The four film partnership between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall worked because the growing affection they felt for each other off-screen translated so well to the characters they played. That love is most evident in Dark Passage (1947), which despite all its bitterness and hard edges is also an intensely romantic film. Joining The Big Sleep (1946) and Key Largo (1948), this Bogie and Bacall noir is now also available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.
Bogart is Vincent Parry, a recently escaped convict on the run. Once Vincent gets free from prison, he hitches a ride, only to be exposed when the car radio reports the man hunt. Acting in panic, he knocks out the now suspicious young man (Clifton Young, a former Little Rascal and still looking it) who has picked him up. As Vincent deals with the fall-out, a mysterious young woman insists that he get in her station wagon and she safely transports him to her apartment.
Her name is Irene Jansen (Bacall) and she thinks that Vincent may be innocent of killing his wife, just as her own convicted father was years ago. Determined that not another man should suffer a wrongful conviction, she dedicates herself to saving the bewildered Vincent. Her efforts are stymied by persistent beaux wannabe Bob (Bruce Bennett) and the high strung Madge (Agnes Moorehead), who coincidently has a lot to do with Vincent's dilemma.
Dark Passage is perhaps best remembered for its extensive use of point-of-view camera. For the first forty minutes of the film everything you see is through Vincent's eyes. You don't even get a full look at his face until an hour into the action. This segment is filmed with remarkable smoothness by what was at the time a newly-developed handheld camera.
Though a gimmick like point-of-view can be an awkward distraction, it is an asset here, because you get to watch Bacall's character falling hard for Vincent and she is beautifully effective. The actress has long had a reputation for being a tough, if essentially friendly dame. Here she demonstrates how tender she could be.
While the Bogart and Bacall chemistry sizzled in all four of their films, in Dark Passage they are at their most intimate. It made me think about the passages in Lauren Bacall's 1978 autobiography By Myself, where she describes the development of her romance with Bogart. You get the feeling that she saved him from despair and that resonates in the film as well.
The Blu-ray debut of the film looks gorgeous, with sharp, clean images. Dark Passage is famous for its liberal use of San Francisco location shots, and that aspect of the film is now particularly striking. The restoration also made me more aware of the complexity of the sound and what an important role it played in building tension and telling the story during the point-of-view scenes.
Special features include a trailer for the film, the Bugs Bunny cartoon short Slick Hare (1947), and Hold Your Breath and Cross Your Fingers a TCM-produced featurette about the making of the film, which includes interviews with Leonard Maltin, Robert Osborne and Bogart biographer Eric Lax.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.