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


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The shooting of the scene enhances the tension, paired with the sirens and barking of dogs you get a sense of desperation that someone making a prison break would feel.  I think it lends itself well to this movie since it means we will only see the actor after the plastic surgery that will change his face, but it also serves to enhance to feeling of confusion and isolation the character faces at the beginning of the film.

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POV camera angles are not quite as accurate as actually seeing something with your own eyes, of course, because the camera is limited (no peripheral vision)...  I do not have to turn my head quite so emphatically and face something straight on when looking to the right or left of me...  (this is a noticeable difference for me when watching movies filmed in that way), however, because of this lack of peripheral, we are knowing even less about what is going on around us, which, I think, adds to the suspense.  The feeling I got was almost as though I was boxed in, with only a small claustrophobic view to what was happening, as from inside the barrel, only this "barrel view" continued even when I was out of it.  I got the same hunted feeling as Bogart's character surely had, as though I was straining, whipping about frantically to see who was coming and what my options were for escape.  When we watch in this way, we each get the chance to be him, with the benefit of someone else's commentary (Bogart's "narration" of different thoughts), which is definitely a repeated element in many film noirs.

 

And I'm with Bogie.. what a nosy guy!!!  

Unlike-able.  I'm on the side of an escaped con, not only because he is the first character I am introduced to and happen to be seeing things from his viewpoint, hearing his thoughts, but just from pure dislike of the other guy's analytical rudeness.  And I can't help feeling that that is how we are supposed to feel about this supposedly generous character who picks up a stranger along the road but proceeds to interrogate him.

I entirely agree. I think the POV really helps us get on Bogie's side, even though all we know about him up to this point is that he is an escaped murderer. And yet, because we are experiencing the feeling of being hunted and judged, we somehow want this man we know nothing about to escape and survive.

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In thinking further about the use of POV in “Dark Passage,” I originally thought it was an artistic choice or experiment.  I’m now wondering if this wasn’t simply a choice made to solve technical problems.

 

Because the screenplay is based on a novel, I’m assuming for a moment that the author, David Goodis, wasn’t constrained by any cinematic issues while writing the story.  However, once formatted into a screenplay designed for cinematic production, as opposed to being read, how do you get around the fact that the story has two different looking characters with the same voice?

 

The director, Delmer Daves could have kept a standard approach to film Bogart but that would mean he’d have to hide his face until after the bandages were applied and then removed.  He could have done this by keeping Bogart’s face in shadow or only shooting him from behind or camera angles that would reveal his face.

 

Or, he could have used another actor and had Bogart dub the voice.  Frankly, dubbing or hiding Bogart’s face might have worn thin or become tedious or technically problematic for the amount of time required for Bogart had to play the original Vincent Parry.

 

Lots of movies show different actors with different voices playing the same person, but it’s frequently used when it comes to the age of the character.  This isn’t the case here and given the difficulties of maintaining the same voice across two different looking characters I’m wondering if Daves didn’t decide to use the POV style as a way to solve that problem.

 

What’s also interesting is “Lady In The Lake” was released the same year (1947) as “Dark Passage.”  “Lady In The Lake” uses an exclusive POV format for the Philip Marlowe protagonist, although in this story, there’s no need to work around the two different looking characters.  “Lady In The Lake’s” POV choice seems like a purely artistic decision.

 

I’ve no idea if the director and actor Robert Montgomery was aware of Delmer Daves or vice versa while they were in production.  I’ve never read anything wherein Daves explains his decision to use the POV format.

 

I’d love to hear anything if someone knows more about the choices involved in making “Dark Passage.”

 

Thanks - Mark

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I saw a trailer for Lady in the Lake years ago and it was billed as a REVOLUTIONARY film technique where YOU get to solve the mystery. Thank goodness for the trailer because I viewed it again and by taking this course looked at it in more detailed. What stands out is that Lady in the Lake was billed as a Mystery and a Thriller. (But most definetly a noir). For me whenever I watch Lady in the Lake, ME solving the mystery gets old. Howeve in Lady in the Lake it was Very effective Marlowe was crawling to the telephone booth, when he gets punched and in other places. It wore thin. But I try to remember this was a new technique.

