Saturday, 13 September 2014

Dark Passage (3 Stars)

I thought I would take a look at another Lauren Bacall film that I've never seen before, and I picked this one, "Dark Passage", made in 1947. Judging by the picture on the poster I expected a film noir detective story. I'm sure that's what the poster artist intended to portray, but it's false advertising. It's not a detective story. There's no femme fatale. It's not 100% clear who's holding the gun in the poster. Judging by the angle it should be Humphrey Bogart, but it seems to be a feminine glove, so it could be Lauren Bacall. It doesn't really matter, because neither of them holds a gun at any point in the film.

At the beginning of the film a convicted murderer, Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart), escapes from San Quentin prison. He's picked up by a woman, Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), who takes him back to her apartment in San Francisco because she believes he is innocent and wants to help him. This is complicated by the fact that Irene's close friend is the main witness who testified against him in the murder trial. To disguise himself while looking for the real murderer Vincent undergoes plastic surgery to change his face.

The film uses experimental cinematography. For the first 35 minutes the film is shown from a POV perspective, through Vincent's eyes. This means that we only see his arms and hands, never the rest of his body. We never see Vincent Parry's face, except in a newspaper photo. For the next 25 minutes of the film we see his face in heavy bandages after the operation. The actor is recognisable as Humphrey Bogart. but only just. After the film has been running for an hour, almost exactly to the minute, the bandages are removed and we can see his face for the last half hour of the film.

According to the featurette on the disc, the film was a flop at the box office, but not because of the film itself. In 1947 Hollywood directors and actors were forbidden to work if they were members of the Communist party. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were not Communists, but they joined an association called the Committee for the First Amendment which protested about Americans being persecuted for their political views. As far as the general public were concerned, the committee members were Communist sympathisers, so the film was widely boycotted. A few months later Humphrey and Lauren left the organisation to save their careers. Humphrey Bogart made the famous statement: "I'm no Communist. I'm just an American dope".

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