This post represents my second (and final) contribution to For the Love of Film (Noir): A Film Preservation Blog-a-thon, which is raising money for the preservation of The Sound of Fury (1950).
Of the four films that Bogart and Bacall made together, the third, Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, USA, 1947) is generally considered the least of them. And it’s not particularly hard to see why—Bacall’s character never allows her to display any of the spark that made her so magnificent in To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, and there’s an inherent weakness with a film that stars Humphrey Bogart but doesn’t show his iconic face for the entire first third of the film. And for a film with a plot so heavily reliant on the psychological motivations of the various characters, it doesn’t help that characters motivations for the most part range from murky to straining credulity to patently absurd.
And yet, Dark Passage is a film that I have a great affection for (and I certainly prefer it to the inexplicably well-liked Key Largo). The main reason is that through its extensive use of location work, it serves as a magnificent showcase for the city of San Francisco. Vertigo, for good reason, is the film that has made San Francisco a pilgrimage spot for all good cinephiles, but Dark Passage serves as the gritty, black-and-white flipside to Hitchcock’s luscious, dream-like rendering of the city. With the exception of Scotty’s trailing of Madeleine that has him driving through the streets of the city, Hitchcock generally has little interest in maintaining any kind of spacial continuity in regards to the depiction of the city, with the various depicted landmarks dreamily disconnected not only from each other but from their context within the city itself (which is why I suspect that most people are often surprised, like I was, to find a place like Mission Dolores shoehorned snugly into a bustling residential area, and not in some forlorn, abandoned city quarter).
I love Dark Passage for its utilization of the San Francisco that citizens of the city—both then and now—are familiar with: the labyrinthine series of staircases threading together Telegraph Hill, the steep sidewalks that fracture into stairs halfway up the hill, cable cars, the the long taxi rides down Market, and, of course, the drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. It also captures one of my personal favorite qualities of living in this city: because of the hills, a turn around even the most nondescript corner can unexpectedly coldcock you with a gorgeous vista view of the city that is quite literally breathtaking. Dark Passage uses this to excellent effect, and many otherwise unexceptional expositional sequences are elevated through the stunning backdrops naturally afforded through the location work.
I rewatched Dark Passage shortly upon moving to the city a year and a half ago, and it was one of the key things that really kicked off my love affair with this city (that and the always-dazzling cinematic and photographic cataloguing of the city by a fellow San Franciscian over at Six Martinis and the Seventh Art—see specifically the San Francisco-related section here). In many ways the film serves as a wonderful time capsule of the city in the immediate post-War period, and it was pleasurably shocking to see how familiar many of these locations already seemed to me.
And considering that film is essentially unique in providing this type of wholly-immersive synchronicity, the preservation of such experiences should be a foremost priority on every cinephile’s mind. As the screen captures should amply attest, Dark Passage is, fortunately, for the most part a beautifully preserved film. But without stars on the magnitude of Bogie and Bacall, would this necessarily be the case? The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding no. And for that reason I ask you to consider making a donation to For the Love of Film (Noir): A Film Preservation Blogathon. This is the last day of this terrific blogathon, and as such, also your last opportunity to contribute to this most worthy of causes.
Memories of a Movie:
Scenes of the City
Bogart’s character tells the taxi driver a specific address on Sutter Street to get here; one of these days I’m going to go to that location myself and see what’s there now!
Back before this was probably the single most touristy spot in the entire city (how few people there are!). Owl Drug Co. is now the location of a large Gap, which isn’t nearly as exciting, but I do frequent it fairly regularly.
The Malloch Building, 1360 Montgomery Street
Okay, I have to share a memory about this specific site, as it is the location one of my favorite cinematic San Francisco moments. This Art Deco apartment building is justifiably famous, and it serves as the location of swanky (and enormous) apartment that Bacall’s character lives in, and where she subsequently holes up the fugitive Bogart in grand style. I was on a first date in the North Beach area, and after dinner we spontaneously decided to walk up to Coit Tower. Suddenly I burst out “there’s the Dark Passage house!” (a reference my date unfortunately did not get)—something I was extremely proud of, because 01) I’m usually not very good at recognizing these type of things, and 02) I still was able to do this even though I was suffering from food poisoning and all of my attention was focused on hiding this fact from my date. :)
I always get a kick out of how she had a portrait of herself (and one of her most famous!) on such prominent display.
And really, it’s an extremely stylishly shot and designed film
Sidney Hickox (cinematography) and Charles H. Clarke (art direction)
To say nothing of the ever-stylish Ms. Bacall herself, of course!
[Screen captures taken by Jesse Ataide. Feel free to use the images, but please provide a link back!]