The Noir File: Bogie, Bacall shine in quirky ‘Dark Passage’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and  pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICKS OF THE WEEK

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

Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves). Friday, June 14:  8 p.m. (5 p.m.)

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.

You can read the full FNB review here.

NOIR WRITERS SERIES: DAVID GOODIS
All this month on its Friday Night Spotlight screenings,  TCM is presenting a series of classic film noirs, with each Friday night devoted to movies based on or written by (or both) one of  six top-notch noir authors: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, David Goodis, Jonathan Latimer and Cornell Woolrich.

Tonight the spotlight is on David Goodis, one of the strangest and most poignantly self-destructive of the great film noir novelists. Goodis, a well-educated  Philadelphian, and an outsider for most of his life, came to Hollywood when his best-selling novel, “Dark Passage” was sold to Warner Brothers as a vehicle for the red hot movie team of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. “Dark Passage” allowed Bogie and Bacall to shine, and is now considered a classic.

“Dark Passage” uses a subjective camera for the first half-hour of the movie.

But Goodis, who liked to explore the lower depths,  proved too weird even for Movieland, and he soon returned East where he spent the rest of his relatively brief life (1917-1967) writing pulp novels for paperback publishers, which he occasionally sold to the movies. (See below.)

They were cheap, supposedly trashy books, churned out fast. Goodis filled them with a  keen insight into darkness, loneliness and the underworld, a flair for strong perverse characterization and a poetic command of language few writers in his genre could match. “Dark Passage” remains his most famous novel. The most personal and revealing  may be “The Burglar,” directed by his Philly friend Paul Wendkos. It’s a powerful film, but the book is better.

David Goodis was weird, even for Hollywood.

(The “Noir Writers” films, all of which show on Friday evening, June 14, were curated and will be introduced by film noir expert Eddie Muller.)

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “Dark Passage” (See Above.)

10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “Nightfall” (1956, Jacques Tourneur). With Aldo Ray, Anne Bancroft and Brian Keith. Reviewed on FNB, May 29, 2012.

11:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m.): “The Burglar” (1957, Paul Wendkos). David Goodis’  eerie, haunting novel about a gang of burglars, inlcuding platonic lovers Dan Duryea and Jayne Mansfield, and how they come apart. The diretcor, Paul Wendkos (“The Mephisto Waltz”) was another Philadelphia guy and a friend of Goodis’, and he did very well by the book, which is one of the great pulp paperback novels of the ’50s. The movie isn’t on that level, but, in its way, it’s a neglected, if melancholy, gem.

Charles Aznavour and Michèle Mercier in François Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player.”

1:15 a.m. (10:15 p.m.): “Shoot the Piano Player” (1960, François Truffaut). The greatest movie ever made from a David Goodis novel is also the ultimate fusion of film noir with the French New Wave. Noir-lover François Truffaut (“Jules and Jim”) takes one of Goodis’ best novels, “Down There,” resets it in a Paris dive, and comes up with melancholy black-and-white movie magic. Truffaut makes the material his own. He keeps the original  tale of a concert pianist (legendary torch singer Charles Aznavour) who, heartbroken at the loss of his love, goes down there to the depths of show biz – tinkling the keys in a neighborhood bar, until, despite his best efforts, he falls in love again and falls in with criminals. Like most Goodis stories, it’s a bluesy tale touched with terror.  But Truffaut opens it up with innovative filmmaking and breezy, saucy, seemingly off-the-cuff scenes that shoot vibrant life into a very dark subject. [Read more...]

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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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Director takes a gamble in yuletide yarn ‘Lady in the Lake’

Lady in the Lake/1947/MGM/103 min.

Mistletoe and holly, egg nog and parties, guns and murder. In “Lady in the Lake,” based on Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name, actor/director Robert Montgomery mixes Christmas traditions with ironic noir style.

After Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) hires Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery), their relationship morphs from business to pleasure.

