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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Dark Passage (Blu-ray)
Dark Passage (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. // Unrated // May 17, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $21.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted May 12, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

Written and directed by Delmer Daves in 1947 for Warner Brothers and based on the novel by David Goodis, Dark Passage begins when a criminal named Vincent Parry (Humphry Bogart) escapes from San Quentin Prison. He was in there for murder, accused of killing his wife, but he has always maintained he was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted. He does this by hiding in an oil barrel on the back of a truck that rolls away and finds him his freedom. From there, he hitches a ride with a nosey driver who quickly realizes, after hearing a news broadcast about the escape on the radio, just who he has let into his car. They get into it but Vincent escapes.

As the cops start closing in on him, Vincent is soon rescued by Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), a beautiful but mysterious woman who knows more about his identity than he probably expected her to. Wanting to keep his new found freedom, Vincent goes under the blade and has cosmetic surgery done to change his face. Everything in the movie up to this point involving the character himself is shown through Vincent's eyes but after the surgery, the camera uses more traditional compositions. With his new face ready to go, he and Irene seem to be falling for one another, but he hasn't forgotten about the real reason he busted out of the big house in the first place: to clear his name and find out who really murdered his wife… but things aren't going to be easy. First his best friend, George Fellsinger (Rory Mallinson) turns up dead and after that, a friend of Irene's named Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead) gets involved to further complicate matters.

The POV angle mirrors that which was used in The Lady In The Lake, also made in 1947, but here it's considerably more successful. Tension builds fast and efficiently in the first part of the picture as we're seeing all of this unfold through Vincent's eyes. It sets us up, as the audience, to side with him. We're part of the action in a way, and what he experiences, we too experience. Once the surgery is over and the camera pulls back (if you're going to cast Bogart in your film you're going to damn well make sure the audience sees him as well as hears him) we've thrown in with Vincent and as things start to unravel in interesting ways, we're sold on it all. Of course, Bogart's performance is a big part of what makes this work too, not just the camerawork. He's salty, surly, not quite happy with any of this and you can't really blame him. He and Bacall do have that chemistry here but it's not as palpable as it is in some of their other movies. She too is quite good, however. She not only looks absolutely gorgeous in the film but she plays Vincent's mysterious ally with the right air of mysteriousness, sex appeal and with just a hint of danger. Agnes Moorehead is also great here, stealing quite a few scenes.

The plot itself is not the most realistic but it's never nothing short of exciting and fun. Yes, it subscribes to clichés and yes, it doesn't exactly deal in logic but that never stops us from enjoying it.

The surgery scene, where we sort of visually experience what's going on in Vincent's head at the time by way of a strange montage involving his skinless face and Irene's beautiful visage, really stands out. It's almost surreal in how it depicts what the character is going through, but it works. This is a very attractive looking movie, lots of great footage of San Francisco and the surrounding area offering up its gritty charm to the picture, and to its benefit at that. The scenes that take place after that, before the bandages come off, are a tease of sorts. The audience expects to see Bogart's face from the start of the film, but we don't. After the surgery, the bandages stay on for a spell as he goes about getting to business, making the reveal later in the picture all the more satisfying. It also leads to some great dialogue between the two leads. When the subject of ‘faces' comes up, Vincent tells Irene "Don't change yours. I like it just as it is." And you can tell he means it. We wouldn't want to see it change either.

The Blu-ray:


Warner Archive's AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer presents Dark Passage framed at 1.37.1 fullframe aspect ratio and for the most part it's quite a beautiful image. The black and white image shows nice, natural looking film grain that never feels intrusive or distracting, rather, it just makes the picture look like film as it should. Black levels are strong and deep while fine detail is impressive throughout and frequently outstanding. The transfer is free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement and compression artifacts are never once a problem. The old DVD release from years back looked great for its time but this one bests it with superior depth, delineation and contrast.


The main audio track on this disc is an English language DTS-HD Mono track with optional subtitles available in English only. The audio here is fine. This isn't a particularly complex track but the dialogue is always crystal clear and balanced nicely against the score. The mix, for an older single channel track, sounds quite full and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note.


All of the extras here are carried over from the DVD release and the main supplement on the disc is the ten minute featurette Hold Your Breath And Cross Your Fingers. It's an interesting piece that offers up some background information on Delmar Daves, how the film came to be, Bogart's interactions with the House Un-American Activities Committee around this time, and the reception that the film received at the time of its release and how it is regarded now. Also found here is the Slick Hare short that runs just under eight minutes. This animated feature from 1947, directed by Friz Freleng, features Elmer Fudd alongside cartoon versions of Bogart, Bacall, Frank Sinatra, Groucho Marx and a few other Hollywood stars.

Aside from menus and chapter selection, the Blu-ray also the film's original theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts:

Dark Passage may be considered the lesser of the four movies that Bogart and Bacall made together but it's still ridiculously good entertainment. Loaded with more noir style than you can shake a stick at, it features some great performances from a talented cast and it's ripe with tension and suspense. The new Blu-ray release from the Warner Archive adds nothing new to the supplemental package that was prepared for the old DVD release but it does offer up a gorgeous transfer and solid audio. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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