Dark Passage (1947):  Happiness Against All Odds

Dark Passage (1947) poster featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
Dark Passage (1947)

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were married on April 21, 1945 at Malabar Farm in Ohio.  The farm was owned by Bogart’s friend and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Louis Bromfield, who served as best man.  (And was last seen on this blog convincing Edna Ferber to come to New Orleans, which would give her the inspiration to finish Saratoga Trunk.)

The wars with Germany, Japan, and Mayo were over.

“He was a changed man with her,” according to actor Sam Jaffe.  “He was very happy.”

Instead of drunken brawls and cutting words, Bogart and Bacall settled into a life of domestic bliss.  They spent time with friends, on his boat, and ate dinner in the living room on tv trays.

Both would describe these as the happiest years of their lives.

Bogart, now the world’s most bankable star (thanks in no small part to his onscreen chemistry with Bacall) negotiated a contract with Warner Brothers that made him the highest paid actor in 1946.

In 1947, Bogie and Bacall teamed up onscreen for the third time in Dark Passage, the least known of their eventual four films together.  Aside from the additional footage shot for The Big Sleep, it was their first time working together as husband and wife.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall on the set of Dark Passage (1947)
The Bogarts on set

Bogart plays Vincent Parry, a San Quentin inmate convicted of killing his wife.  The film opens as he escapes from prison by hiding in an oil drum on the back of a truck.  With a full-scale manhunt on, he’s surely to be caught, until a young woman (Bacall) picks him up on the side of the road and hides him under a blanket in the backseat of her car.

It’s a great stroke of luck (the first of two) for Parry, as the woman is Irene Jansen, the only woman in San Francisco who believes he is innocent.  (She went to his trial every day; turns out her own father was wrongly convicted in a similar case.)

But I’m burying the lede—during this entire sequence, the audience doesn’t see Bogart’s face.  In fact, we see everything from his point of view.  It was a brand new gimmick at the time, one that required a special hand-held camera.  We see the world through Vincent Parry’s eyes for the first third of the film.

There’s a pragmatic reason for this—the second stroke of luck for Parry is that a cab driver who picks him up is the only man in San Francisco who believes him.  Said cab driver just happens to know a plastic surgeon who changes the faces of criminals for a fee.

I know, I know.  These two coincidences—Irene just happening upon him during his escape, and the cabbie knowing the plastic surgeon—are beyond belief.  Despite being wrongfully imprisoned for murdering his wife, Vincent Parry is just about the luckiest guy in San Francisco.

But if you can swallow these (and really, if we can watch The Big Sleep without worrying about who killed the chauffeur than surely we can overlook Parry’s guardian angels) then Dark Passage is an entertaining film noir.

When the camera finally pulls back from Parry’s point of view, we see his head wrapped in bandages after his surgery.  Irene tends to his wounds and hides him from the police.  Only using his eyes, Bogart has no problem conveying the growing love Parry feels for Irene. 

If a convict looked at me like Bogie looked at Bacall, I’d hide him in my bedroom too.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Dark Passage (1947)

About halfway through the film, Irene takes the bandages off and gets her first look at Parry’s new face.

As the cops, and Irene’s vicious and nosy neighbor (a wonderful supporting turn by Agnes Moorehead) close in, Irene and Vincent try in vain to prove his innocence and elude capture.

I’m skipping over some lovely little plot twists to allow you to discover them for yourself.  But in the end, the heat is too hot, and Vincent is forced to leave town.

Vincent heads to Peru, and entreats Irene to come to him after a few years have passed and the heat is off him.  They’ll meet in a little bar along the coast.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in Dark Passage (1947)

In the final scene, we see Vincent in that bar, waiting.  He knows it’s crazy, he knows she won’t come.  We don’t know how long he’s been waiting, how many nights he’s sat alone in that bar waiting for Irene to walk through the door.  He probably curses himself a fool every time and promises to give up tomorrow.

But the next night he’s there.  And when he looks up, he sees her.

She’s standing in the restaurant, holding her purse and smiling at him.  Their eyes lock and they might as well be the only two in the world.  She crosses the room to him, he stands, and without a word they dance as the film fades to black.

Of all their films, I’ve always thought this moment perfectly encapsulated their love story.  Bogart, waiting, thinking love would never come.  Then suddenly looking up to find it right in front of him.  And Bacall, who, with the confidence of youth, brushed aside the obstacles and never wavered as she went to him.

Whether we’re talking about Vincent and Irene, or Bogie and Bacall, happiness looks good on them.

Dark Passage (1947) Verdict:  Give It A Shot

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.
  • De La Hoz, Cindy.  Bogie & Bacall:  Love Lessons from a Legendary Romance.  2015.
  • Bacall, Lauren.  By Myself.  1978.

Want more?  Click here for an index of all posts in the series, as well as source notes and suggested readings.

Dark Passage (1947) poster featuring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall

5 thoughts on “Dark Passage (1947):  Happiness Against All Odds

  1. I haven’t seen the film, but the ending you describe reminds me of Stephen King’s ending for the film adaptation of “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” (In the original novella, I don’t recall that Andy actually sees Red on the beach in the end as he does in the motion picture.)

    • Yep, exactly. I even read that some believe Dark Passage inspired the end of the Shawshank movie. Who knows if that’s true, but they definitely hit the same note.

  2. The BBC used to have regular Bogart seasons when I was a kid, and this was one of the best. Great combo, nice atmosphere, co-incidences happen in life, so why worry?

    I’m looking up Louis, quite a guy, palling around with Edith Wharton? That’s a ripe seam to mine right there…

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