Someone has escaped from San Quentin Prison! That someone is Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart), who was serving a life term for the murder of his wife, a crime he claimed he did not commit. He has hidden in a drum on the back of a delivery truck and rocks it enough to make it tumble from the vehicle and roll down an embankment. Climbing out, he realises he must get rid of his prison shirt and find some transport away from here, so he makes his way up through the bushes to the road, where as luck would have it a car is approaching. The driver stops for him and he gets in, but grows suspicious with all the police around and starts asking some awkward questions, so Vincent knocks him out and steals his clothes. Then another car draws up, one driven by Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), who has reasons for giving him a lift...
If there's one thing that Dark Passage uses well, it's the gimmick and it's a curious one. When they contracted Bogart to play the lead, the filmmakers evidently thought it would be a great idea not to show that world-famous face of his, so for the first forty minutes or so the action plays out from his point of view. We see events through Vincent's eyes, meaning some cinematographic gymnastics for photographer Sid Hickox as he attempts to make the notion convincing, and for the most part he does pretty well. We don't see it all from subjective camera as there are other shots included, establishing shots and the like, to make sure things don't get too confusing, but the tricks almost manage to hide the fact that the plot, adapted from David Goodis' novel by the director Delmer Daves, is very contrived.
After Irene has taken Vincent, who hides under a tarpaulin in the back seat, back to her apartment, she has a bit of explaining to do about why she should be helping him. It transpires that she has followed his case and believes him to be innocent (he is, of course) so wants to help him clear his name and starts by getting him a suit of clothes - she has quite a bit of money left to her by her father, who was also convicted of killing his wife, a crime that Irene believes was another miscarriage of justice. Vincent decides he has to go and see his old friend George (Rory Mallinson), but on the way in the taxi cab, under cover of darkness, the chatty cabby (Tom D'Andrea) recognises him and suggests a way to disguise himself - the rather drastic steps of plastic surgery.
As you can imagine, the plot of Dark Passage is heavily reliant on coincidence, but as we have seen in a newspaper photograph that Vincent looks nothing like Bogart, I guess they had to put that famous phizzog on the main character somehow. Naturally this is movie plastic surgery, where one operation can make you look completely different, and also means that, perversely, Bogart plays the next act with his head swathed in bandages - didn't they want us to know who the star was? As for the suspects, there's only one obvious one so the mystery aspect is lacking, and as this same person kills George as well, it can only be one of two: Bob (Bruce Bennett) and Madge (Agnes Moorehead) who happen to be acquaintances of Irene as well. Moorehead is a lot of fun, reminiscent of The Wicked Witch of the West (only she doesn't fly), and in fact the sheer ridiculousness of the whole affair offers an indulgently enjoyable experience, making this one of the the silliest but more amusing Bogart and Bacall movies next to The Big Sleep, with a nice streak of paranoia running through it to sustain the tension. Interestingly, Vincent never really does clear his name. Music by Franz Waxman.
American director best known for the 1959 melodrama A Summer Place, but who also directed nearly 30 films and wrote many more over a 40-year career. The law graduate made his debut in 1943 with the war drama Destination Tokyo with Cary Grant, and other notable films include the Bogart/Bacall noir Dark Passage, Never Let Me Go with Clark Gable, and the Westerns Broken Arrow, The Last Wagon and 3:10 To Yuma, based on Elmore Leonard’s novel. After the success of A Summer Place, Daves followed with equally soapy offerings Susan Slade, Rome Adventure and The Battle Of The Villa Fiorita. Daves also wrote or co-wrote the screenplays to classics The Petrified Forest, Love Affair and An Affair to Remember.