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Dark Passage (August 12, 2008)

Dark Passage is probably the least well-known of the four films starring Bogart and Bacall. It was made from late October 1946 through January 1947 and much of the location shooting was done in San Francisco. It is certainly film noir, with its hero on the run from both the authorities and others while he tries to solve a pair of murders. Bacall is luminously beautiful in this picture, and note the really very good performance of Agnes Moorehead as Madge.

Probably the most notable thing about Dark Passage is the subjective camerawork. Bogart’s face does not appear for the first third of the picture. All the shots are taken from his character’s point of view. There is a reason for all this, which will become clear as the plot unfolds. This was a novelty, though not an innovation. Robert Montgomery, who directed and starred in Lady in the Lake, an adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel about Philip Marlowe, made that entire film using the subjective camera technique. It was filmed from May through July 1946, slightly earlier than Dark Passage. The only time Montgomery appears in that film is when Philip Marlowe looks in a mirror.

Delmer Daves, who directed, was a screenwriter who made the transition from writer to director, and later, was caught up in the blacklist. Bogart himself went to Washington to protest the treatment of the Hollywood Ten by the House Un-American Activities Committee. The Ten was a group of writers and directors accused of being Communists, many of whom went to jail afterwards. As he was returning from Washington, under severe pressure, he made a statement regretting that he had gone to Washington and protested, saying that he had been naive. This wasn’t perhaps the best moment of Humphrey Bogart, the man, as opposed to the actor. The Washington Post said, “Here is illustrated the terrible danger of that committee’s irresponsibility. An actor, dependent for his livelihood upon popular acceptance, could be ruined by Representative Thomas (who ran the committee)—and without any redress whatever…We are rather sorry for Mr. Bogart. He had nothing at all to be ashamed of until he began to be ashamed.” The statement he made allowed him to continue making films, and it helped improve the box office of Dark Passage.

True to its name and its place as a film noir, this is a dark movie. Everything doesn’t come out happily, and this was a change from the earlier Hollywood, where the good triumphed over adversity, the bad suffered for their misdeeds, and all problems were resolved in the final reel. I hope you enjoy Bogart, Bacall, Agnes Moorehead and the other actors as they find their way through. I hope you enjoy a view of how San Francisco looked in 1946.