While sleigh bells are jingling, Montgomery’s Philip Marlowe, the famed private eye, is trying to find a mystery woman named Chrystal Kingsby. Chrystal is married to Derace Kingsby (Leon Ames), the owner of a book publishing company in Los Angeles; she was last seen at the Little Fawn Lake resort.

Marlowe’s been hired by one of Derace Kingsby’s employees: uptight and bossy Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter), a sharp-tongued executive editor with designs on her boss and his money. She chooses her detective not from the yellow pages but from a crime-caper manuscript Marlowe submits for publication – some effective multitasking she’ll no doubt include on her performance review. Though Adrienne’s all about business and bank balances at first, she softens as sparks fly between her and Marlowe.

Heading to Bay City (based on Santa Monica), Marlowe checks in with Chris Lavery (Dick Simmons), a Southern-transplant playboy with whom Chrystal was having an affair. But a punch from Lavery lands Marlowe in jail and he wakes up to questioning from Capt. Kane (Tom Tully) and Lt. DeGarmot (Lloyd Nolan). After his release, Marlowe learns that a woman’s body has been recovered from the lake and that the caretaker has been charged with murdering his wife, Muriel (Jayne Meadows). He also finds Lavery’s dead body.

From there, as Marlowe puts together the pieces of the puzzle – a multiple-identity scam, another murder, several soured love affairs, Chrystal’s part in the proceedings – Adrienne realizes that Marlowe, not Derace Kingsby, is the man for her. (Look out for blonde actress Lila Leeds as a receptionist at the publishing company. Leeds was arrested with Robert Mitchum on Aug. 31, 1948, for possession of marijuana.)

More interesting than the plot is way the movie was shot. Montgomery plays Marlowe but we see very little of him in character because Montgomery as director took a stylistic risk by using a subjective/first-person camera and telling the story from Marlowe’s point of view.

The audience sees Marlowe in the mirror when he pays Adrienne a visit.

First-person camera had been used before – briefly in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931, Rouben Mamoulian) and “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk) and most notably for about 30 minutes in “Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves, starring Bogart & Bacall). But this was the first time the whole movie (other than a few times when Marlowe speaks directly to the audience) unspooled in this manner.

It’s a daring experiment and a bigger deal than you might think, involving a number of technical, staging and acting challenges. In their excellent commentary on the Warner Home Video DVD, Alain Silver and James Ursini provide insight as to what this artistic decision meant for Montgomery.

For example, the film has very long takes and far fewer cuts than most movies of its time – this serves to build suspense but is tough to execute. For the actors as well (other than Montgomery) this presented hurdles. They were required to address the camera directly (something they’d been trained to avoid) and they faced the pressure of knowing that if they goofed toward the end of the take, the whole lengthy shot would have to be redone.

Bad girl Muriel (Jayne Meadows) corners the unseen Marlowe.

Additionally, Silver and Ursini point out that because “Lady in the Lake” was an MGM production (as was “The Postman Always Rings Twice” the year before), it had to conform somewhat to the studio’s preferred look: high production values and high-key lighting – unlike most noirs, which used low-key light and featured richer shadows, more intense chiaroscuro.

So, did the shooting experiment work? Chandler, who drafted a script that Steve Fisher rewrote, thought Montgomery made a mistake. And having watched “Lady in the Lake: a few times, I’m inclined to agree. First, despite the marketing gimmick of putting the viewer in the detective’s shoes and urging him/her to solve the crime, “Lady” feels artificial and stilted, perhaps because the long takes lend a slightly stagey feel to the performances.

Lila Leeds, who plays the receptionist at the publishing company, was arrested with Robert Mitchum in 1948 for possession of marijuana.

Not seeing much of Montgomery/Marlowe makes it hard to connect to the story (typically Chandlerian in its twists and turns) and puts too much weight on the shoulders of the other players. While Totter and the rest are very capable, they can’t quite pull off such a distorted view for the duration of the movie. It’s too big a hole for any cast to fill.

And Marlowe isn’t particularly sympathetic because we only glimpse him here and there instead of seeing him interact with the others – especially Totter. For their romance to work, we need to see them together!