 

Dark Passage used the same techinque, it works for me because I am seeing things from Bogie's view and then goes to regular movie when the bandages are taken off. That's why Dark Passage works for me. Lady in the Lake is one of my favorite noirs I've watched it maybe more times than Dark Passage but overall I see Dark Passage having better usage of the technique. I also see Dark Passage as a better movie of the two. For some reason Lady in Lake interests me a tad more...

 

Anywoo Here's the trailer

 

Don't know if I'll do this but I may start looking at trailers of tne classic noirs. It gives me good insight how the film makers wanted the public view the film

 

 

 

 

This movie is interesting in contrast with Lady in the Lake (1947), a movie that tries to so completely identify the protagonist with the audience or the camera. The opening of Dark Passage is wrought with the troubling notion that the audience is identifying directly with something out of its control.  It is especially disconcerting knowing that you are identifying with a prison escapee about whom we know nothing.  The jarring effect is intended by the fact that it works too well, and that we are hoping for the protagonist's escape, a tenet of the moral ambiguity.  I was even hoping he would punch the guy who picked him up and who wouldn't leave him alone with all the questions. To me, POV is interesting because of the ways it actually fails to do what it is supposed to do.  Lady in the Lake is a widely recognized failure.  I think this is in part because it too easily assumes the complex mechanisms of identification an audience would have with the triumverate of screen/protagonist/camera.  Unlike Vertov's Man with the Movie Camera (1929), this sort of Lake "kino eye" is stuck to one perspective, and with the exception of montage, does not offer the new kind of seeing but a reactionary lens tethered to only the function of the human eye.  Dark Passage includes within its plot this sort of untethering from the POV to great effect.

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Dark Passage is my favorite Bogart and Bacall movie, more than Key Largo or To Have or Have Not.  I had DVR-ed the movie and watched in the sections over the last two days.  My younger son came out while I was watching the beginning and commented on the First Person POV--perceptive 13 year old!  This film technique not only gets the viewer inside the head of the main character Vincent Parry but also inside his skin.  It helps the viewer feel sympathy for Parry and admire him for his risk in attempting to escape San Quentin.  Dark Passage turns film noir inside out; since we feel sympathy for Parry we are willing to go on the journey to discover whether he is innocent of his prison sentence.  It takes the first 45 minutes before we even glimpse his bandaged face after the facial surgery, and it is only after the first hour that we finally see his "new" face at the same time that Bacall's character sees him for the first time and falls in love at this first sight.  It is mystery and romance in a fine combination.  It is definitely one of my favorite films, not just favorite film noir!

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The lack of fluidity and some camera motions do date this usage of POV shot(which has sadly been so overused in the past decade or so), but I still find it fairly effective. To me, there is always a tension to this kind of perspective because, as a viewer, I am forced to look through someone else's eyes, but I have no control on where they look or what they look at. It forces the viewer to give up some control. And obviously it helps us feel more allied with the Bogart character. The police aren't just chasing him, but us as well. I really liked this movie when I watched it for the first time several months ago. The only thing that was tough for me was believing thay the Perry character could look like his picture in the paper and still have that iconic Bogart voice. Today, it is impossible to separate that voice from Bogart's face.

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Since the extensive use of the main character's POV in Dark Passage is not used right away, virgin viewers will not get the concept of the perspective until after the shirt is stuffed into the bushes and the camera swishes back and forth from a view of the prison to a view of the motorcycle cops. It's at this time one would normally expects a reverse angle onto the character doing the watching. This anticipation is completely squashed once "we" climb into the passing car and begin a conversation with the new character who talks straight to the camera. He is talking to us, the viewer. Now we settle in, now we understand - this perspective is a part of the story, and we the audience are required to be a more active participant than is usually expected of us. This is thrilling and full of natural tension created by the viewer's new unexpected role of riding along inside the head of the main character. This is perhaps the strongest example of how Noir aims to get the viewer to do just that - empathize with the main character by getting us to understand, or at the very least, empathize with him. A milestone indeed.

