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Daily Dose of Darkness #4: Over a Barrel (The Opening Scene of Dark Passage)


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The POV in the opening sequence is a pretty cool way to establish a properly noir-ish perspective. By way of this character, we're going to look at San Francisco from a different angle and in a different light. We're going to see things that ordinary people tend to gloss over because theses things are too dark and disturbing. From this noir perspective, the police seem threatening and the good Samaritan who picks up hitch-hikers seems a little too aggressively inquisitive. These darker and more disturbing aspects of police officers and good Samaritans are suddenly visible when we look through the eyes of an escaped convict. Lots of other familiar elements of our ordinary lives may come to look oddly dangerous as well.

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The first person POV in this scene was successful. The POV gives you a good idea of what the character goes through, but the fast camera movements from the barrel roll were not successful for me. 

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I think the POV shots worked quite well, though some of it did become a bit awkward when we had shots that weren't from Bogie's POV. However, the POV shots themselves were great and put us into the mind of Bogie's character. I'm also not a particular fan of when we see what his hands are doing; those shots seem a bit clunky to me, though I appreciate Daves' effort.

 

Much of film noir, I believe, deals with the psychological aspects of characters, and while we don't necessarily get into the mind of Bogie's character through the use of POV shots, we do get a sense of his mental process; likewise, the voice over he gives does the same thing.

 

Since we do only, for the most part, get POV shots, I think the tension is certainly heightened. Whenever we see anything in one person's perspective in media, I always get a sense that we're not always being told everything that's going on. Here, we're just getting Bogie's perspective, and that makes me anxious to know more about his character and the story that's about to unfold. The tension certainly increases when he does get a ride and the driver realizes who's in the car (though, the punches kind of took me out of it a little bit).

 

This opening definitely illustrates a different way to open a story. For M, the story starts quite calmly, though there's a sense of impending doom that's present from the get-go. For La Bete Humaine, we get a fastly-paced realistic poem of trains and the sense that we're quickly heading toward something. And for The Letter, we're shocked into a murderous opening. Here, we get a POV of an escaped convict. All of these styles seem to be standard, but effective, ways to start any story, but I think they all lay groundwork for the genre of film noir quite well.

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The plot begins in medias res, which contributes, along with the restricted pov, to the plot's suspense. The plot structure is quintessential film noire, and anticipates film's like Double Indemnity. Unlike a film like The Maltese Falcon, which begins with an establishing shot of San Francisco, this film does not provide such a technique: the viewer isn't gradually introduced to a setting. We're thrown into the story unaware of what's going on. The pov technique creates something similar to the voiceover narration that will define the film noir genre. I must admit that the sustained use of pov surprised me. I've never seen it use in this manner. Hitchcock uses the technique (e.g., The Birds, Rear Window, and others), but not to this degree. I'd like to see how the technique affects narration and the plotting as the film continues.

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I really enjoyed the first person POV. I felt it was successful in that it helped get across the tension and energy that would be flowing theough you if you were on the run. It's also kinda fun that we don't see Humphrey Bogart but that we hear him. Wonder if he actually filmed that or a stand-in?

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POV was effective to me because we got to see what he sees, hear what he thinks, & follow his reasoning. POV added to the tension to me because from the driver's stance, I can't see the perp, I can only hear him, so I'm wondering what his face looks like, especially his expressions.

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In a post-"Blair Witch Project" world that's all shaky cam, a POV shot has become anything from annoying to nauseating. This is the exact opposite of what happens in the opening scene of "Dark Passage". It was smooth, clean, yet it still gave a sense of urgency and uneasieness to the audience. We knew it was Bogie and yet we know very little about the character he plays just from this scene (I've yet to see this film myself). Like others have said on this forum, we get to experience Bogie's thought process in a way that we might experience our own. I think a lot of filmmakers today could take a cue from the way this beginning was shot!

