Archive for Dark Passage

The Man Without Bogart’s Face

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2016 by dcairns

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Welcome to Shadowplay, the daily blog about DARK PASSAGE.

Looking at part two of DARK PASSAGE, where it all kind of goes to shit. And where Bogart actually HAS Bogart’s face, having acquired it via plastic surgery performed by seedy rhinoplasterer Housely Stevens. Would you buy a used face from this man?

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“Change it back, doc, change it back!”

Spoilers from the start.

The more the movie deals with who killed Bogie’s wife, the less compelling it becomes, and not just because his real wife, Lauren Bacall, is standing right in front of us, very much alive. It’s because this is all backstory, dealing with someone we never met, and it’s of interest to us only if it can solve the true plot problem, Bogie’s being wanted by the law for a crime which, it so happens, he didn’t commit. The movie seems to totally misunderstand our requirements of it: it thinks that as long as we find out whodunnit and the guilty party is somehow punished, we’ll be satisfied. But while that kind of closure + justice is important, what the movie has set up as its dramatic problem is Bogart being a wanted man. And at the end of the movie he HASN’T cleared his name, he never will, but he gets to retire to Peru with Betty Bacall. It feels somehow unsatisfying. Maybe also because the film’s version of San Francisco was maybe one-fifth actual location footage, and Peru is a special effects and studio fantasia. It’s like ending the film in a dream sequence.

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But this floundering second half is kind of fascinating in the abstract, even if it’s not dramatically engaging. One weird thing is the way Bogart keeps presiding over fatal accidents. He basically shoves Clifton Young off a cliff — very good, grim shot of Young lying crumpled at the bottom. It suits him. At this point it’s going to be impossible for him to clear his name, and he IS somewhat guilty and so the movie’s prospects are derailed. And then Agnes Moorehead somehow auto-defenestrates, without meaning to, though given her dialogue before the fact and the typically frenzied manner she brings to her confrontation with Bogie, it would have made more sense as a strategic suicide. Instead, it feels like Bogie WILLED her through the skyscraper window, even though he needs her alive. It reminds me a bit of the abrupt climax of AMERICAN GIGOLO, where at least Richard Gere gets to grab the plummeting man’s legs and TRY to stop his death-plunge (again, he needs the defenestratee to clear his name).

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But a bigger similarity is with THE WALKING DEAD, in which Boris Karloff plays a Bogie-like gangster raised from the beyond who goes seeking revenge on his killers. Strangely, Karloff never lays a finger on his enemies, he just slow-walks them to their doom, backing off the edge of railway platforms and under approaching trains, etc. It’s as if he’s come back from the dead but he’s brought death with him, as an ally or as a sort of miasma that surrounds him, focussing in on those whom he directs his malevolent glare towards.

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It’s like Oscar Wilde wrote: “Karloff does it with a look, Lee Marvin with a towel.”

It’s been pointed out that John Boorman’s POINT BLANK plays like a hip remake of TWD, with Lee Marvin as the gangster who may have died (John Boorman has spoken of a possible Owl Creek Bridge reading of both his Lee Marvin movies) and who wreaks revenge on his foes without actually inflicting bodily harm on them himself. Its slick visuals, rat-a-tat cutting and Donald Westlake plot ingenuity make this the most engaging of the films under discussion, and by burying Lee Marvin’s revenant status deep in subtext, it makes it more fun to unpeel. THE WALKING DEAD is a little too somnolent for me, though you can certainly argue that’s appropriate.

POINT BLANK, of course, also plays out in San Francisco and features a spectacular sidewalk dive, this one from old Dean Wormer himself, John Vernon.

“Someone has to put his foot down, and that foot is me.”

And I guess GHOST STORY has a place in here too.

Anyhow, Bogart’s affinity with sudden death in DARK PASSAGE suggests both the shifty narrator of DETOUR (people just keep dying around me, honest!) and the fatal pro/antagonists of WALKING DEAD and POINT BLANK. Maybe Boorman would suggest that Bogie dies when the San Quentin barrel crashes downhill in scene 1, and the rest of the plot is just his dying fantasy. It would certainly give a meaning to the otherwise obscure title (there’s no significant literal passageway in the plot). And it would kind of explain how Bogart becomes a helpless passenger in his own movie. The “first person shooter” opening robs him of identity, and then his every action seems to be dictated by chance meetings, with a cabbie, a detective in a diner, the guy who picks him up who turns blackmailer. And all the deaths in the film just happen, Bogart doesn’t plan them or really want them. He’s the passive recipient of a narrative.

Asynchronous

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on September 30, 2016 by dcairns

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PICKLED HERRING

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).

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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.

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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 ~

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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…