Yet, for all of the classics that Bogie appeared in, there are plenty of movies with him that are notable and well worth watching but that seem to fly under the radar. One of the things that I love about all Hollywood between the 1930s and the 1950s is the way the studios cranked out movies at an unbelievable pace. Each and every week, studios like Warner Brothers, Fox, Paramount, and RKO pushed out a new release for a hungry audience. Some of those movies have gone on to be considered classics, but the majority of what studios produced during those years occupy a lower tier of acclaim. Dark Passage is one of those movies that I was mostly unaware of before I watched it, and that’s a shame.
Brian De Palma, Scorsese, even Ford and Leone to an extent, but it’s easy to forget how far back people were tinkering with the medium. As a matter of fact, this first person perspective was used in another film noir earlier the same year, with Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake, so subversion was obviously in the air. Dark Passage uses all sorts of tricks and plot devices so that we don’t see Humphrey Bogart’s face in the film until after the half-way point, even though he’s the male lead. After the prison break, Bogart decides to visit a back-alley surgeon to have a facial reconstruction operation and spends a good amount of time covered in bandages. Warner Brothers co-founder Jack Warner was reportedly very upset that they’d hidden the face of one of his biggest stars for more than half of the movie.
Bogart’s real-life wife Lauren Bacall co-stars, and their charisma on screen is evident. They made four films together, and this is the third of the four. Bacall smolders, SMOLDERS, I tell you, and threatens to set the whole film on fire with her gaze. She’s dangerous, mysterious, and tough as nails with a touch that’s as light as a feather. She knows what she wants and she isn’t afraid to go for it. There’s a reason she’s known as one of the sexiest dames in all of cinema, and Dark Passage puts it on front street.
Like most good noir films, Dark Passage keeps the viewer on the hook from the very beginning and then never let’s us exhale. Will Bogart get captured by the police? Is he telling the truth when he says he was framed for the crime that landed him in prison? Who is the person that keeps following him in the shadows? What does Bacall’s character stand to gain from helping him? As the spiders on the web circle closer and closer, we wonder if Bogie is going to be able to make a getaway, and if anyone would believe him even he can prove that he’s an innocent man.
Unfortunately, the movie didn’t do particularly well back in 1947, and there are probably a few reasons why. It can’t have helped that Bogart spends the first hour of the movie either out of frame or covered in bandages. Behind the scenes, Bogart was also taking heat for his outspoken opposition to the actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee and their anti-communist agenda in Hollywood. In other words, Bogie was outspoken in favor in the First Amendment and against the Red Scare witch hunts that led to the blacklisting of something like 300 filmmakers and actors in Hollywood. All of this was happening at the same time as the release of Dark Passage, and the film performed poorly at the box office. Maybe that’s why the film still doesn’t seem to have the same reputation as many of Bogie’s other films, even after all these years. Or maybe it’s because the film isn’t afraid to explore the shadows and the things that live there. That would be unfortunate if it were true, because some truly wonderful things can be found in the dark.
Dark Passage is currently streaming on Amazon Instant Video and is also on DVD.