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Despite the change in perspective between POV and third person omniscient in the opening scene of Dark Passage, I would argue that the use of POV works and adds an extra level of tension to story. Instead of simply seeing the barrel roll down the hill, we're inside the barrel, with the protagonist understanding the jumble and turbulent of actually propelling down the hill. Instead of seeing the threat as an observer, we feel the threat of being caught...and the tension of shoes being noticed and the radio interrupting it's programming. We feel an attachment with the prisoner, even though it seems we've done something wrong, and want him to get away, even if we don't entirely trust him yet...POV perspective allows that feeling. 

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POV camera angles are not quite as accurate as actually seeing something with your own eyes, of course, because the camera is limited (no peripheral vision)...  I do not have to turn my head quite so emphatically and face something straight on when looking to the right or left of me...  (this is a noticeable difference for me when watching movies filmed in that way), however, because of this lack of peripheral, we are knowing even less about what is going on around us, which, I think, adds to the suspense.  The feeling I got was almost as though I was boxed in, with only a small claustrophobic view to what was happening, as from inside the barrel, only this "barrel view" continued even when I was out of it.  I got the same hunted feeling as Bogart's character surely had, as though I was straining, whipping about frantically to see who was coming and what my options were for escape.  When we watch in this way, we each get the chance to be him, with the benefit of someone else's commentary (Bogart's "narration" of different thoughts), which is definitely a repeated element in many film noirs.

 

And I'm with Bogie.. what a nosy guy!!!  

Unlike-able.  I'm on the side of an escaped con, not only because he is the first character I am introduced to and happen to be seeing things from his viewpoint, hearing his thoughts, but just from pure dislike of the other guy's analytical rudeness.  And I can't help feeling that that is how we are supposed to feel about this supposedly generous character who picks up a stranger along the road but proceeds to interrogate him.

 

Well the driver was an ex-con therefore by instinct he felt something wasn't right.   At a subconscious level he recognized the prison clothes and was within a mile or so of the prison, but since he wasn't very bright didn't put it all together.   Given what was going on in his subconscious the natural thing to do is ask questions.   Bogie overacted (which is also understandable).  But who else other than an ex-con would an escaped con want to have stopped?     Well Bacall of course.    Therefore both encounters were one in a million type deals (unless ex-cons just drive around that area for the view!).    ;)

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First Person P.O.V added tension by making the audience an active participant, not a passive onlooker. Throughout the entire scene, we weren't watching Vincent as though there was nothing we could do; instead, we were Vincent. We were the ones hiding cloths, estimating when the police would arrive, "taking chances", and hitting the poor sap who let us in his car. We couldn't easily deny our role in the scene like in third person P.O.V. Instead, we were Vincent, a convicted criminal, apparent murderer, and escapee. Not exactly what we're suppose to aspire to be.

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The use of first-person view, without showing the protagonist, sets up our feeling of empathy for Bogey's Vincent Parry character. We can feel his experience and fear for him not fear him. This technique works in "Dark Passage," where it hasn't in other films. It doesn't come off as a gimmick here because, besides putting us in the escapee's shoes, it makes the plastic surgery results more believable. We don't know what Vincent Parry looked like before and Humphrey Bogart didn't have to be covered in weird makeup, which probably would have been unconvincing or comical.

 

"Lady in the Lake," starring Robert Montgomery, used the first-person view with less successful results. There seemed to be no reason for it, other than a gimmick, where we only saw Robert Montgomery if he was reflected in a mirror or window. I found it annoying and felt unsatisfied after sitting through it. I haven't seen "Rope," Hitchcock's first-person film, so I can't really compare it, but from clips it appears unnecessary and could get tiresome. I'll have to watch the entire movie to find out.

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I think the first person POV did work fairly good. Yes some of the angles are hard to get with a camera, but over all worked OK. I did think it was better this way than trying to change Bogie's looks, he gets to be revealed as his new self when we see him for the first time after his surgery.

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The POV from Bogart's character's eyes gives the movie viewer a distinct sense of being in the action. The limitations mentioned in some other posts (lack of peripheral vision, camera angles, etc.) seemed to be minimally disruptive for me, on a cost-benefit tally. The fact that the complete story is enhanced by the POV hidden facial characteristics makes the story flow more effectively for me (having seen the movie numerous times). The overly curious character who picked Bogie up may seem irritating, but the backstory, so to speak, plays out later in the movie (well after the opening scene clip).

