support film preservation! (part II)

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!]


19 thoughts on “support film preservation! (part II)

  1. Y’know, I like Dark Passage better than Key Largo, myself. You’re right: the city is as much a reason as any. I’ve never been to San Francisco, which is a serious failing. It’s like a Muslim never visiting Mecca.

    But, yeah. Dark Passage is beautiful, and you’ve done a bang up job of conveying that with your selection of screen grabs.

  2. That most cinematic city, SF, is beautifully captured (as you say) in this meller. Ive watched it 2 or 3xs, partially for the marvelous performance of Agnes Moorehead as arch-bitch Madge Rapf. (She’s a silken spider). The book, “Hollywood in the Forties,” Higham & Greenberg, notes the pic’s ‘tense impressionist vividness’ that brings to life ‘a fully realized SF ambience’ and cites DP Sid Hickok. “Key Largo,” taken fr a bad play, is a lumpy dumpling of a pic. The plastic surgery opening (actually, quite campy) must have gotten laughs among Hollywoodies who knew it’s not exactly like having a 20-minute abortion! B&B groove together and altogther it’s an entertaining film (never mind that auteurists snub dir Delmer Daves).

    Hitchcock was seldom interested in the ‘reality-of-scenery.’ In his classic ‘NXNW’ he has the plied-with-booze Grant careening on a Long Island road — teetering on rocky sea cliffs — that is nowhere found on the island. The flat roads of L.I. (away from sea) are miles from
    California’s Highway #1/ Bodega Bay.

    Super selection of pix. Yesyes, “Dark Psssage” has real elegance, despite Pauline the Kael calling it both ‘a bummer’ and ‘an almost total drag.’ (That SF-area crit had no sense of humor.) SF is also a wondrously noir city. What kind of ‘state’ defines (re preservation) the brilliant “Out of the Past” ?

  3. Pingback: Ferdy on Films
  4. This is your second “difficult” (for me) film in a row. I like everything about Dark Passage except, it seems, the movie itself. Gorgeous to look at, but I think I’d almost like it better with the sound turned down. The script is always a deal breaker for me: bad script, don’t like the movie, no matter how beautifully rendered. And Dark Passage has a bummer script.
    Yet, somehow, you’ve got me itching to watch it again!

  5. “Passage” is a buttery old-fashioned popcorn bag. Our movie host here does have a knack for making you wanna see the pic(s) again.

  6. It’s kind of a film of supporting players for me, Bruce Bennett as almost a social detective, Agnes Moorehead doing a fine job a sa brittle sadist as sharp as her profile, but I love Clifton Young as weasily Baker, Tom D’Andrea as the laconic cabby, Roy Mallinson as the doomed trumpet player, and especially old Houseley Stephenson, the illegal plastic surgeon – he’s marvelous, and his line about making Bogie’s face “like a monkey” has stuck with me over the years. I love the settings, they overpower the actors! Great job on this post!

  7. Paul – Do you recommend the Higham & Greenberg book? Well too late, I already added it to GR, but their observations make it sound enticing. And I’m glad you mentioned Moorehead, which I think is another special quality about the film–not that it’s unusual to see her in the harpy role, but I love seeing her as the glammed-out harpy for once. I wish her character had been a bit more padded out, and it could have been a good one, especially for her.

    Totally agree with your Hitchcock observations–he’s a master at (to try out one of the ten dollar terms I’ve been studying about in school) cinematic “deterritorialization,” and that dreamy, one-foot-in-the-real world, one-foot-in-cinematic-otherland is one of the most compelling aspects of his films for me. And I keep meaning to get up to Bodega Bay–I’ve heard how he compiled that small town out of locations that are miles away from each other is quite a surreal experience in itself.

    Not entirely certain in regards to your final question–has Out of the Past managed to stay well preserved? I haven’t seen the DVD, unfortunately, but Christianne (from the comment above yours) did a write-up on the film for this blogathon a few days ago, and the screencaps made it look in fairly good condition. She might be able to expand a bit more on the topic.

