Face the Darkness: Bogie & Bacall in DARK PASSAGE (Warner Brothers 1947)

“Tuesdays in Noirvember” concludes with the genre’s biggest icon, Humphrey Bogart (and he’s bringing Lauren Bacall along for the ride!):

The year 1947 belonged to film noir, as some of the dark genre’s true classics saw the light of day: Robert Mitchum donned that iconic trenchcoat in OUT OF THE PAST , Richard Widmark snarled his way through KISS OF DEATH, Burt Lancaster battled sadistic Hume Cronyn with BRUTE FORCE , Tyrone Power got trapped in NIGHTMARE ALLEY , Rita Hayworth bedeviled Orson Welles as THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI , Ronald Colman won an Oscar as a cracked actor leading A DOUBLE LIFE, and Lawrence Tierney terrorized the hell out of everyone in his path in BORN TO KILL . Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, noir’s power couple thanks to the previous year’s THE BIG SLEEP , teamed again for DARK PASSAGE, an slam-bang crime drama that may not be quite on a par with those mentioned above, but more than holds its own in the film noir canon.

The movie starts in a unique way, as the subjective camerawork by DP Sid Hickox allows us to see things through the eyes of Bogart’s Vincent Parry, a convicted wife killer who’s escaped from San Quentin. I found this to be most annoying in Robert Montgomery’s LADY IN THE LAKE (released earlier in ’47), but unlike that film, not every frame is shot from Parry’s perspective, proving one again that less is more. Parry hitches a ride with a stranger who recognizes him, and he’s forced to knock the dude out. Pulling him into the roadside brush and changing clothes with him, Parry is stunned when a woman he’s never met, Irene Janson, pulls over and offers to help him.

Turns out Irene knows Parry’s former flame Madge, who was instrumental in getting Parry convicted. Irene’s own father was falsely accused of murdering his second wife and died in prison, and Irene believes Parry’s innocent as well. Now calling himself Alan Linnell, Parry meets a chatty cabby named Sam, who  hooks him up with Dr. Coly, a disgraced plastic surgeon who gives him a new face. When Parry goes to his pal George’s apartment to heal, he finds his friend’s also been murdered, and now he has to turn to Irene for help in clearing himself in two murders…

We don’t get to see Bogie’s mug until almost halfway through the film, which went up Jack Warner’s craw sideways, but once we do things really begin to heat up. Writer/director Delmer Daves crafted a corker of a tale based on a novel by hardboiled pulp author David Goodis, though there are some gaps in logic and too much reliance on coincidence to make this one thoroughly believable. But that doesn’t really matter, as we get a fast-paced thriller with Bogie and Bacall torching the screen once again. Daves started as a screenwriter (including Bogie’s early hit THE PETRIFIED FOREST) before making his directorial debut with DESTINATION TOKYO. He has many good-to-great films on his resume, like THE RED HOUSE, BROKEN ARROW, JUBAL, 3:10 TO YUMA , KINGS GO FORTH, THE HANGING TREE, and the blockbuster A SUMMER PLACE, and if you haven’t discovered his work yet, you should!

Agnes Moorehead  is a real bitch as Madge, the jilted lover who got Parry nailed for murder, though cinema crime solvers will have ‘whodunnit’ figured out pretty quick. Bruce Bennett appears as Irene’s wannabe beau Bob, Tom D’Andrea is good as Sam the cabby, Douglas Kennedy plays a detective on Parry’s trail, and ex-Our Gang member Clifton Young is the jerk Baker, a self-described “small time crook” who first gives Parry a lift, then returns with blackmail on his mind. And that picture of a pre-surgery Parry in the newspaper pre-plastic surgery is actor Frank Wilcox.

Franz Waxman  contributes another memorable score, and the song “Too Marvelous for Words” (written by Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting) serves as a love theme, vocalized by big band singer Jo Stafford. DARK PASSAGE may not be 1947’s top film noir, but it’s an entertaining little number that held my interest all the way til the end. Plus, it’s got Bogie and Bacall – what more could you ask for?

Base-Brawl: William Bendix in KILL THE UMPIRE (Columbia 1950)

Ahh, spring is in the air, that magical time of year, when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of… baseball!! That’s right, Dear Readers, Opening Day is upon us once again, and what better way to celebrate the return of America’s National Pastime than taking a look back at KILL THE UMPIRE, a 1950 comedy conceived in the warped mind of former animator Frank Tashlin and directed by ex-Warners vet Lloyd Bacon.

Big lug William Bendix stars as Bill Johnson, an ex-major leaguer whose passion for the game keeps him from holding a regular job because he keeps playing hooky to go to the ballpark. Bill hates only one thing more than missing a game – umpires! But when his exasperated wife threatens to leave him, his ex-ump father-in-law suggests he go to umpire school to save his marriage. Bill balks at first, but then reluctantly agrees, not wishing to lose his spouse. He does everything in his power to get ejected out of the school, including donning a pair of thick “Coke-bottle’ glasses, but eventually comes around. Bill and his roomie Roscoe are sent to the Texas League, where he finds Texans hate umpires even more than he does, at one point getting knocked out by a tossed cowboy boot! Some gamblers attempt to bribe Bill, but he causes them to lose by having their team forfeit, causing a Texas-sized riot at the old ball game! Fans want Bill’s head on a platter, and it all culminates in a wild chase with Bendix in drag, pursued by an angry mob and angrier gamblers. But as you probably can guess by now, all’s well that ends well.

Tashlin’s loony screenplay features many of his trademark cartoony sight gags, like Bendix wearing an over-inflated chest protector, then getting his spikes stuck in a wooden floor, with hilarious results. The chase is a riot too, with our hero being dragged water-skiing style on a piece of fence behind an ambulance. Tashlin strikes the right balance of situation comedy and slapstick hijinks, aided by Bacon’s deft direction. Bacon was adept at any type movie, but got his start with Chaplin and Mack Sennett; his comedy bona fides include GOLD DUST GERTIE, THE IRISH IN US , A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER, and MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND.

“This ballpark has sho’ gone crazy!”

William Bendix plays it broad as baseball nut Bill. He was no stranger to baseball pictures, having starred two years earlier in THE BABE RUTH STORY. No stranger to comedy, either: Bendix starred in radio’s THE LIFE OF RILEY sitcom, later bringing it to television (in fact, his RILEY TV costar Tom D’Andrea plays roommate Roscoe). It’s nice to see Una Merkel get a substantial part here as Bendix’s beleaguered wife. Ray Collins , of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater and TV’s PERRY MASON, plays father-in-law Jonah. Three Stooges fans will get a kick out of seeing many Columbia Short Subject Players in small roles: Murray Alper, Stanley Blystone, Vernon Dent, Dudley Dickerson (“This house has sho’ gone crazy!”), Emil Sitka, Dick Wessel, and Jean Willes appear, and the familiar strains of “Three Blind Mice” play over the opening credits! You’ll also find Familiar Faces like William Frawley , Billy Gray, Frank Hagney, Alan Hale Jr. , and others in the mix.

Some may find KILL THE UMPIRE a bit dated, but it’s still got plenty of laughs in it to make it worth your time. And it’s available on YouTube for your convenience! Makes a good pre-game warm-up…. now let’s Play Ball!

Oh, and one other thing…. Let’s Go Red Sox!!

%d bloggers like this: