene explains that she followed his trial carefully because her father, who died in prison, was wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder, and she believes Vincent is also innocent. While Irene shops for new clothes for Vincent, a woman knocks on the door, and Vincent recognizes her voice as belonging to Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorhead), the shrewish friend of his dead wife whose testimony was responsible for his conviction. Irene later reveals that she is dating Madge’s former fiancé, Bob (Bruce Bennett). That night, Vincent leaves Irene’s apartment, planning to look for evidence on the real murderer. He is picked up by Sam (Tom D’Andrea ), a taxi driver, who recognizes him and offers to introduce him to plastic surgeon Walter Coley (Houseley Stevenson). Vincent waits for his appointment at the apartment of his only friend, musician George Fellsinger (Rory Mallinson). When the operation is over, Vincent returns to George’s, planning to stay there until his face is healed, but he discovers that George has been murdered in the meantime. Not knowing where else to go, Vincent walks to Irene’s. (Read full synopsis at AFI)

Notes: According to a September 17, 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item, Warner Bros. paid $25,000 for the rights to the David Goodis novel, which was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post from 20 July-September 7, 1946. Some scenes were shot on location in San Francisco, and many reviews noted the effective use of the city in the background footage. According to modern sources, “Irene’s” house was torn down following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Source: American Film Institute, AFI)

This was Bacall and Bogart’s third movie together, and they were still in the honeymoon stage of their marriage, enjoying their accommodations at the Mark Hopkins Hotel with meals at the Top of the Mark during the filming of Dark Passage. Bogie was also the highest paid actor in Hollywood (he averaged $450,000 a year) at the time, which didn’t depress him in the least. Source: TCM’s article on Dark Passage by Jeff Stafford.

There was one problem though. In her autobiography, By Myself, Lauren Bacall wrote, “Toward the end of shooting I became aware of Bogie’s nerves; if the phone rang, he’d tense up, didn’t want to answer it, didn’t want to speak to any except the closest. He’d noticed a bare spot on his cheek where his beard was not growing. The one spot increased to several, then he’d wake up in the morning and find clumps of hair on the pillow. That alarmed him. It’s one thing to be bald with a rim of hair, an actor could always wear a hairpiece, but without the rim it would have to be a full wig. The more hair fell out, the more nervous he got, and the more nervous he got, the more hair fell out. In the last scene of Dark Passage he wore a complete wig. He panicked – his livelihood hung in the balance. A visit to the doctor was in order. He never went to doctors. The verdict was that he had a disease known as alopecia areata – in layman’s terms, hair falls out as a result of vitamin deficiencies. He was plain worn out – the years of mistreating himself in bars and an unsteady diet had added up to this. It would grow back, but he’d need B-12 shots twice a week…scalp treatments…more food…in general, more care. That was a relief to us both. His next film was going to be The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) with John Huston, and he’d have had to wear a wig for that anyway.” Source: TCM’s article on Dark Passage by Jeff Stafford.

8 thoughts on “Film notes: Dark Passage (1947) directed by Delmer Daves”

  1. A nice writeup — thanks! Myself, I like the movie a bit more than you seem to . . . although, as you say, the coincidences are a bit hard to swallow.

  2. I liked it more, too, Jose, although it’s definitely the closest Bogie and Bacall got to making a “B” movie together; the other three are classics. It’s nice imagining them hanging out in San Francisco together. Just twelve years later, they might have run into an adoring 11-year old with an autograph book in hand.

  3. I agree that the plot is a bit too contrived – but thanks to the star power and the sheer verve with which it is shot (especially the opening half hour), together with lots of great cameos and the always arresting Agnes Moorhead more than makes up for it 🙂

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