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I am a LITTLE unsure of the usage of POV.. From my life experiences, I have taken it to mean Point-Of-View, but frequently, I find that what is referred to as POV is still NOT from the individual's point of view, which I think should be as if the viewer, ME (as the audience, observing), would see what the 'person' is viewing/doing.. I have never studied film as an acxademic, but once conversed with a film student in a bar; I asked him how he would film an opening sequence of THAT bar, he was at a loss, but I gave him twelve ways to film it, depending on the genre of the cinema, and other factors. WHAT s POV? .. the pov of the character, the director, or the observer?

Good questions. I took the first-person POV (point of view) to mean that we, the viewers, are seeing the story unfold the way the character, played by Humphrey Bogart, is seeing and experiencing it. But I suppose, in film, we have to assume that a clip shot the way this one from Dark Passage is shot would have to be from the character's, the viewers', and the director's because, without a director, there would be no film.

 

This was the least satisfying clip for me out of all four in the Daily Doses of Darkness assigned this week. But I am still looking forward to seeing the whole movie. It has inspired some great insights on this discussion thread, that's for sure!

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POV was very difficult in those days due to the size of the cameras. I give classic films a lot of latitude in most things technical, they were experimenting with what they had, giving audiences something new, and that's awesome. It works very well here, I find the scene in the open-top car to be surprisingly claustrophobic, very quickly you're uncomfortable with the guy behind the wheel. I wanted to sock the guy even before the radio announcement came on.

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The plot begins in medias res, which contributes, along with the restricted pov, to the plot's suspense. The plot structure is quintessential film noire, and anticipates film's like Double Indemnity. Unlike a film like The Maltese Falcon, which begins with an establishing shot of San Francisco, this film does not provide such a technique: the viewer isn't gradually introduced to a setting. We're thrown into the story unaware of what's going on. The pov technique creates something similar to the voiceover narration that will define the film noir genre. I must admit that the sustained use of pov surprised me. I've never seen it use in this manner. Hitchcock uses the technique (e.g., The Birds, Rear Window, and others), but not to this degree. I'd like to see how the technique affects narration and the plotting as the film continues.

 

 

There is also "Lady in the Lake" which, in my view, winds of feeling like an exhausting gimmick.

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I think the strongest choice was to start in medias res.  The need to actively work to find out the who/what/where/when, grasping at every new slip of information was fun.  I thought the POV from deep in the barrel was a bit gimmicky (kill your darlings!)  but the rest served to makes finding out stuff harder, more involving.  Also enjoyed just hearing Bogart's voice - nuanced, rhythmic, etc., completely within his  technical control.

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I think the POV was generally successful especially considering what it was trying to accomplish and the difficulty in accomplishing this form with the technology at the time. Personally I found the more rigid camera to be more acceptable then the shaky cam approaches used more today. the moments where POV was not used seemed out of place but not terribly so.

Overall, the POV provided the right amount of tension by purposefully making the scenes appear claustrophobic. Even shots that would normally have felt open such as in open landscape and the car felt enclosed and entrapped. I felt this was a contuation of a feeling of being in prison ... That even though he had escaped, freedom was in danger with every move. Very effective in instillimg a sense of foreboding.

The scenes make you want to root for the "bad guy". You know he is a convict but you can't help but feel like you are escaping with him and thus are complicit in the actions.

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To be honest, I always thought this POV opening was the weak link in this picture.  I suppose it has its purpose but since it "goes away" at one point, I am not sure why it was used but it's one of the things this film is known for.  The structure of the plot if more iteresting to me.  I don't personally find it effective here, more gimmicky than useful.  One thing I have noticed about film noir is that along with the femme fatale or the woman who brings the character down (in this case Agnes Moorehead), there is the faithful woman who is willing to do anything (Lauren Bacall). 

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In a post-"Blair Witch Project" world that's all shaky cam, a POV shot has become anything from annoying to nauseating. This is the exact opposite of what happens in the opening scene of "Dark Passage". It was smooth, clean, yet it still gave a sense of urgency and uneasieness to the audience. We knew it was Bogie and yet we know very little about the character he plays just from this scene (I've yet to see this film myself). Like others have said on this forum, we get to experience Bogie's thought process in a way that we might experience our own. I think a lot of filmmakers today could take a cue from the way this beginning was shot!

