Director: Delmer Daves
Writer: Delmer Daves (screenplay)
Based on: Dark Passage by David Goodis (serialized novel)
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Becall
Genre: Noir, Thriller
Fun Fact: This is the third of four Bogie & Becall films.
*Note: Mild storyline spoilers ahead, no plot twist spoilers
Dark Passage tells the story of Vincent Parry, played by Humphrey Bogart, who escapes from prison so he can prove his claim that he's been wrongly accused of killing his wife. Lauren Becall is there too, playing Irene Jansen, an heiress eager to get herself mixed up in the whole tawdry affair.
Dark Passage uses first-person perspective at the beginning of the film, meaning we can only see what our main character sees. It came out a year after Lady In the Lake, which is credited as the first film to use the first person point of view. Despite being an early experiment in this technique, Dark Passage uses it well. For the first hour, we, the audience, see everything through Parry's eyes. He's on the run, having escaped from San Quentin, and everything is terrifying.
The limited perspective forces us to share his fear, feeling just as terrified about what's around the next corner. We meet new characters through his eyes, wary of how each person might recognize him, might figure him out, might send him back where he came from. Not only do we see things from his point of view, but we also hear his thoughts, in Bogart's distinct voice, letting us even further into the mind of this frightened, determined fugitive.
The first person viewpoint is also a clever way to keep us from seeing a pre-plastic surgery Parry. We see a photo of Parry through his own eyes, but we do not yet get a look at our main character, who we will later see as Bogart. It isn't until he has said surgery and his face is wrapped in bandages that we get a look at him. We still can't see what's under the bandages, and we're thrust further outside our previous perspective because we can't hear his thoughts anymore, and he can't talk.
Eventually, we get a glimpse of Bogart's mug, but the film is half over by that point. The audience is hooked, the suspense is in full swing and the mystery is far from solved. From here the film plays out like a textbook noir thriller with plenty of fights, chases, fast talking and reveals.
Without the excellent use of the first person viewpoint, I doubt Dark Passage would stand out much from other noir thrillers. It isn't the best of it's kind. However, the first person viewpoint, which could have easily become a cheap gimmick, turns a slightly unbelievable story into a truly thrilling ride.