That said, I don’t want to get all Bah-Humbug about this yuletide yarn. “Lady in the Lake” is fun to watch just for the novelty value and I love to picture Adrienne sprawled on a sofa and whipping out her red pen to shape Marlowe’s manuscript as he mixes her a martini, garnished with a candy cane, natch.

“Lady in the Lake” will show in 35 mm at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on Wednesday, Dec. 19, as part of Noir City Xmas 3. The evening will also feature the unveiling of the full schedule for the Noir City 11 film festival.

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The Noir File: The Great Film Noir Couple: Bogart and Bacall

By Michael Wilmington
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A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the movies listed below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).
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PICK OF THE WEEK
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A Night with Bogie and Bacall: Wednesday, Sept. 5, 8 p.m.-5:30 a.m. (5 p.m.-2:30 a.m.)
They were the King and Queen of Film Noir: Humphrey DeForest Bogart and Lauren “Betty” Bacall. He was insolent and tough; she was insolent and beautiful, and they made dark, wonderful, wise-cracking music together – in a noir world of shadowy streets, nightclubs, guns, crooks, cops, cigarettes, whiskey, trench coats (for him) and evening gowns (for her).

Betty and Bogie were one of Hollywood’s great couples.

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Director-producer Howard Hawks introduced them (as Steve and Slim) in his classic William Faulkner-scripted adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway sea novel “To Have and Have Not.” Hawks reunited them for his adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s private-eye thriller “The Big Sleep.”
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They made two more classic noirs (“Dark Passage” and “Key Largo”) and, from then until Bogie’s death in 1957, they reigned as one of Hollywood’s great couples. They were sardonic, they were sexy, they were brilliant, they were tough and elegant and terrific. They’ve never been replaced. They never will be.
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Wednesday, Sept. 5
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8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “To Have and Have Not” (1944, Howard Hawks). With Bogart, Bacall and Walter Brennan.
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10 p.m. (7 p.m.): “The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). Bogie had already incarnated Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco sleuth Sam Spade in John Huston’s nonpareil movie of “The Maltese Falcon.” Here, he recreates that other quintessential private eye, Philip Marlowe (from LA), in Howard Hawks’ equally classic film of Raymond Chandler’s best detective novel, “The Big Sleep.” Bacall is the most gorgeous of the many murder suspects. (As a bonus, she trades horse-racing double entendres with Bogie and sings a ’40s jazz hit.) Dorothy Malone sparkles as a sexy bookseller; Elisha Cook, Jr. plays the patsy. As scripted by William Faulkner, Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, this is less dark than Chandler’s novel, but more fun.
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12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Dark Passage” (1947, Delmer Daves). Based on David Goodis’ novel, this twisted noir about a convict on the run (Bogart) is a classic ’40s mystery/romance. With Bacall, Agnes Moorehead and Bruce Bennett.

“Key Largo” was the last film B & B made together.

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2 a.m. (11 p.m.): “Key Largo” (1948, John Huston). With Bogart, Bacall, Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor.
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4 a.m. (1 a.m.): “Bacall on Bogart” (1988, David Heeley). A documentary on Bogart, with the perfect hostess, Betty.
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5:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m.): “Bogart: The Untold Story” (1996). Another Bogart documentary, hosted by his son Stephen Bogart.
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Saturday, Sept. 1
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8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Band Wagon” (1953, Vincente Minnelli). This great Fred Astaire-Vincente Minnelli MGM musical closes with an incredible Astaire-Cyd Charisse number that’s also a razor-sharp film noir parody and a hilarious send-up of Mickey Spillane: the legendary “Girl Hunt” Ballet.
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Robert Walker and Farley Granger share a tense moment in “Strangers on a Train.”

