Blog Directory CineVerse: Noir lite

Noir lite

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Regarded by some film scholars to be a minor classic worthy of rediscovery, Delmer Daves' "Dark Passage" is the least remembered of the quartet of films featuring Humphrey Bogart and wife Lauren Bacall. Here's what our CineVerse group uncovered after taking off the bandages:

WHAT DID YOU EXPECT COMING INTO THIS MOVIE, AND HOW WERE YOU SURPRISED?
·       Interestingly, for a film featuring Bogart and Bacall, we don’t get to see Bogart’s face for the first third of the film, and Bacall disappears for most of the last third of the movie.
·       Most of the first third of the picture is shot using subjective camera, in which we see the point of view of Bogart’s character, which is an interesting technique used in the film noir “Lady in the Lake” one year earlier and in a handful of films prior.
·       For a film noir, it doesn’t replicate a lot of the same conventions and clich├ęs: the city isn’t necessarily depicted as threatening and oozing evil, and Irene isn’t a classic femme fatale leading men into danger; in fact, her abode is a sanctuary where Parry finds refuge from danger.
·       Also, unlike many films noir, Dark Passage doesn’t end on a pessimistic, dark or cynical note wherein somebody dies or a villain gets his comeuppance; instead, its denouement is like a tacked-on fairy tale ending—the lovers “reunite in an exotic fantasyland, and this tale of murder and deceit ends up happily ever after,” according to critic Glenn Erickson.
·       There are a lot of implausibilities and illogical elements at work in the story, which many critics consider to be a mess; yet, arguably, the film proves captivating and entertaining, primarily due to the talents and star power of its leads and the noirish ambience.

WHAT DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE DECISION TO USE SUBJECTIVE CAMERA AND NOT SHOW BOGART’S FACE FOR A GOOD PORTION OF THE MOVIE. WAS THIS A MISTAKE, OR DOES IT WORK?
·       You could make a case that it’s unnecessary: while it’s true that Parry has his appearance changed, which is an important plot element, you could have either had Bogart wear makeup or cast a different actor and dubbed in Bogart’s voice.
·       Or, as reviewer Mark Van Hook posited: “I would have started the film with Bogart in bandages and explained the plastic surgery development in the film’s first scenes, with Bacall either already a part of the story or somehow introduced later. This would have allowed Bogart to reveal himself earlier in the film instead of more than halfway through it, and it would have allotted more time to the mystery of just who did kill Parry’s wife.”
·       The problem with subjective camera is that characters who are interacting with and speaking to the person whose eyes we’re seeing through have to look and talk directly to the camera, which breaks the fourth wall, feels stilted and awkward, and can result in campy delivery.
·       Subjective camera was used very sparingly after “Lady in the Lake” and “Dark Passage” because it was thought to be too gimmicky and not conducive to the accepted cinematic standards of conventional film grammar, which calls for shot, reverse shot, close-up, reaction shot, over-the-shoulder shot and other traditional shot techniques.

HOW IS THIS PAIRING OF BACALL AND BOGART DIFFERENT FROM THEIR OTHER 3 FILMS TOGETHER?
·       Although Bogart and Bacall only made 4 films together, including “Key Largo,” their most popular couplings were Howard Hawks’ “The Big Sleep” and “To Have and Have Not,” in which their sexual chemistry was powerful and the double entendres and erotically charged flirting was indelibly etched in fans’ minds.
·       Here, the chemistry is still strong and the romance feels real, but their interaction is more calm and comfortable.
·       Film Comment writer Bertrand Tavernier theorizes that “the motherliness of the Bacall character and Bogart’s enforced passivity make for an uncharacteristic type of relationship…gentle tenderness prevails, which probably accounts for Dark Passage’s comparative obscurity.”

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY DELMER DAVES
·       Pride of the Marines
·       3:10 to Yuma
·       Broken Arrow
·       The Hanging Tree

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