 

It goes without saying that the Bogie and Bacall chemistry will certainly enhance the quality of the story line and the film itself.

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The POV from Bogart's character's eyes gives the movie viewer a distinct sense of being in the action. The limitations mentioned in some other posts (lack of peripheral vision, camera angles, etc.) seemed to be minimally disruptive for me, on a cost-benefit tally. The fact that the complete story is enhanced by the POV hidden facial characteristics makes the story flow more effectively for me (having seen the movie numerous times). The overly curious character who picked Bogie up may seem irritating, but the backstory, so to speak, plays out later in the movie (well after the opening scene clip).

 

It goes without saying that the Bogie and Bacall chemistry will certainly enhance the quality of the story line and the film itself.

 

While I agree the B&B chemistry enhances the noir films they were in it does lessen the noir vibe of the film by adding a romantic factor.   E.g.  The Big Sleep;  in the book Marlow was messing around with Mrs. Mars not Vivian Sternwood.    But of course this was changed so that B&B could fall for each other  (and the film was reshot to add more romantic scenes after B&B were married).     

 

Key Largo being an exception since it wasn't until the very end that a potential romance between the two is explored. 

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Interesting to watch this, know its Bogey, but never actually see him.  The POV allows the viewer to immerse himself into the action.  As I watched the driver of the car get hit over and over, I had the unsettling sense that I was an eyewitness, and needed to do something about it or stop it.  This kind of opening creates the same sense of chaos and uneasiness that the character himself is feeling.  Masterful!

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I liked Mr. Edward's introductory comments about the film. To be honest it was always one of my least favorite Bogart films. IMO the first person P.O.V only works in the opening scene, then gets tiresome (except for maybe the scene with the plastic surgeon, for which I credit Stevenson). I'm going to watch this one again!

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The use of first person POV was very successful, for sure. What a great twist. I think it added tension to this scene because it made me feel as though I were "on the run" with him; even though we aren't told of his crime until the end of the clip, I was somehow still rooting for him to make it. When the announcement came on the radio, I instantly felt doomed. What will Vincent would do to save himself?! Once he started to punch the man driving, I wondered if his intentions were to make him unconscious or to kill him. I suppose he wouldn't mind killing the man in order to save himself, anyway, since he already murdered his wife...!  :unsure:

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I think that the usage of POV was indeed very successful in this opening scene. One could feel the palpable panic, once the camera, switches and you start to see things through the eyes of Bogie's character. You are no longer seeing/feeling things vicariously. And in a span of those four minutes, you are Vincent Parry. His thoughts, fears, become yours. And in that scene where he finally gets a ride from a stranger, and the news breaks over the radio, one could also feel the surge of desperation and anger as he begins to beat the driver repeatedly.

 

I think the fact that we saw things through the character himself, made everything else tangible and visceral. From, rolling over in that barrel, to frantically discarding his clothes in the bushes, to hoping that he wouldn't get caught. In this sequence, the audiences was no longer an observer, but a participant in what this character was going through. And I think that was the most important contribution the opening of that film made, and how we as the viewers were able to see things from a different prespective, or as the old adage goes, 'Walk a mile in my shoes.'

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I liked Mr. Edward's introductory comments about the film. To be honest it was always one of my least favorite Bogart films. IMO the first person P.O.V only works in the opening scene, then gets tiresome (except for maybe the scene with the plastic surgeon, for which I credit Stevenson). I'm going to watch this one again!

I also find the extended use of first person POV tiresome after the first several minutes. I've never been a fan of this film probably because, as a lifelong Bogie fan, I want to see the man's face.  However, the technique does bring tension to the opening sequence.  We, as viewers, question ourselves for sympathizing with a someone who, we're informed, is a convicted murderer when he brutally attacks the driver who has given him a ride.  But, seeing the driver from Vincent's POV, we understand the urgency in Vincent's need to shut him up.  I had  never considered this film to be in the noir category. But, of course, I defer to the film experts on this point. To me, the film seems too light, visually, and it lacks a femme fatale.  And, is the Bogart character as cynical as the usual protagonist in a film noir?  He doesn't seem to be, IMO.