Sunday, Sept. 2
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6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). With Farley Granger, Robert Walker and Ruth Roman.
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Monday, Sept. 3
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1 a.m. (10 p.m.): “Night and the City” (1950, Jules Dassin). With Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney. (See Noir File 7-13-12.)
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Tuesday, Sept. 4
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10:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m.): “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). Dick Powell, known for musicals, makes a better Philip Marlowe than anyone could have imagined, in this shadowy, hard-nosed adaptation of “Farewell, My Lovely.” Dmytryk’s best movie; with Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley and Mike Mazurki.
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Seeking ‘recline’ inspiration from film noir’s injured characters

I recently experienced a little setback: I fractured my toe (one in from the pinkie on the right foot). I didn’t teeter as I tried on Loubou’s or tumble on a treacherous chunk of pavement. Nor was I hang-gliding or training for a 5k run. Please. Have we met? No, in typical femme fatale fashion, à la Mae West, I tripped over a pile of men.

Sporting hideous footwear.

Of course I don’t mind being ordered by doctors to rest and relax. In fact, I relish the opportunity. And if ever there were a time to be waited on hand and foot, bark out orders and be completely catered to, honey this is it! I’m also grateful that the toe (underrated little body part that it is) wasn’t broken or more severely damaged – it should heal nicely as long as I’m patient.

But the thing I really miss is going to yoga. Feeling a little blue and kicking myself (pun intended) for not being more careful, I called my friend Anne who pointed out that what’s bad in life is good on the page. She suggested that as I recuperate I commiserate with noir characters – like nostril-impaired Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) in “Chinatown” – who sustain and recover from injuries. (You can always trust a Gemini to come up with a creative approach.)

As I lounge on my sofa, I also find myself pondering existential questions, such as: Can I now fulfill my long-held fantasy of going to yoga and resting in child’s pose for the entire class? Will wine and ice cream provide the same benefits as shavasana? What about cupcakes? Does Susie Cakes deliver? Is it possible to dance while using crutches? How long can a girl go without shaving her legs?

Aah, more than my peabrain can process right now. So, with many thanks to Anne, here are my favorite mending moments of film noir.

Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe is temporarily blinded in “Murder, My Sweet.”

 

Phony, schmony. The dude still hobbled around on crutches: Fred MacMurray in “Double Indemnity.”

 

Decoy”’s Frank Armstrong recovers from the ultimate “accident.” Cold-hearted Jean Gillie sees a way to get her hands on a wad of cash by bringing her criminal boyfriend back to life following his visit to the gas chamber. Absurd? Absolutely. Still, it’s all in a day’s work for film noir’s toughest femme fatale.

 

“Dark Passage”: Unjustly sentenced prison escapee Humphrey Bogart undergoes plastic surgery to alter his looks. He co-stars with real-life wife Lauren Bacall.

 

Burt Lancaster sustains major injuries after a heist gets fouled up in “Criss Cross.” (In “The Killers” Lancaster plays a boxer whose career folded after hurting his hand.)

 

The Big Heat” contains one of film noir’s most famous violent scenes. Lee Marvin throws a pot of boiling coffee at Gloria Grahame and disfigures her face. She gets even in the end.

 

Jimmy Stewart is a photojournalist who watches his neighbors to pass the time (with gorgeous Grace Kelly for company) while his leg heals in “Rear Window.”

 

Jack Nicholson wears his bandage for most of “Chinatown.” Director Roman Polanski plays the menacing punk who cuts Nicholson’s nose.

 

“Misery”’s Kathy Bates is the nurse-from-hell to wounded writer James Caan.

 

Viggo Mortensen gets stabbed in his foot after fending off two thugs in “A History of Violence.”

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Free stuff from FNB: Win four Bogie and Bacall movies!

The Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall set features four great movies.

I have a great Christmas-bonus giveaway this month: The Bogie & Bacall Signature Collection DVD set. The set includes these thriller/film-noir classics from the 1940s:

“To Have and Have Not,” 1944, by director Howard Hawks

“The Big Sleep,” 1946, Howard Hawks

“Dark Passage,” 1947, Delmer Daves

“Key Largo,” 1948, John Huston

(Anita is the winner of the November reader giveaway, Criterion’s DVD edition of “The Killers.” Congrats to Anita and thanks to all who entered!)

To enter the December giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Dec. 1-31. The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early January. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared.

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