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DARK PASSAGE (Warner Archives)

By • Jun 23rd, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

Oren Shai, a filmmaker friend who recently directed a neo-noir called THE FRONTIER, told me that the one element he looks for in all film noirs, the one thing above all others that makes them noirs, is a feeling of dread.

DARK PASSAGE sustains an almost continual aura of dread: it’s in the casting, the script, in the direction. It’s in the astute use of the subjective camera, ordinarily a gimmick, which manages to work here for the half of the film where it is utilized in ways it didn’t work in LADY IN THE LAKE or even the 1932 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.

For instance, I was constantly on edge about whether Lauren Bacall, who comes to Bogart’s aid almost too serendipitously, was really one of the good guys. And the same worrisome anticipation applied to cabbie Tom D’Andrea, depicted as an insightful and helpful soul, and yet in the noir universe, as with Bacall, he’s just too good to be true, so we’re forever nervous about the characters’ true intentions. Suspicions abound about everyone who escaped convict Vince Parry (Bogart) meets. Even the locations and sets he traverses are rife with foreboding undertones.

Helping to establish this rampant feeling of dread is the very first person he comes across, a driver (Clifton Young) who offers him a friendly lift, but actually does have hidden motives behind his seemingly altruistic gesture, so everything that follows is thrown into doubt. It’s a canny manipulation of our concerns on a screenplay level, as well as a superior job of direction. Delmer Daves knew what he was going for, and had the skill to get it.

The periodic beauty shots of Bacall are literally lifted out of the film to isolate her in our mind’s eye. Sometimes there isn’t even an attempt to match the backgrounds with those in the delirious portrait shots. She’s never looked more sultry and alluring, employing on occasion her trademarked blend of sweetness and insolence. Perhaps she is extracted from the narrative in those portraits because Bogart isn’t shown, so the audience needed a double-strength dose of her as compensation.

Included on the disc is a simple but rewarding little doc about the making of the film, peppered with stills of all involved, including Wald and Daves, who I hadn’t seen before. And there’s also a Warner Bros cartoon, SLICK HARE, which features an animated caricature of Bogart, and also includes a quick shot of a similarly caricatured Sidney Greenstreet (although attempting to caricature Greenstreet would be an effort in redundancy).

The restoration work on the film by the Warners’ archivists is highly commendable. The picture is so pristine it’s practically surreal which, if anything, adds somehow to the palpable feeling of dread.

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