When the competition is To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep and Key Largo, it's hard not to come in fourth place, and that may be why 1947's Dark Passage has always been considered the least of the four Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall on-screen pairings. But Delmer Daves' experimental film noir is a solid entry in the genre, and well worth watching for more than just another taste of the Bogey-Bacall magic. The film starts as Vincent Parry (Bogart) escapes from jail, only to find a ride from the conveniently parked Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), who was not only doing some painting near San Quentin, but also went to Vincent's trial daily and is sympathetic to his plight. Vincent was sentenced to life in jail for killing his wife, based on the testimony of Madge (Agnes Moorehead), and Madge is also friends with Irene and is jealous over Irene's relationship with Bob (Bruce Bennett). Vincent hides out at Irene's until he decides to strike out on his own, meeting a cabbie who takes him to a plastic surgeon. Until this point, Bogey is kept off screen, as the film is constructed via his character's first-person point-of-view, and it isn't until after the plastic surgery that the character's face is Bogey's, but the surgery leads to a part of the story where he's wrapped up in bandages and can't talk. It's a perverse sort of pleasure delaying Bogart's entrance he's kept off screen until the hour mark, when he begins to investigate his wife's murder more closely after a friend he turned to help from gets murdered. As the first 40 minutes are mostly done through the first-person POV, Daves creates subtle menace in every conversation Parry has as he tries to navigate his way through San Francisco (and there is some great location work). But it's the chemistry between Bogart and Bacall that makes much of the movie snap, and Bacall sexual presence is always a welcome addition to any film. She has cinema's most suggestive eyebrows, and they may have had to alter the film because of them: The plastic surgeon tells Bogart to tell whomever helps him to tie him up when he goes to bed so he doesn't thrash, which seems to be an instruction too suggestive for Bogart to give Bacall (one imagines her eyebrows ruining every take). As a mystery, Dark Passage is lacking there are only two real suspects, and the reveal is not all that surprising. But what makes the film great is how Delmer Daves directed it, with a workable gimmick and the way the story heads to its conclusion with Parry mixed up in moral gray-areas one doesn't expect. It's apparent that the movie has a fan in Frank Darabont the endings of this and The Shawshank Redemption have some parallels. Warner presents Dark Passage in the original Academy ratio (1.33:1) and monaural DD 1.0 . A 10-minute featurette "Hold Your Breath and Cross Your Fingers" (which damns Passage with faint praise) and the theatrical trailer are included, but one of the best reasons to buy the disc is the additional Fritz Freleng-directed Looney Tunes short "Slick Hare." It's one of the fabulous Looney Tunes that features numerous celebrity parodies, with the main one being Bogey himself. Snap-case (reissued in keep-case in July 2006).
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