Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Film Review: DARK PASSAGE (1947, Delmer Daves)

Stars: 4.2 of 5.
Running Time: 106 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead (CITIZEN KANE, CAGED), Houseley Stevenson (ALL THE KING'S MEN, THE GUNFIGHTER). Music by Franz Waxman (REAR WINDOW, SUNSET BLVD., REBECCA). Cinematography by Sidney Hickox (THE BIG SLEEP, TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT).
Tag-line: "Two Of A Kind ! Tough . . . Torrid . . . Terrific!"
Best one-liner: "The artist in me wishes he could see what a nice job I've done, but I never will. Goodbye, and good luck."

I guess 1947 was the year for 'POV Noir' (with the first half of DARK PASSAGE and the entirety of LADY IN THE LAKE unfolding from a direct, first person perspective). DARK PASSAGE, however, uses this gimmick with purpose, intelligence, and visual flair... and knows when to abandon it. Still, the POV portion of this film (you ARE Bogart on the lam until he finds himself at a plastic surgeon's) is an unsettling tour de force, and kind of feels like a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' Film Noir- which is, of course, a real good thing. An oddly dreamlike tone pervades the film, from the mind-blowing plot to the Fritz Lang-style surgery sequence, full of rotating, expressionistic overlays and distorted sounds. Lauren Bacall's smoldering intensity and unknown, possibly dangerous motivations;

Houseley Stevenson as the lopsided, eerily helpful doctor ("I could make you look like a BULLDOG or a MONKEY!");

and Agnes Moorehead's inquisitive, fiendish acuity... no wonder Bogart's bewildered eyes are able to speak such volumes. It's an uncertain world where everyone wants to play 20 questions, and the slightest misstep could spell a 100 year steel-and-concrete vacation at San Quentin.

It's a black and white film that overtly references specific colors- and that's very deliberate: writer/director Delmer Daves realizes quite profoundly that speaking of "orange" in a world of black and white is like speaking of the "individual" in a world where that word doesn't quite hold the water it used to. A new face, a new name, a new lie, a new line- it's now all par for the course for the innocent man. Dream-like, but not a dream; this is the world now- you're laid out and sliced up on the table, and everybody wants a piece.

Confusing, confounding, claustrophobic, Kafkaesque. (And a tremendous influence on David Lynch- particularly MULHOLLAND DR. and LOST HIGHWAY.) Four stars.

-Sean Gill

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