I remembered that DARK PASSAGE had a lot of bravura subjective camera stuff at the start, and some unlikely coincidences, but time had erased all other details, so I thought I’d watch it again.

Vince Parry (Humphrey Bogart, a few stand-ins, and a photograph of some other guy) escapes from San Quentin, smuggled in a barrel like the Marx Bros. in MONKEY BUSINESS. When the barrel falls off the wagon, we get the first POV shot, rolling downhill, then an artful POV of the barrel-bottom itself as Parry staggers off. Then we’re into the cool stuff, striking subjective shots as our hero climbs over a fence, thumbs a ride, gets in the car, with cleverly hidden cuts: at one point a pan takes us from a real car on a real road to a studio effects shot (it seems to be a matte rather than the usual process shot — I don’t know why this should be).


Parry, wanted for murdering Mrs. Parry (he’s innocent, of course) gets plastic surgery which makes him look like Humphrey Bogart — the only time in history anyone has done this. An hour in, Bogie takes the bandages off, so the slower audience members finally realise the reason for all that concealment. Rather than deal with the estrangement of the leading actor being subbed halfway through the film — which is always a problem — Daves has withheld his star from our gaze for most of the movie.


During the in-between bit, we can see Bogart but he’s swathed in Invisible Man bandages. Oddly, they make him look like Eddie Cantor.

I would like a movie where Humphrey and Eddie play brothers, please.

The reason I forgot most of the movie is that the plot stuff isn’t that interesting, once you get past the weird directorial devices, but you have Bogie & Bacall, and Agnes Moorehead, and a good smarmy turn by ex-Our Gang actor Clifton Young as a gloating blackmailer. Very peculiar to have interest in a film decline when Humphrey Bogart comes in. But he does get to say, to Young, “Tell me, or I’ll shoot it out of you!”

From a novel by eccentric noir/pulp specialist David Goodis, a favourite of the French (SHOOT THE PIANIST, MOON IN THE GUTTER), the film delivers plenty of bizarre stylistic touches, apart from yesterday’s trumpet massacre. Bogie keeps meeting people who randomly want to help him and believe him to be innocent. A friendly cabbie leads him to the rather disreputable-looking plastic surgery who messes his face up. This leads to a groovy ’40s-style expressionistic nightmare sequence ~



The fascinating thing is the way so many of Daves’ techniques separate Bogart’s face from his body. Or other peoples’ faces from their bodies. The location stuff at the start evidently created sound problems — the camera tends to pan off people before we hear their voices. Of course, the gigantic sound kit of the period couldn’t even fit in a car, so the driving scenes had to be done mute. Bogart has a VO to help us through his POV scenes, but when the actor steps onto the screen for real, wrapped up like the mummy, he is unable to speak because of his operation, and the VO doesn’t come back. Daves even shoots part of a conversation over coffee and candlelight through a window during a rainstorm, so Bacall’s dialogue is unheard.

Maybe because our hero loses his birth-face partway through the story, this separation of face and vocals seems appropriate, somehow meaningful…

An odd thing: with his face and name changed, nobody recognizes Parry, despite his having the most recognizable voice in Hollywood…

7 Responses to “Asynchronous”

  1. Actually, there was 1980 movie (based on a book) titled “The Man With Bogart’s Face”, about a would-be PI who has surgery to look like Bogart (the star was an actor who made a living via an impressive but natural resemblance). AKA “Sam Marlow, Private Eye”, I’m guessing because of legal issues over using Bogart’s name and image.

  2. Damnit that’s what I should have called this blog post: The Man Without Bogart’s Face.

    Never mind, I was thinking about writing a follow-up piece. Even if the film isn’t very satisfying, it’s very RICH.

  3. I’d remembered the pre-plastic surgery section of the film as entirely done with subjective shots but that’s actually wrong: the movie cheats in a couple places. There’s a cab ride, for example, that uses darkness rather than camera placement to hide the narrator’s face.

    I love “Dark Passage” even though it’s a bit of a mess and there’s the definite sense that it paints itself into a corner toward the end. It’s good to see Bogart proving that he can act outside of his comfort zone, and Bacall achieves a considerable force of character until the film loses the thread.

  4. I’d like to have seen the film find an excuse to return to Bogievision at the end, to round things off. I can’t seem to stop writing about it, even though I found myself barely paying attention at times towards the end.

    You know something? I’ve still never seen Lady in the Lake…

  5. If I remember rightly, the whole of Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake is shown through a subjective camera.

  6. If you can find it (the links I found required flash), Bill Plympton’s short cartoon “One of the Those Days” (not the later short-short subtitled “At Work”) has great fun with subjective camera.

    God it’s grim! Ha.

    Yes, Lady in the Lake is all subjective. Not meant to be any good. But I’m curious about how it’s done.

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