Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Face That Must Diet

Dark Passage, written and directed by Delmer Daves, based on the novel by David Goodis, starring Humphrey Bogart (Vincent Parry), Lauren Bacall (Irene Jansen) and Agnes Moorehead (Madge Rapf) (1947): Enjoyably loopy film noir sees Bogart play a San Francisco businessman wrongly imprisoned for his wife's murder. He escapes from San Quentin. Shenanigans ensue. And for the first 45 minutes or so, we get first-person camerawork from Bogart's perspective, seeing his character only fleetingly in a newspaper photo.

I'm guessing film cameras got smaller some time after the end of WWII, as first-person POV shows up in a couple of other films of the time, only to be abandoned because, frankly, it's annoying as hell. And you can't see your star. Though here the POV serves the story -- Bogart's character gets plastic surgery to change his face, and once he's got that new face (Bogart's normal face) the POV switches to the traditional third-person. Got all that?

Coincidences drive the plot. Lauren Bacall's character is obsessed with Bogart's character being railroaded. Luckily for him, she's driving around near San Quentin when he escapes so she can pick him up. Luckily for Bogart, the first cabbie he hails later in the film knows a good plastic surgeon who makes a living operating on criminals and the wrongly accused innocent. Unluckily, there are so few characters that the revelation of the real murderer's identity lands with something of a dull thud. Really, who else could it be?

Nevertheless, it's all quite a bit of fun, with the level of coincidence and accident reaching a crescendo so as to resolve pretty much everything. Lauren Bacall is cute as a button, and Bogart stretches a bit here, playing a guy who's definitely not cool under pressure until the last few minutes of the film. Not a great film, but worth watching. Recommended.

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