Extolling virtues of ‘Dark Passage’: Bogie, Bacall and more

Dark Passage/1947/Warner Bros./106 min.

“Dark Passage” was the third of four films Bogart and Bacall made together.

I recently wrote about 1947’s “Lady in the Lake,” a Raymond Chandler/Philip Marlowe tale, starring and directed by Robert Montgomery. Its chief claim to fame is the experimental subjective camera – the story is told entirely from Marlowe’s point of view.

In that review, I noted that “Dark Passage,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, also from 1947, uses a subjective camera as well, though just for the first half-hour of the movie. The limited use of the technique in “Dark Passage” pays off much better than the full-on treatment in “Lady.” Though “Dark Passage” wasn’t a huge hit in its day – audiences weren’t crazy about being deprived of Bogart – it’s a film noir treasure that rarely gets its due.

Admittedly, the plausibility police would have a field day with this one. From the moment we meet Bogart as escaped San Quentin prisoner Vincent Parry and Bacall as Irene Jansen, his mysterious helper/wealthy benefactor, the phrase “never gonna happen” pops into your mind and lingers as the rather bizarre plot unfolds. This is not a realistic movie. So sue director/writer Delmer Daves and novelist David Goodis, who provided the source material.

Bogart has an awful lot to account for in “Dark Passage.”

I don’t think the filmmakers’ aim was to tell a story that’s relatable in a literal sense. The idea was to explore ideas about trust, identity, revenge, isolation and paranoia in the shell of an entertaining thriller that’s also infused with the famous Bogie-Bacall chemistry. At the same time, the sometimes-unwieldy narrative has depth and intelligence – it’s not merely a slapdash concoction of the outlandish and absurd. Goodis was a particularly pessimistic writer and a harsh social critic.

Here Bacall’s Irene is calling the shots, outwitting the cops and doling out shrewd suggestions to Vincent in her singular husky voice. Irene is the only person who believes in Vincent’s innocence –that he was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. Dressed to elegant perfection in every scene, she spurs Vincent to spruce up his wardrobe as well. But Vincent needs more than a fashion overhaul if he is to avoid recapture.

Besides the leads, “Dark Passage” has a tremendous cast – Bruce Bennett shines as Irene’s solid, decent friend and the inimitable Agnes Moorehead sparkles as Madge, the ultimate conniving shrew, with a penchant for animal prints, no less. Houseley Stevenson is unforgettable as the unsavory but highly skilled Dr. Walter Coley. The creepy doctor proves pivotal in Vincent’s quest to remake himself. Even the small parts –a small-time crook, a chatty cabbie and a diner waiter (played by Clifton Young, Tom D’Andrea and Tom Fadden) – are great fun to watch.

The Franz Waxman score, along with San Francisco locations and slick cinematography by Sid Hickox, result in a noir rapture – including a nightmare sequence that is still unsettling 65 years later. Every detail of this strange little work, though not a great film, feels intriguing, satisfying and true to its own (slightly warped) logic.

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‘Dark Passage’ quick hit

Dark Passage/1947/Warner Bros./106 min.

The sometimes-neglected “Dark Passage,” by writer/director Delmer Daves, has ingredients that result in a noir rapture: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall leading a terrific cast (Agnes Moorehead shines as a shrew with a penchant for animal prints), a bizarre story, Franz Waxman’s score, San Francisco locations and slick cinematography by Sid Hickox – including a nightmare sequence that is still unsettling 65 years later.

Every detail of this little film feels intriguing, satisfying and true to its own (slightly warped) logic. A subjective/first-person camera is used for the first half-hour of the movie. Based on a David Goodis novel.

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The Noir File: Lusty? Low-budget? We’re in!

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noirs (and neo-noirs) on cable TV. Just Turner Classic Movies (TCM) so far, but we’ll add more stations as more schedules come in. The times are Pacific Standard (listed first) and Eastern Standard.

Friday, July 13: Sam Fuller Day

Samuel Fuller

The following four films were all written and directed by noir master Fuller.

5 p.m. (8 p.m.): “I Shot Jesse James” (1949, Samuel Fuller). Western noir, with Preston Foster and John Ireland (as the “dirty little coward … who laid poor Jesse in his grave”). (TCM)

6:30 P.M. (9:30 p.m.): “Park Row” (1952, Samuel Fuller). Fuller’s personal favorite of all his movies was this lusty low-budget period film, set in the 1880s, about newspapering in New York. With Gene Evans (“The Steel Helmet”) as a two-fisted editor and Mary Welch as a femme fatale of a publisher. (TCM)

8 p.m. (11 p.m.): “Shock Corridor” (1963, Samuel Fuller). Aggressive, Pulitzer-hunting reporter Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) feigns madness and gets himself committed to a mental institution to track down a murderer. Constance Towers is the stripper masquerading as his sister. Quintessential Fuller. (TCM)

Constance Towers plays in “Naked Kiss” (shown here) and “Shock Corridor.”

9:45 p.m. (12:45 a.m.): “The Naked Kiss” (1964, Samuel Fuller). A hooker, a pervert, and a sleazy cop get involved in small-town scandal and murder. Stanley Cortez (“Night of the Hunter”) photographs noirishly, both here and in “Shock Corridor.” (TCM)

Also on Friday:

3 a.m. (6 a.m.) “Séance on a Wet Afternoon” (1964, British, Bryan Forbes). Acting fireworks from Oscar nominee Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough as a crooked spiritualist and her meek husband, tangled up in crime. Based on Mark McShane’s novel. (TCM)

3 p.m. (6 p.m.): “Wait Until Dark” (1967, Terence Young). From the hit stage play by Frederick (“Dial M for Murder”) Knott. Blind woman Audrey Hepburn sees no evil and tries to stave off Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston. (TCM)

Saturday, July 14

4 a.m. (7 a.m.): “The Black Book” (“Reign of Terror”) (1949, Anthony Mann). French Revolution noir, with Robert Cummings, Arlene Dahl, Richard Basehart and Beulah Bondi. Photographed by John Alton. (TCM)

Sunday, July 15

Richard Widmark is unforgettable in “Night and the City,” set in London.

5:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.): “Night and the City” (1950, Jules Dassin). Crooked fight promoter Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) tries to outrace the night. One of the all-time best film noirs, from Gerald Kersh’s London novel. With Gene Tierney, Herbert Lom and Googie Withers. (TCM)

7:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m.): “The Reckless Moment” (1949, Max Ophuls). Blackmail and murder invade a “happy” bourgeois home. Based on Elizabeth Sanxay Holding’s novel, “The Blank Wall,” and directed by one of the cinema’s greatest visual/dramatic stylists, Max Ophuls (“Letter from an Unknown Woman,” “Lola Montes,” “The Earrings of Madame de…”) With James Mason, Joan Bennett and Shepperd Strudwick. (TCM)

11 p.m. (2 a.m.): “Sawdust and Tinsel” (“The Naked Night”) (1953, Swedish, Ingmar Bergman). Film master Ingmar Bergman once said that his major early cinematic influences were “the film noir directors, Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh and Michael Curtiz.” Here is one of the most noir of all Bergman’s films (along with “Hour of the Wolf” and “The Serpent’s Egg”): a German Expressionist-style nightmare of a film about life at a circus, in three rings of adultery, jealousy and torment. (In Swedish, with English subtitles.) (TCM)

Thursday, July 19

Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten star in “Citizen Kane.”

8:15 a.m. (11:15 a.m.): “Caged” (1950, John Cromwell). One of the best and grimmest of the “women’s prison” pictures. A grim look at life locked up, with Eleanor Parker, Agnes Moorehead, Hope Emerson, Jan Sterling and Jane Darwell. (TCM)

11:15 p.m. (2:15 a.m.): “Citizen Kane” (1941, Orson Welles). A dark look at the sensational, profligate life of one of the world’s most powerful and egotistical newspaper magnates, the late Charles Foster Kane (modeled on William Randolph Hearst and acted by George Orson Welles). Still the greatest movie of all time, it’s also a virtual lexicon of film-noir visual and dramatic style, as seminal in its way as “The Maltese Falcon” or “M.” Scripted by Welles and one-time Hearst crony Herman Mankiewicz, photographed by Gregg Toland, with music by Bernard Herrmann and ensemble acting by the Mercury Players: Welles, Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloane, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, George Coulouris, Ruth Warrick, Paul Stewart, et al. (“Rosebud? I tell you about Rosebud…”) (TCM)

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Frank DeCaro dishes up heaping helpings of camp in ‘The Dead Celebrity Cookbook’

“Highly offensive and exceedingly faggy.” It's all good for retro cookbook author Frank DeCaro.

“There’s a name for someone who says, ‘I can’t watch a movie in black and white.’ Stupid!”

So said Frank DeCaro, author of “The Dead Celebrity Cookbook,” last night at a book signing in West Hollywood. A writer, critic and performer, DeCaro hosts a morning call-in program on Sirius XM satellite radio and writes the Icons column for CBS’ Watch! magazine.

He also likes to cook and throw parties. When the celebs were kind enough to die, as he puts it, the book seemed a natural. Highlights from noiristas include: Otto Preminger’s Deviled Eggs, Joan Crawford’s Poached Salmon, Bette Davis’ Red Flannel Hash, Lucille Ball’s Sunday Night Goulash, Fred MacMurray’s Flemish Pot Roast, Truman Capote’s Fettuccine, Anthony Perkins’ Tuna Salad, Alfred Hitchcock’s Quiche Lorraine, Janet Leigh’s Gâteau Doré, Agnes Moorehead’s Lobster Mousse, William Holden’s Hamburgers à la Hong Kong and Gregory Peck’s Ratatouille.

DeCaro’s favorite: Liberace’s Sticky Buns. “If Liberace didn’t know how funny that was, then the whole world crumbles,” said DeCaro. He is up front that he did not test every recipe, particularly Don Ho’s pigs’ feet soup. DeCaro suggests not picking Crawford’s salmon as a first effort. “Don’t start with Joan Crawford; that’s always good advice.”

And be warned: because many of the recipes are retro, they might call for fat-gram disasters like canned cream of mushroom soup. “You have to remember that frozen and canned food was not considered tacky,” he said. “It was considered modern, instant, groovy!”

Frank DeCaro and FNB at Book Soup in West Hollywood

Having spent 15 years collecting recipes, DeCaro also has plenty of noshing trivia. Did you know that per capita Hawaii eats the most SPAM and Utah eats the most JELL-O?

Granted, the book might cause some to wince or groan (he includes a pie recipe from Karen Carpenter). One detractor told DeCaro she thought his book was “highly offensive and exceedingly faggy,” which pleases DeCaro to no end. He is now working on a Christmas edition.

Speaking of maximizing opportunity, DeCaro’s domestic advice was not limited to the kitchen. He’s fond of telling his husband Jim Colucci: “You cannot sleep with anyone but me. Unless it’s good for your career.”

“The Dead Celebrity Cookbook: A Resurrection of Recipes from More Than 145 Stars of Stage and Screen” (HCI Books, $19.95)

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