So several years back, like 10, I watched this golden oldie called Dark Passage starring the husband-and-wife team Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And today, I watched it again. It’s an old film noir classic, so of course I had to watch it. But it’s also much more than that, it does some highly unconventional things.
A good majority of the film is shot in a first-person perspective, or in such a way you can’t see the lead protagonist’s face. The opening scene is a prison escape in-progress from San Quentin. We get to take part in a beating of a man, from first-person perspective, who is driving the escaped convict when he realizes who he has picked up.
There are many great moments during the first-person perspective shots, where characters are looking right into your eyes. It’s a strange feeling. There’s even a scene where Bacall returns home to her apartment, and you are apparently wearing nothing but a towel around your waste when she does so. We never see Bogart in his towel, but it’s a weird feeling knowing she’s standing right there and he’s remarking that he’s thankful her towel was big enough to cover things up.
There’s another equally strange moment when a plastic surgeon and his cab driver friend are standing in front of you checking out your face just before the procedure.
The audience doesn’t see Humphrey Bogart’s face for the first 62 minutes of the movie
The first-person perspective is more than a gimmick in the movie, it also serves the purpose of disguising the fact that the voice of Humphrey Bogart does not match the face in the newspapers. The film disguises Bogart’s face for the first 62 minutes with the first-person shots or angles/shadows that obscure his face. And then, eventually, in the last few scenes before his face is revealed, it is bandaged, completely wrapped after a plastic surgeon changes up his face for him. We don’t get to see his face until after it has healed, and the bandages come off.
Lauren Bacall really owns the first-person perspective
The first-person perspective stuff had a lot of potential, like found footage, to fall flat. But I think what really kept it interesting, for me anyway, was Lauren Bacall. Well, and in all fairness, the other actors too. But especially Bacall. When that camera is aimed at her, up-close and for an extended length of time while Bogart’s voice is seemingly coming from the lens, she owns the whole scene with such great facial expressions and body language. Every moment counted, and she really showed that. She was totally in character, completely into the scene, and absolutely owning it.
If you’ve never seen this film, I highly recommend it. And that’s saying something, because I’m not the biggest Bogart fan. He’s a great actor, I won’t debate that, he can just scratch my skin sometimes in movies. But this is one where he really works hard, despite the strange filming conditions, and it really shows. Overall the movie isn’t amazing in the plot department, but it’s a unique experience all around and fun to go through the journey. Fun to travel that dark passage.
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