People appear to be split down the middle as to whether or not they feel the 1st person POV approach in the opening sequence is successful. Like Ipetiti, I, too, believe Daves did a bang-up job on the opening scene. Not only do we get to experience Bogart's thought processes, but we are also eased into them: the establishing shot of the San Quentin barrel -> the barrel rolling down the hill -> quick 1st person POV -> the barrel stops in the stream -> looking out of the barrel from behind Bogart -> full-on Bogart POV as he looks around -> Bogart's voice over -> actual dialogue. I don't know enough about Delmer Daves to determine whether or not this was his first attempt using this technique. However, I do believe he accomplished the goal of immediately connecting the audience with Bogart's character and, subsequently, creating the sense that, whether good or bad, we want Bogart's character to be successful.

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I found the POV a tad distracting at first, but I did like looking back over the road for cops from the front seat of the car. I also liked, as did others, coming into the story media res. Right off the bat there's a vested interest in finding out who, what, where -- vested because the viewer is also the escapee. Both the POV and  dropping into the action mid-stream (so to speak) encourage me to want to watch this film. Bottom line for me: effective opening.

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The only good use of the POV in the beginning is showing how Vincent Parry escapes from jail. Since there are no witnesses to what happened it makes sense to show it all from his viewpoint. The remaining POV shots are only necessary to drive the storyline forward until he has the plastic surgery and becomes Humphrey Bogart. This POV technique was also used in the film "Lady In The Lake" and not to good effect either.

Personally I find the film flows much better once the bandages are removed as well as the POV storytelling.

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The opening POV sequence sets the whole tone for the movie.and immediately pulls/yanks us into the story.  Your interest is piqued right away and the director plays with us and makes us wait to finally see Bogie and not just hear his voice.  The slow disclosure rivets our attention and we're anxious to see what's going to happen next..  By not seeing the Bogart character right away what's happening seems almost unclear...jumbled and it's unclear where the story is going next.  You don't know who his friends are and who's on the level.   I guess it's only fair since he doesn't either. and it's perfect noir...not being able to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  I'm struck by the economy of the whole opening.  in a few short minutes you get a lot of information...from the naturalistic sounds, the actual narrative and the way the images are put together and juxtaposed with each other.  Quite literally we are actually put in Bogart's shoes and it feels uncomfortable.  We're on the run with him and we don't know why. It's rather exhilarating and at the same time a little frightening.        

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 I love Bogie and Bacall, like the story, admire the film, but POV camera work kills a film if its used more than a couple minutes. A camera just doesn't record things the same way as the human eye, so attempts to mimic a point of view always strike me as awkward and disengaged rather than putting me in someone's shoes. An interesting experiment, but I would like this movie a lot more if it didn't lean so heavily on POV. Once they cut the bandages off and drop the POV, this movie gets really good really fast.

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Love the POV opening for a purely gimmick reason; more to watch Lauren Bacall chew up the scenery and stare into the camera. Also love the landscape shots around the San Francisco area and over the Golden Gate Bridge.

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The first person POV adds both the tension and character investment because it makes the audience feel what it's like for Vincent to have everyone's eyes on him. We constantly guess along with him if this or that person is a friend or foe, suspects anything or is clueless. My guess is that it enables viewers to stick with the narrative despite their prolonged ignorance of Vincent's backstory.

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I have the highest regard for Eddie Muller, Dean of Noir, but in listening to his comments following the "Summer of Darkness" screening of Dark Passage, I was dismayed to find him identifying the soundtrack's highly prominent "Too Marvelous For Words" as Jo Stafford's recording.  This is simply not true, despite the prevalence on the web of the assertion.  Jo did indeed record the song, in 1945, for Capitol Records, but this version is not to be found in the film; she has no association with Dark Passage's soundtrack, whatsoever.

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