The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Dark Passage (1947) Classic Movie Review 39

Dark Passage (1947)

Dark Passage (1947)

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I was going to take on Key Largo (1948) but I got so excited by the crazy cabbies in Episode 38 – 99 River Street (1953) that I wanted to jump to another movie that had crazy cabbies as well and that movie is Episode 39 – Dark Passage (1947), another fine film noir classic featuring Humphrey Bogart and his beautiful wife Lauren Bacall.

Of course, Humphrey Bogart, playing the role of escaped convict Vincent Parry, is the star but they made the strange choice of not showing his face until around the one-hour mark. Although there are lots more to tell about Bogie I covered him in Episode 25 – Sahara (1943).

Lauren Bacall played the role of Irene Jansen. Bacall was born in 1924 in New York City. I’m seeing a trend. Bacall first wanted to be a dancer but had changed to acting by the time she finished high school. After high school, she began studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York after and started working in off-Broadway plays.

The 19-year-old beauty was featured on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. The wife of director Howard Hawks saw her on the magazine and got her husband to give her a screen test. As a result of the screen test she was cast as Marie Browning AKA Slim in To Have and Have Not (1944). It was in this thriller opposite the great Humphrey Bogart, where she spoke the immortal lines – Just put your lips together and blow. After meeting Bogart on the set the pair married the next year and remained married until his death. It was also the first of four Bogie-Bacall films.

Confidential Agent (1945) was followed by The Big Sleep (1946) again with Bogart. The next year the couple appeared together in Dark Passage (1947). This was followed by the classic Key Largo (1948) where Bogie and Becall were teamed with Edward G. Robinson, and Lionel Barrymore.

Becall was cast in Bright Leaf (1950) with co-star Gary Cooper. In 1953, Becall appeared in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953). Her co-stars for this comedy were Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. Following the filming of Designing Woman (1957) Humphrey Bogart died of throat cancer. He next movie, The Gift of Love (1958) with Robert Stack flopped. Becall moved back to New York and began working on Broadway.

In 1964, she returned to film with Shock Treatment (1964) and Sex and the Single Girl (1964). Sex was a comedy with Henry Fonda and Tony Curtis. She alternated between the stage and screen turning in movies such as Harper (1966) with Paul Newman and Julie Harris, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) with Ingrid Bergman among a cast of many. In 1976, she starred with John Wayne in his final film The Shootist (1976). Wayne was cast in The Shootist (1976) as an aging gunfighter dying of cancer and Becall was a widow that rented rooms. As the pair drew closer in the movie it was clear that if the two characters had met at a different stage is life they would have fallen deeply in love. Jimmy Stewart and Ron Howard add to make this a wonderful movie that should not be missed. Wayne died in 1979 of cancer.

She made fewer films as she aged but always showed a classiness that is missing today. Her later movies include The Fan (1981), Mr. North (1988), Misery (1990), and My Fellow Americans (1996) a comedy with Jack Lemon and James Garner. Becall continued to do movie and voice work until she died in 2014 at the age of 89.

Bruce Bennett played the role of Bob. I covered him in Episode 25 – Sahara (1943)

Agnes Moorehead played the role of the stinker and all time bad person, Madge. All the stuff I will say about Moorehead after this does not matter to me. To me, she will always be the very model of a mother-in-law from her time as the witch Endora on “Bewitched” (1964-1972).

Born in 1900, Moorhead’s father was a minister and her mother was a singer so natural she began to sing solo at church by the age of three. From around the age of 10-14, she was a dancer and singer at the St. Louis Municipal Opera. An avid student she received an MA and Ph.D. While teaching English in a public school she would travel to Paris to study pantomime with Marcel Marceau.

Moorehead was working in radio by 1923 and graduated with honors in 1929 from the American Academy for Dramatic Arts. She continued in radio through the 1950s. After work on “The Shadow” and other radio shows she met Orson Welles and became a charter member of the Mercury Theater group and she was involved in 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast. You know, the one where many people thought we were actually being invaded by Martians. This broadcast got the attention of RKO and the group was in the movie business.

Her first movie roles was the mother of Charles in Citizen Kane (1941). She played a variety of roles in movies such as The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948), Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), Jane Eyre (1943), The Woman in White (1948), The Lost Moment (1947), Dark Passage (1947), and the horror film The Bat (1959).

Moorhead was also in The Conqueror (1956) which has the rep of causing everyone associated with it to become stricken with cancer. The exteriors for the film were shot 137 miles downwind from the Nevada Proving Grounds. In 1953, 11 above ground nuclear bombs were detonated. Film producer Howard Hughes had 60 tons of the soil sent back to Hollywood to be used on sets.

