Monday, 29 December 2014

Dark Passage (1947)

It takes effort to make a Bogart & Bacall film not work, but Dark Passage manages it.  This is entirely the fault of the script, which careens from one extreme contrivance to the next with such blithe disregard for plausibility that I felt like renaming my suspension of disbelief "Rice Krispies" for the way it snapped, crackled and popped.

Convicted murderer Vincent Parry (Bogart) escapes from jail.  He flags down a passing motorist, but when the guy realises who Vincent is from a report on the radio, Parry knocks him out.  As Vincent is changing into the other man's clothes, a young woman names Irene (Bacall) comes along.  She addresses him by name and promises to help him.  With few other options, he goes along with the plan.

It turns out that the Irene's father was also sent to jail for murder, where he died.  She believes both her father and Parry were innocent, and wants to help him.  Why was she in just the right place to do so?  She just had a feeling that morning that she should go out and paint some landscapes near the prison.

Uh huh.

Don't expect the subject of Irene's father to ever come up again, by the way.  It's just a pretext for her interest in Vincent's case.  It's not going to lead to a conspiracy or anything interesting like that.

As far as contrivances go though, we're only just getting started.  It's going to turn out that Irene knows a woman named Madge very well.  Madge in turn is an ex-paramour of Vincent's, and was the main prosecution witness in his murder (she testified that his dying wife claimed Vincent killed her).  San Francisco is a small town, it seems.

But like one of those annoying "do not send any money!" TV spots, there's more.  Because when Vincent takes his leave of Irene, he immediately runs into a taxi driver who (a) recognises him, (b) doesn't want to turn him in, and (c) knows a plastic surgeon who can give Vincent a cut price black market face job.

Uh double huh.

The movie isn't done with this kind of silliness, but I think I've done enough to illustrate my point about how implausible it all is.

So is there anything to like about the film?  Well, it's quite stylish early on, especially as much of it is shot from Parry's point of view.  We will in fact never see Bogart's face (except in newspaper articles) until after he's had the plastic surgery.  Sadly of course, this means that the most memorable thing about the film can be traced back to the technical/budgetary issue that they didn't want to have Bogart in prosthetic makeup for the first 40 minutes.  Bacall's performance is also good - especially when she has to do the usually verboten thing of talking directly to the camera (since it is a stand-in for Parry).  Bogart on the other hand, is a bit subdued.  Probably appropriate for the character he's playing, but I miss the edge that he has when playing a character like Philip Marlowe.

Not even Bogart and Bacall's chemistry can make this one work.

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