Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dark Passage (1947)

I love Humphrey Bogart. I love Lauren Bacall. Their movies together, Big Sleep and Key Largo, rank among my favorites. I'll watch them again and again. However, there is one movie that I constantly pick up at the video store and then put down again.

I don't know why I didn't want to watch it, but it seems that my instinct was good -because this movie SUCKS.

This is one of the things I like about classic movies: they are usually watchable because, to be a classic, a movie has to have something that keeps it from being shelved forever: great costumes, great actors, great lines - anything to keep us interested. Ergo, they are usually watchable, even if not great.

However, there are a few movies that snuck in the back door...once their stars are established as great, some movies become classics just by virtue of the presence of a single actor. This is very definitely a classic based ONLY on the star power of the Bogie/Bacall combination.

Alas, it doesn't even have much of Bogey and Bacall.

Here is the problem: the synopsis tells us that Humphrey is going to be recovering from "underworld plastic surgery" but instead of investing in some make-up or special effects, the director decided to shoot the first half of the movie in first-person perspective.

This is a horrible thing to do to an audience. For the first 30 minutes we get to watch Humphrey Bogart's hairy hands picking up objects, opening doors, shaving and turning shower knobs. There are a few establishing shots, a few shots of him with his face in deliberate, exaggerated shadow, and, mercifully, some of the longest unedited shots in history of Lauren Bacall. Just watching Lauren Bacall is...wonderful. It's kind of a torture, too, partly because her face and her features are just so exquisite that you can clearly see you will never, ever be that beautiful - the flawless skin, the perfect curve of the lips, the bone structure!

But I digress. Back to the badness of this movie. Since we can't see his face, we have to have EVERYTHING explained to us - at least that is what the director thought. From the first scene, the voice over explains EVERYTHING. First, Vincent thinks about how long it will be before the cops find him. "Ten, fifteen minutes." Then he goes on... "Got to start taking risks!" It's like reading the diary of an extremely timid crook.

Even when the VO stops for a while (and it does come back throughout the movie), the dialogue is pretty awful. A lot of long, expository monologues. After the plastic surgeon works on Humphrey he gives him instructions for his recovery, that's the important stuff. Then he goes on to give a little speech, "You'll look ten years older, but you'll always feel ten years younger."

The movie is always telling you what to think: hate her, love her, suspect him, look at's tiresome.

Lauren Bacall's clothes have a few good moments and a few inexplicably awful ones. I know she's supposed to be painting in the first scene, but must leisure clothes be HIDEOUS?

Most of all this movie is SLLLLLOOOOOOWWWWWW. DEATHLY slow. We're an hour and fifteen minutes in and it feels like we've been watching for years.

One star, cannot recommend except for serious Bogie-Bacall fans who are seriously curious.

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