In 1980, a study found that 91 of 220 people involved had developed cancer of some form. Deaths include Moorehead, John Wayne, Dick Powell, Susan Hayward and Pedro Armendáriz. However, actors such as Moorhead and Wayne were heavy smokers with the Duke smoking up to 6 packs a day. You know that is a lot of cigarettes and some toilet smoking was clearly involved.

The is a 43% chance that a person in America will get cancer so the deaths from this movie are a little higher than normal. However, Dr. Robert Pendleton, professor of biology at the University of Utah, stated, “With these numbers, this case could qualify as an epidemic. The connection between fallout radiation and cancer in individual cases has been practically impossible to prove conclusively. But in a group this size you’d expect only 30-some cancers to develop. With 91 cancer cases, I think the tie-in to their exposure on the set of The Conqueror would hold up in a court of law.”

Tom D’Andrea played the role of Cab drive Sam. D’Andrea was in a lot of movies released from 1945 to 1950 starting with Pride of the Marines (1945) and ending with a couple of great ones, The Next Voice You Hear… (1950) where God starts broadcasting his voice over the radio and Kill the Umpire (1950) with William Bendix. D’Andrea is probably better known for the 7-years he spent playing Jim Gillis on the “The Life of Riley” (1953-59) again with William Bendix.

Rory Mallinson played the only friend to the escaped convict George Fellsinger. Mallinson was born in 1913 in Atlanta, GA. Although he had 150 movie and television credits he is best known for Dark Passage (1947), Possessed (1947) and Pride of the Marines (1945). He died 1976 in California.

Houseley Stevenson played illegal plastic surgeon, Dr. Walter Coley. Stevenson was born in Briton in 1879 but ended up working in a San Francisco glass factory until his thirties when he took up acting. He went to the Pasadena Community Playhouse and did very well even becoming a teacher. He had 74 movie and television credits and was helped into a certain type of role by the craggy appearance of his face. He died in 1953.

Clifton Young played the role of small time hood Baker. As a child, he played “Bonedust” as “Our Gang” started being recorded with sound. Of the gang, he is second or third in adult work behind Jackie Cooper and maybe Dickie Moore. Young had a good run in the post-war years that included Dark Passage (1947), Pursued (1947), Possessed (1947), and Blood on the Moon (1948). He had other work and was a villain in a couple of ‘Roy Rogers’ Republic oaters. In 1951, he had a tough divorce. Hey, not many are easy. Young moved into a hotel and died smoking in bed.


This movie starts with a prisoner escaping from San Quentin Prison in a garbage barrel. You can’t see his face but you know it is Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart). He rocks the barrel back and forth and all you can see are his hands. The barrel flies off the truck and rolls down a hill and he would have been killed, playing the role of the escaped convict. When he gets out of the barrel the movie is shot Point of View for Parry until the hour mark or so. You hear the voice of Bogart as Parry is thinking. He buries his prison shirt and heads to the road to catch a ride. sure enough, what we think is some hick, with circus tent upholstery in his car gives him a ride. The driver, named Baker (Clifton Young) starts with the questions: where’s your shirt, why aren’t you tanned, how did you get your shoes muddy, what kind of pants are those? About this time the announcement of the escaped convict comes over the radio. Parry gets mad and wants out. When the driver stops Parry slugs him and steals his clothes. He is about to murder him with a rock when a car pulls up.

Driving the car is Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) and she invites the convict into her car. The car is a sweet woody that any surfer would be proud to own. Parry hides in the back under a painting tarp. She plays it cool and gets him through the police roadblock explaining that she is a painter and there are wet pictures under the tarps. The police don’t look very hard. Jansen takes Parry back to San Francisco and sneaks him into her apartment.

Parry wants to get away as quickly as possible but Jansen convinces him to stay for awhile. She shows him letters to the editor that she wrote during his trial. She tells him how to package and dispose of his clothes. There are a lot of criminal masterminds in this movie. Jansen goes to buy him new clothes and Parry showers and shaves. After the shower, Parry goes down and is listening to legitimate swing. Jansen had mentioned legitimate swing earlier in the movie. As best as I can tell from my research is its something the big bands started playing in the 30s and today it would be improvisational jazz. Its counterpoint was sweet jazz played by a traditional straight band. Basically, it was the kids rebelling against the squares and somehow it got tied to film noir.

There is a knock on the door and he recognizes the voice as Madge (Agnes Moorehead) and I am like how does he know Jansen’s friends. He tells her to go away through the door.

Like any good criminal, he goes to Jansen’s bedroom and starts rifling through her clothes drawers. Just to note the scales of justice are sitting on her dresser. Parry finds out that Jansen’s father was accused of killing her step-mother and died in prison. So that explains that she had a little more than a bad boy complex. Jansen comes back with the clothes and busts him cold.

