Tuesday, November 27, 2012

San Francisco Noir

A Transformation Film - Dark Passage

As classic movies go, I never quite appreciated Humphrey Bogart as much as the rest of the world seemed to until I saw Casablanca, the quintessential Noir with a political–worldly flair. In Casablanca,(1942), Bogart is cool, aloof, even a bit sexy. Ingrid Bergman, with her beautiful, lisping Swedish accent, melts my heart, while Director, Michael Curtiz, allowed for the soft close-ups and cheeky one-liners that make Casablanca a great, classic movie.

Dark Passage, however, is in many ways a moodier flavor of Noir. Set primarily in San Francisco, with sweeping views of Marin, the Golden Gate Bridge and familiar streets in Telegraph Hill and along Market Street. Much of the landscape and street scenery are recognizable, even though it is 1947. Bogart portrays Vincent Parry, an escaped convict who was wrongly accused of murdering his wife. In this role, Bogart depicts a man who is acutely vulnerable, shedding his hard edges as he sheds his prison attire.

Initially, the film is seen from Parry’s point-of-view. He is behind the camera through the first stages of his escape – a technique that feels awkward at first, but begins to blend with the black & white film-tones and gangster accents of the characters with whom Parry grapples and befriends. His first friend, of course, being Lauren Bacall as Irene Jansen, the San Francisco sophisticate who, like a beautiful, lone wolf, has mysteriously followed Parry’s plight from the beginning of his trial. Irene is tough yet tender, and, befittingly, she lives in a chic, Art Deco apartment-building in Telegraph Hill.

Scenes and dialog between Bogart and Bacall feel smoothly effortless: The two stars were actually newlyweds, having fallen in love on the set of To Have and Have Not,(1944). As Dark Passage evolves, the film-icons strike poses and pirouette through oblique Noir shadows-and-light and into each other’s arms, Bacall with her come-hither sparkle and Bogart with his rough urbanity. Full of possibility, their romance reaches a crisis-point when Irene un-wraps Parry’s bandages: tensions heighten here on deep cello notes and quivering strings, orchestrated by musical director, Franz Waxman. Indeed, when it comes to tension and arm-gripping moments, Dark Passage is surprisingly scary.

All of the classic directors have surely seen Dark Passage; it had to be Hitchcock’s inspiration for Vertigo, also set in San Francisco,(1958), wherein the British director utilized some of the same streets and neighborhoods as well as surreal dream sequences. Conversely, a renowned Hitchcockean theme: The wrongly accused man, who is hunted down and subsequently must discover the real murderer himself, is a theme developed with plenty of intrigue in Dark Passage.  So, perhaps the directors borrowed from each other. Certainly, Woody Allen gleaned ideas from dialog and characters, like the quirky cab driver and wizened, puckish-eyed surgeon.  

As a San Franciscan, I am captivated by the undeveloped city of another era. When watching this film at home, I particularly love hearing fog horns as they are softly blaring from both the T.V. and from outside my window.


  1. You are my dream girl. For serious! ;)

    1. Alors la! I'm someone's dream girl! :)