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I also find the extended use of first person POV tiresome after the first several minutes. I've never been a fan of this film probably because, as a lifelong Bogie fan, I want to see the man's face. However, the technique does bring tension to the opening sequence. We, as viewers, question ourselves for sympathizing with a someone who, we're informed, is a convicted murderer when he brutally attacks the driver who has given him a ride. But, seeing the driver from Vincent's POV, we understand the urgency in Vincent's need to shut him up. I had never considered this film to be in the noir category. But, of course, I defer to the film experts on this point. To me, the film seems too light, visually, and it lacks a femme fatale. And, is the Bogart character as cynical as the usual protagonist in a film noir? He doesn't seem to be, IMO.

The POV is soooo phony and cheap looking in this. When Bacall is talking to him,you can tell she is just reading script lines to a camera lens.They should have at least had him there to read his lines back,so there is a real natural dialog going on to sell it. The only time I was fine with it at all,was when he's getting surgery. Another major error I can't get over,is the man they used for Vincent in the paper...looked older than Bogart himself! Yet the surgery was supposed to make him appear 10yrs older? That doesn't add up at all. They should have found a much younger man for the newspaper photo,and how that got overlooked is beyond me. One thing I do think would have been great,is if Warners had put ACME on the barrel!
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The use of 1st person POV was successful 1) it was a good solution to needing a pre-plastic surgery face. 2) it is unusual, piquing one's interest. 3) it draws you in, helps you empathize with him (not that I ever need encourgement to root for Bogart). 4) being made to wait to see his face increases the suspense. 5) it was so skillfully done.

 

The use of 1st person POV added to the tension of the scene, by putting us in Bogart's shoes we feel as though we are the ones in danger, anxious about being caught. And the restricted field of view heightens the feeling of being hunted; hearing sirens but not able to see which direction or how far away. The overly inquisitive driver is staring at ME. The roadsign when the car stops - which way will we go prison or freedom?

 

Dark Passage definately contributes in important ways to Film Noir- immediately we are put literally in the middle of the action, rooting for a convicted wife murderer! it has crime, suspense, mystery, voice over, San Francisco, Bogart & Bacall.

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I think that the usage of POV was indeed very successful in this opening scene. One could feel the palpable panic, once the camera, switches and you start to see things through the eyes of Bogie's character. You are no longer seeing/feeling things vicariously. And in a span of those four minutes, you are Vincent Parry. His thoughts, fears, become yours. And in that scene where he finally gets a ride from a stranger, and the news breaks over the radio, one could also feel the surge of desperation and anger as he begins to beat the driver repeatedly.

 

I think the fact that we saw things through the character himself, made everything else tangible and visceral. From, rolling over in that barrel, to frantically discarding his clothes in the bushes, to hoping that he wouldn't get caught. In this sequence, the audiences was no longer an observer, but a participant in what this character was going through. And I think that was the most important contribution the opening of that film made, and how we as the viewers were able to see things from a different prespective, or as the old adage goes, 'Walk a mile in my shoes.'

I couldn't agree more or have said it better, Tess. D!  This approach really engages us as viewers and draws us into the action so we become invested in the character and his outcome.  We can’t help but be conflicted by the fact that he’s probably a bad guy considering he just broke out of prison but since we’re seeing things from his point of view, we feel his desperation and panic and we’re really anxious for him (and ourselves) to succeed. We want this character to get away, where if we’d actually observed him in a more traditional, movie making manner, we might have been more judgmental about the character and therefore indifferent about the success of his escape.   

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One of my biggest storytelling pet peeves - both in film and in books - is overtelling. This opening sequence, while it gives two very brief shots outside of the main character's direct POV (the barrel on the truck and Bogie crawling out of it and into the bushes) gives the viewer credit for being able to follow what's happening. The subtlety of Film Noir in general appeals to me for that reason, overall. Like Bette Davis' expressions in The Letter, this opening conveys so much without treating me as though I need everything explained.

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