At dinner, Jansen explains that she was out painting and heard about the escape and came looking for him. They start talking about Bob (Bruce Bennett) who called earlier in the day for a date. Jansen says Bob was engaged to Madge, but she despises him now and doesn’t want anyone to have him. They also mentioned that Madge testified against Parry at the trial. Knowing that Madge will come back Parry leaves into the night.

There is a taxi waiting for him driven by Sam (Tom D’Andrea). Sam starts chatting him up and Parry gets hostile. Before long he reveals he recognizes Parry. But it’s okay. He wants to help and just happens to know an illegal plastic surgeon. Sam makes sure Parry has $200 to pay for the plastic surgery, a place to stay for a week while he heals, and goes off to make a 3am appointment with the doctor.

Parry goes to the apartment of his only friend George Fellsinger (Rory Mallinson). The sleeping George has a newspaper that shows a picture of Parry. The face is that of actor Frank Wilcox. They don’t explain the relationship between the two except Parry has always been his only friend. He knows Madge and Parry’s dead wife. George said that Madge framed Parry. He says he will be staying with George for only a week while he heals. George gives some background on how shallow Parry’s dead wife was as a person.

Parry goes to Dr. Walter Coley (Houseley Stevenson) and Sam answers the door. The Doc goes over his plan. The Doc starts messing with him when he is in the chair and says he can make him look like a bulldog or a monkey. When Parry is under he starts having flashing scenes of terror and Jansen telling him he will be alright. Parry wakes up at 37 minutes into the film and for the first time we see the face of Bogart but he is covered in bandages. He tells Parry that the surgery will make him lose ten years older covering the age discrepancy between he and Irene. The Doc explains how ethical he is and Sam drives Parry to George’s apartment.

When Parry goes to George’s apartment he finds that George has been murdered with his beloved trumpet. Of course, Parry picks up the horn so his prints will be all over it before he flees. He makes the painful post operation walk back to Jansen’s apartment. In the parking lot outside he sees the car with the tent canvas seat covers.

He drops at Jansen’s door from pain. She finds him and starts taking care of him. Bob and Madge show up. Madge is trying to stay with Jansen saying she is afraid of Parry coming to kill her. Jansen tells Bob she has found someone else. Bob and Madge leave.

The next morning the papers say Parry murdered George because his prints are all over the trumpet. Parry denies it and Jansen buys the story. After a week of hiding Jansen helps Parry take off the bandages. Wahla a walking talking Humphrey Bogart. 60 minutes by my mark. Now that he has his new face he leaves Jansen. It is very sad as his cab comes to quickly. Parry ends up going into an all night diner. Making small talk with the cook, Parry ask about the horse races. The undercover cop at the end of the row comes over because the racing season ended two months prior. Parry doesn’t have any id but tells the cop it is in his hotel room. As the duo walks through the darkened streets Parry jumps in front of a lone car and gets away.

Parry quickly checks into a room and about a minute later Baker shows up. You know Baker the dumbass that picked Perry up and lost his clothes to him. Since Parry didn’t kill Baker on the day of the escape, Baker woke up in time to get Irene Jensen’s tag number. He has been following Parry every since. Baker, a small-time hood says he wants $60,000 of the 200k that Jensen has in the bank or he will turn Parry and her into the law. Baker makes Parry drive and Parry takes a “shortcut.” Baker, the dumbass rides along to below the Golden Gate Bridge. Parry disarms the small time hood and by questioning him finds out that Madge is the killer of George and Parry’s wife. Baker the dumbass grabs for the gun and in the tussle go over the cliff and dies on the rocks. Now Parry should be guilty of some type of murder at this point.

He heads over to Madge’s apartment and pretends he is a friend of Bob’s and wants to date her. Was there ever a time in America where a strange man could show up at the door, be let in, and ask for a date? Me thinks not. After a bit of banter, he reveals he is Parry and has written everything down about the first two murders. He tries to get her to sign it but she refuses and runs away. Now this part is not clear. Madge either jumps through a glass window and dies or she accidentally fell through a glass window and dies. Either way, she is dead and Parry will be blamed.

Parry knows he has to leave so he plans to go to Mexico first and then to South America. He phones Irene and tells her his plan. This must be where Andy DuFrane got the idea to tell Red about a small village in Mexico.

Anyway, the next shot shows Parry sitting in a ritz night spot in South America wear a very expensive suit. He looks up and see Irene Jensen across the floor. The pair embrace and the movie ends.

World-Famous Short Summary – Rich girl has bad boy and daddy issues

Dark Passage (1947)

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