Opening Statements

Humphrey Bogart plays a man convicted of murdering his wife. He escapes prison and attempts to clear his name.

Review

Vincent Parry is a man with big problems. Falsely imprisoned for the murder of his wife, hounded by vindictive enemies and now on the run after a hackneyed escape from prison. He is picked up by artist Irene Jansen, who decides to risk helping him clear his name

The 3rd out of 4 Bogie and Bacall collaborations is unfortunately, the weakest. A mixed bag with highly charismatic performances, but damaged by poor writing and production decisions.

The main problem most people will have with the film is that the production crew made the decision to mostly shoot in the first person perspective for the first part of the film. This leads to all kinds of awkward angles, disembodied arms moving in and out of the frame, Bogie’s disembodied voice sounding (correctly), like it came direct from a recording booth and obvious discrepancies in height due to bulky camera equipment. Even when the perspective changes, his face is always conveniently obscured.

 Dark passage disembodied arm Robert Odierna Criminal Movie Reviews mugshot crimeGet used to this view, for the first 30 minutes this is all you’ll see of Bogie.

It just looks wrong to the eyes of most viewers, even in a generation used to Go-Pro footage. While a daring artistic move, the poor implementation badly wounds the movie. Especially since the reason most people see a movie with a major star; is obviously, to literally see the star. This really hurts suspension of disbelief and inhibits the audiences ability to relate to the protagonist. While I give them props for the attempt, it might have worked better with a star less distinctive and famous then Humphrey Bogart was at this point in his career.

 Dark passage Bogart Robert Odierna Criminal Movie Reviews mugshot crimeThis is the view until about 60 minutes in. 

Another issue is the number of unfortunate coincidences that litter this film like land mines. The nosy guy Bogie meets at the beginning also happens to be best friends with Bacall’s character and proves to be a nuisance. That she just happens to be at the right place at the right time to rescue, despite not having planned it in advance. Especially since she just happens to be the daughter of a man wrongfully executed and just happens to have heavily followed the trial.

 Dark passage  Bacall Robert Odierna Criminal Movie Reviews mugshot crimeLauren Bacall as Irene Jansen. She takes in stray escapees.

That the few people who would be likely to help an escaped convict conveniently happen to be at the right place at the right time. Another example is the cabby he runs into who just happens to know a skilled plastic surgeon willing to operate on a criminal.

 Dark passage doctor Robert Odierna Criminal Movie Reviews mugshot crimeSure, I’d trust him with a scalpel!

That one of the witnesses at his trial, who personally hates him, also happens to be in her social circle.

Dark passage doctor Agnes Moorehead Odierna Criminal Movie Reviews mugshot crimeAgnes Moorehead chewing some scenery as scary Madge.

These “coincidences” would have made for a spectacular psychological or conspiracy thriller with the right plot. Imagine the paranoia these “coincidences” could inspire if handled by a director like Alfred Hitchcock. But sadly, they litter the ground unused and only serve to muddy the plot with their intriguing, missed possibilities.

The rest of the story is typical “hero clearing his good name” fare and ends predictably for a Bogie and Bacall vehicle. Fortunately the final reels are shot conventionally and feature some decent acting. Unfortunately it is too little, too late for this ambitious film and features even more spectacular coincidences and plot holes when the plot gets backed into a corner.

Other than the unfortunate perspective issues. The film is beautifully shot, with deep, rich shadows and lighting highlights and beautiful set design and locations. The actors generally give good performances and the pacing is decent. It’s really unfortunate that all this is damaged by plot issues and unfortunate avant garde stylings in the camera work.

Dark passage Night shot Robert Odierna Criminal Movie Reviews mugshot crimeOne of the better shots. Excellent use of light and shadow in this scene.

Verdict: 2.5 out of 5 gavels

An interesting plot and Bogie and Bacall at their usual best, still can’t save the film from its varied continuity issues. The unfortunate use of awkward first person perspective for the majority of the film also damages what should have been a slam dunk. IMHO The clunky use of this perspective is a misdemeanor crime against the laws of cinematography at the very least.

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