Dark Passage (1947) once again features Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It was written and directed by Delmer Daves, and based on the novel by David Goodis. Goodis, while not as well known as Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, is an important, if enigmatic, figure in pulp literature. Themes of fate and obsession permeate his work, and these themes find expression in the film version.
The first few minutes of the movie show a prison escape from San Quentin. A man inside a barrel on the back of a truck leaving the prison causes it to fall off the truck. The barrel rolls down the hill beside the road and into a ravine. From this point foreword all the camera angles are from the escaped convict's point of view. When the escapee hides his prison shirt, his arms come from beneath the camera lens, adding to the feeling of the idea of the camera lens as the "eye" of our protagonist (this effect is called the subjective camera). The director uses this technique for almost half the movie. We hear the voice-over narration of Humphrey Bogart "thinking" he only has about fifteen minutes to find an escape vehicle.
He hitchhikes and is picked up by a man in a convertible, whose seats are covered in circus tent material. The man is curious about his passenger's muddy shoes, his lack of a shirt, and his uncommon trousers. Bogart explains his appearance, but the driver seems suspicious. Then on the radio the escape of Vincent Parry (Bogart) is announced. The driver's suspicions are confirmed and Parry knocks him senseless, pulls off to the side of the road and steals his clothing. As he does this a car passes by, and then returns a few minutes later. A woman (Lauren Bacall) gets out, tells him to hurry up, and hides him under the painting supplies in the rear of her car. Parry is bewildered. Who is this woman, and why is she helping him?
They get to her apartment, and while she is out Vincent washes, shaves, and puts his prison clothes. The woman goes out to buy him a new set of clothes. He plays a swing record, and while he does the comes a knock at the door. It's a woman outside, a woman that Vincent Parry knows. Parry tells her to go away, but as she does she is constantly trying to peer into the apartment windows. Again he wonders who his unknown benefactor is and starts searching for clues.
He searches through her chest of drawers and finds a scrapbook with a letter to the editor written on Parry's behalf written by Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall). There is also an article about Irene's father who died in prison while serving time for the murder of her mother. Jansen claimed his innocence throughout the entire ordeal. She walks in on him reading these things, embarrassed that he has seen them.
After he gets dressed in the suit she buys for him, he asks her how she happened to be there when he escaped from prison. She says, "I don't believe in chance or fate or anything like that, but something seemed to make me go up in the hills and paint today." This is the introduction of the theme of fate in the novel. It will play a much greater role as the story progresses. Parry tells Irene of her caller. The woman knocking on the door, it turns out, was Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead) a friend of Vincent's wife. She was also engaged to Irene's friend Bob. She's know throughout the film as "The Pest." Her testimony at Vincent Parry's trial helped convict him.
Is it chance that these three people know each other? Is it fate that leads Parry to Irene's door? Is it coincidence that pair these two? Later in the film, after Irene gives Parry some money and sends him on his way he gets in cab whose driver recognizes him. This cabbie just happens to know a doctor that performs plastic surgery with no questions asked. Again, is it fate or coincidence that puts Vincent Parry in that particular cab? The cabbie drops him off at his friend George's house, and returns later to take him to the plastic surgeon's. George agrees to help Vincent any way he can.
After his surgery Parry's face is bandaged and must remain so for a week. The camera angles no longer are only from Parry's point of view. He returns to his friend's apartment, only to find him murdered. Conspicuous as he walks in the early morning light, he is taunted by construction workers on their way to work. At the foot of Irene's building he passes a convertible with seats covered by circus tent material. He panics, and looks around. Is it chance or is the driver of that car around somewhere? Is he with Irene? Parry is not sure, but he's frantic to get off the street as it turns into daylight and takes the chance and goes to ask Irene for help.
She does, of course, and throughout his weeks stay at her apartment they have some close calls of being caught by Madge and her boyfriend (who is also seeing Irene, although she wants to break it off). Vincent's week is up, and he finally gets his bandages off (this is the first glimpse we get of Bogart's face.) He tells Irene he should go, and that she is better off without him. He feels he has the "Indian sign" on him, that fate has predestined him to a life of hardship and grief.
Later in the film, after he has left Irene again, he is confronted by the man that owns the car with the circus tent seats. He learns this man is a small time hood, who saw Irene drive Parry away during his escape. He intends to blackmail Irene, knowing she has a lot of money. During the scene he confronts Parry there is a painting of a Native American slumped over a horse, a signifier of Parry's "Indian sign". His bad luck.
Before Parry accidentally kills the blackmailer, he learns he had been following Parry the whole time, and that he saw a vehicle drive away after Parry left George's for his surgery. Parry learns the make and model of the car, and from this clue identifies both George's and his wife's killer. He confronts the killer, and it is Madge Rapf. She killed his wife because she was jealous and wanted Parry for herself. She killed George because Parry came to him for help instead of her. She's obsessed with people and things, and if she can't have them, no one can. This obsession is also her downfall. She dresses in the color orange, even her car is orange, and the orange car she drove away from the murder scene is the clue Parry uses to connect her to the two killings.
Not all obsession is bad in the world of Goodis. If it wasn't for obsession Irene would have never helped him, he would have never gained his freedom, and he would have never learned who killed his wife. It also gives him happiness. He calls Irene as he is about to depart for South America, and tells her that where he'll be and that if she wants to she can follow him down there in a few months. The final scenes of the film show Vincent and Irene reuniting. The death of Madge lifts the Indian sign from his life, and her obsession with a good man given a raw deal leading to their mutual happiness.
Text (c) LCB 2000
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