Nice to have you back, Ms. Bacall…
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart made five movies together. Their chemistry was so electric that no matter what the story was about, she would always smolder and he would always appraise her coolly and wordlessly. The 1947 film, Dark Passage, however thinks outside of the box due to one simple factor: Bogart’s face isn’t seen until about two-thirds of the way through. Intrigued yet? Just wait.
The film opens at the road to San Quentin, where someone has just broken out and are hiding in a trash can on a garbage truck. We don’t see their face, just their hands. The can wiggles and rolls off the truck into a ravine. A man gets out of the trash can and runs under the overpass, where he takes his shirt off and wipes his face. The camera point of view moves to second person and we are the man as he looks through the bushes at the prison, where the sirens are still blaring.
The man is Vincent Parrish (Humphrey Bogart), who is in prison for murdering his wife, and all he wants is to get to San Francisco, so he hitches a ride in an old jalopy. Vincent admires the distinctive fabric on the car’s seats, but the car gets too small when the driver, Baker (Clifton Young), gets a bit too inquisitive and the radio broadcasts a report about the breakout.
After knocking Baker silly, Vincent steals his clothes. He’s in the bushes lacing up Baker’s shoes on his own feet when a young woman, Irene (Lauren Bacall) finds him. She offers Vincent a ride to San Francisco, which he reluctantly accepts because she knows his name and seems to know all about him. He has to ride in the backseat of her station wagon under a tarp, but at least he’s got a ride. There are police out everywhere looking for Vincent, so the tarp comes in handy, plus Irene is unusually good at playing it cool.
The two of them get to Irene’s swanky Montgomery Street apartment, where she lets Vincent use her shower and Irene buys him a new suit so he doesn’t stick out so much. Vincent wants to know why she’s being so benevolent, and Irene tells him she doesn’t believe he’s guilty. Her dad was put in prison for the same reason even though he was innocent and ended up dying there. Because of this, she has followed Vincent’s story and been very vocal about the way his trial played out like a circus.
Irene goes out to pick up his suit, and she leaves the record player on while Vincent takes a shower. Her friend, Madge (Agnes Moorehead) comes to the door, hears the music and thinks Irene is in her apartment with a man, especially when Vincent tells her to go away.
Vincent knows he can’t stay there, so he catches a cab to his friend, George’s house. The cab driver, Sam (Tom D’Andrea) is very chatty but sympathetic. On another day, Sam even takes Vincent to a plastic surgeon so he can shed his Vincent Parrish face. After that, no one except George knows anything about Vincent, and the two of them can clear Vincent’s name.
After his surgery, Sam drops Vincent back at George’s house, where Sam is to sleep on his back until his face is healed and the bandages come off. Until then, he has to eat a liquid diet and can’t talk.
To his horror, however, Vincent finds George has been murdered by blunt force trauma. George’s phone is off the hook and no one but the operator is on the line. Still groggy from the anesthesia, Vincent stumbles across town to Irene’s, where he just manages to hit Irene’s buzzer before passing out from exhaustion.
Irene takes care of Vincent, but one night both Madge and Madge’s ex-fiancee, Bob (Bruce Bennett) show up–Bob because he wants to see Irene, and Madge because she’s heard Vincent is out of prison and she’s afraid he’ll come after her. Irene is very secretive and wants them out of there, and when Madge asks about the man who was there, Irene answers “Vincent Parrish,” without even flinching. Madge goes pop-eyed, even though she and Bob think Irene is joking, and the two of them can’t get out of there fast enough.
Vincent’s bandages have to come off eventually, and that, of course, finally reveals Humphrey Bogart’s face. He can’t waste any time, though, because no one will believe he’s innocent. Therefore, he’s gotta get out of the country. Then there’s the question of who really killed Vincent’s wife. And why is Baker with his fancy jalopy seats suddenly hanging around?
The thing with this movie is that it’s all who Vincent knows, what he knows, and when he knows it. It’s both maddening and intriguing, but I can’t say too much because it would spoil the story. The pacing also slows to a crawl sometimes–I feel like we could have done with more of an internal monologue on Bogart’s part. Bosley Crowther said the best part of this movie is the scenery, and I’m inclined to agree with him.
Plus, picking up someone who’s escaped from prison is an unfortunate angle. Why would anyone do that, even if someone’s innocent? It just feels like asking for trouble, because prison changes people. Then again, if everyone did what they were supposed to, there would be no movie in the first place.
The only other thing that very slightly bugs me about this movie is Peru. Yeah, Peru. Sounds kind of random, doesn’t it? These people apparently are very insulated in their Bay Area world, yet Vincent yearns to go to a certain Peruvian seaside town and hang out in a certain Peruvian cafe by the beach. It’s funny that he knows Peru that well even though he doesn’t seem to get out of the United States much. It’s not a huge thing, but it’s just sort of strange.
In her autobiography, Bacall doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on Dark Passage. The movie gets one long paragraph, and there are no funny anecdotes or studio intrigue. She and Bogie lived at the Mark Hopkins Hotel during the location shooting in San Francisco and spent evenings at Top of the Mark.
Bogart looks nervous and unusually subdued when we do see his face in the film, and Bacall said he was nervous as a cat. There was an excellent reason for this: He had contracted alopetia areata, which means his hair was falling out in clumps due to stress and lack of vitamins. Bogie was scared stiff his career would flatline. The doctor perscribed B-12 shots and more food, but it would take several months for Bogie’s hair to grow again.
Since Bogart is incapacitated for a good portion of the movie, the film rests more on Lauren Bacall’s shoulders. She gives a great performance, especially when she gets to play innocent. The woman doesn’t break a bit, and makes up for Bogart’s lack of a face. Quite honestly, I don’t think it’s their best movie together, but it’s still a good story and clicks along.
For more of the great Lauren Bacall, please visit Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Thanks for hosting, Crystal–it’s always a pleasure! Thanks for reading, everyone. Hope to see you tomorrow, when there will be a new Origins post…
Bacall, Lauren. By Myself and Then Some. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.