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

The Petrified Forest (1936):  NO BOGART NO DEAL

Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest (1936)
The Petrified Forest (1936) Opening Banner.  Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Humphrey Bogart.  Directed by Archie Mayo.

I want to tell you a love story.

There never was a match less destined for success—a monumental age gap, a jealous wife, and two people who had not grown up in homes with happy marriages.

He’d seen it all, done it all, and already had two divorces under his belt.  She was a teenager in her first film, so nervous she had to hold her chin down to disguise her trembling.

This is the story of Bogie & Bacall.

PART ONE:  Bogart Before Bacall

We begin in 1935, with a down-on-his luck Humphrey Bogart.  After thirteen years in show business, he was broke, drinking too much, grieving the death of his father and on the brink of his second divorce.

He’d had some small early successes on Broadway, then went to Hollywood and landed a dozen parts so small that no one at Warner Brothers remembered him.  He returned to New York and found Broadway gutted by the Depression.  Work was scarcer than ever.

His friend Robert Sherwood suggested him for the role of the gangster on the run in his new play The Petrified Forest, starring Leslie Howard.

Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in the Petrified Forest (1936)
Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest

The play was a success, and Warner Brothers bought the rights.  They wanted Howard to reprise his stage role in the film, and cast Bette Davis as his leading lady. Howard was a star with serious clout in those days, and he insisted Bogart reprise his role as well. 

When Jack Warner dithered, Howard sent him a telegram saying, “NO BOGART NO DEAL” and the die was cast.

Bogart got fifth billing.  He was down to his last shot, and he knew it.

The Petrified Forest opens on a bar-b-que joint in the middle of the Arizona desert.  Gabrielle (Davis) works there with her father and grandfather.

Alan Squire (Leslie Howard) arrives dusty, broke, and looking for a meal.  He’s a well-traveled but world-weary writer and intellectual, and Gabrielle is instantly smitten.  She tells him of her desire to see France.

Bette Davis and Leslie Howard in The Petrified Forest (1936)
Bette Davis and Leslie Howard

The budding love story is interrupted when escaped convict Duke Mantee (Bogart) shows up at the diner demanding a place to hide for the night.

Bogart is ferocious in the role, a desperate man with haunted eyes.  None of his hostages doubt for a moment that he will kill them if they cross him, and yet he shows glimpses of humanity toward the grandfather, who is thrilled he will have a story to tell future customers about the time he was held up by the infamous Duke Mantee.

The Petrified Forest

It becomes clear during the standoff that the Arizona forest isn’t the only thing that is petrified—nearly all the characters long for the past or have effectively finished living.  Grandpa tells stories of the time he was shot by Billy the Kid.  Alan Squire believes time has passed him by, and Duke is bone weary of the world.

Only Gabrielle lives for the future—a future in France she will likely never see.

Alan carries a life insurance policy among his meager possessions, and he secretly changes the beneficiary to Gabrielle.  He asks Duke to kill him so that she can use the money to escape the Petrified Forest and live out her dreams in France.

At the end of the film, gunfire erupts and Duke does as Alan asked.  Gabrielle cradles Alan as he dies, unaware of his sacrifice as the credits roll.

The Petrified Forest garnered good reviews, and it’s a good if not great film that mostly holds up today.  Though it is really just a filmed version of the play, with no real touches to shape it into a movie.

Critics and audiences responded to Bogart—enough that Warner Brothers gave him a long term contract.  But one didn’t become a star in a fifth billed role.  Even with the contract, Bogart knew he was hanging onto the cliff of his career with a single finger.

His marriage wasn’t in much better shape.

And what was the future love of his life doing in 1936?

Lauren Bacall was at the Highland Manor Boarding School for Girls.

Their paths had not yet crossed.  The time was not yet right.

Both had some growing up to do first.

The Petrified Forest (1936) Verdict - Film Buffs Only

Sources

  • Sperber, A.M. and Eric Lax.  Bogart.  1997.

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

Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, and Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest (1936)