    Lin – Yes, I do confess to an inexplicable need to find elements in less-than-good films to rhapsodize over (blame Manny Farber,I suppose). But Dark Passage is a very different type of disappointment from WomanDP‘s script is an irredeemable bummer–I like it much better from the vantage point of a year or so after seeing it last than immediately after (I was kind of stunned how gorgeous it was when I went back and looked up the screencaps that I ended up using for this post). It’s much better in the memory than as an actual film experience.

    But for me the most unforgivable aspect of the film is how it wastes Bacall–it’s so obvious after her prior two films with Hawkes that Hollywood didn’t have a clue of what to do with her. In this rather humorless “Girl Friday” role, she’s sexy but it’s a lifeless character. I’ve often wondered how much this has to do with the post-War social transition, where the independent wartime woman (on screen and off) was being relegated to a more passive “noble woman” role once again, a type Bacall just is not a good enough actress to compensate for, but ended up playing quite often (ie How to Marry a Millionaire, Cobweb, Written on the Wind, etc).

    1. The Higham-Greenberg (H in the 40s) is a small paperback, excellent for film research/ reference. I hope it’s still available. Locations: Lubitsch once said, according to Peter Bog, “There’s Paris, Paramount and Paris, France. I prefer Paris, Paramount. Reality is a springboard for the artist.” (Fr Bog’s book, ‘Picture Shows.’)

      Moorehead is like a spider oozing w poison…my god! An underrated and under-used actress. Bacall: Hawks liked feisty women and created a screen persona for Bacall in her first 2 pix. You’re so right, she’s a nice bore as the Noble Woman – w a mezzo voice that saves her. Hollyw didnt know what to do with Monroe until Hawks ‘saw’ her as a comedienne –
      the skanky, busty blonde in his roaring musicsl, ‘Gentlemen Prefer..’ A pic not to be missed.

      I highly recommend “Out of the Past” — of the mob-centered noirs (as opposed to the suburban noirs – Indemnity, Postman) — it is great. A doozy of a pic fr Jacques Tourneur. Yes, it is …Something!

  8. Cinemafanatic – Thank you!

    Vanwall – Thank you for kind words. :) As I said in my reply to Paul, Agnes is a great addition to the film, and I completely agree, the other supporting characters are well cast and played also. And I had forgotten that “like a monkey” line–there was a desperate need for more dialogue on par with that! There are so many great elements to this film, it really is a shining example of a film being completely undermined by an inferior script.

  9. Just realized DP is fr a noir x David Goodis whose novel “Down There” (1956) became “Shoot/Piano Player.” Time Out says DP is ‘brilliantly atmospheric’ and teases that the only absurdity is when the man’s bandages are removed and, guess wot, it’s Bogie!

  10. [This comment was erroneously added to the next post]

    I love this film! There is an address (I remember it was written down & shown on screen?) that I did go to visit. It turned out to be that old building cross from Discount Builder’s Supply, which is on Mission & Dubose. I did a post when an apartment in the Deco building was on the market – gorgeous views, as you can imagine.

    1. It was your post on the Malloch Building being on the market that inspired me to revisit this film! Re: the address: do you think it was just a random address used in the script, or that that diner actually was there once?

      1. Oh, I’m sure it was a random address. Plum Street is there but I couldn’t find the right number. The factory building where the address should be is quite old, I can tell by the windows. Though it is an out-of-the-way street, perhaps there was once something next door?

  11. (I hunted around for this ‘page’). Was thinking of Bacall as we’d had an exchange about her somewhere. Her movies w Hawks-Bogie presented her as independent, sexy, tough-sweet. Fearless. Same in Dark Passage. But then she drifted into boring ‘limbo’ roles. She was never a bad noir girl like Jane Greer or the smeared Liz Scott. She was never a sex symbol. In ‘Written on the Wind,’ it’s Malone who steals the pic. Bwy really brought her fame and she became a NYC ‘personality.’ So I was surprised to see her awarded some AFI thingie (internet find).

  12. I found the exchange: it’s started by you, Feb 20, 2011 entry. Bacall as “the noble woman.” Noir persisted into the early 50s, but — yah, she was really boring as Noble ! — I think she did 4 Bwy shows and displayed then her sense of comedy. (Goodbye Charlie, Cactus Flower, Applause, Woman of the Year).

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