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


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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.

 

Yes,  overtelling can impact the quality of a film.   Note that because the film starred Bogie and Bacall,  most of the audience knows right from the start that the Bogie (who we know is the guy in the barrel due to the voice)  isn't an actual murder and as soon as we see Bacall we know that her role is to help him redeem himself  (instead of say as a femme fatale).     

 

If the film was cast with two relatively unknown actors or a noir actor that was often a bad egg (e.g. Dan Duryea, Robert Ryan) and an actress that wasn't the actor's wife, then the audience might be expecting a twist where the 'hero' is really the cad or the women turns on said hero.    

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Yes,  overtelling can impact the quality of a film.   Note that because the film starred Bogie and Bacall,  most of the audience knows right from the start that the Bogie (who we know is the guy in the barrel due to the voice)  isn't an actual murder and as soon as we see Bacall we know that her role is to help him redeem himself  (instead of say as a femme fatale).     

 

If the film was cast with two relatively unknown actors or a noir actor that was often a bad egg (e.g. Dan Duryea, Robert Ryan) and an actress that wasn't the actor's wife, then the audience might be expecting a twist where the 'hero' is really the cad or the women turns on said hero.    

True, BUT .  .  . The real power of casting is when the casting goes against type.  How does the power of a performance change when Bogart IS the villain? How about when the script and characterization leads one to the conclusion that Bogart is the killer. only to clear him later in the final scenes?  While it may not be likely, but it can be wonderful when you cannot take anything for granted

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True, BUT .  .  . The real power of casting is when the casting goes against type.  How does the power of a performance change when Bogart IS the villain? How about when the script and characterization leads one to the conclusion that Bogart is the killer. only to clear him later in the final scenes?  While it may not be likely, but it can be wonderful when you cannot take anything for granted

 

I agree with you which is why Treasure of the Sierra Madre is one of my favorite Bogart performances (but Jack Warner was disappointed with the box office take).       But Dark Passage was a movie that was built for Bogie and Bacall.  That was advertised and marketed as their film.   Therefore while the studio could have casted Bogie and Bacall together in a film where one or both of them played the villain (e.g.  Bacall was cast in The Two Miss Carrolls instead of Stanwyck or was used instead of Alexis Smith Conflict),   the suits weren't going to allow that due to box office concerns.     B&B were a hot commodity as a romantic couple and WB was going to milk that for all its worth.

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I love the POV. You can pretend that you were the desperate one. It also prepares what the escapee goes through. It makes it easier not to know what he looks like. I have seen this done in other film noir such as Lady in the Lake. It is done just as effectively in this film.

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The POV here is a great tool for making us identify with the main character. Not only do we see him first, he is in danger (physically) and trying to escape prison, therefore we are also curious as to how he ended up in this situation. By increasing the level of identification with this main character, it hardly matters to the audience what he did or why he was in prison; we're worried about him and so we'll stay with the story and likely believe whatever he says because of it. 

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I'm going to be super nitpicky here and say that the reason I don't find the opening successful is because you can tell that the man running with his back to the camera isn't Bogey at all. That has always bothered me, though I don't quite know why, other than it takes me out of the story, but it's not like almost every movie in existence doesn't take you out of the story at some point.

 

Also, I've always felt that the first-person POV shots were a cheap way of achieving the "plastic surgery" plot point without having to go to a lot of trouble with either prosthetics or a body double.

 

I wish I could say I liked DARK PASSAGE but something about it has always rubbed me the wrong way. Even all these decades later it has a whiff of "hot celebrity couple starring in major motion picture together" -- the publicity department's dream but not my idea of great cinema, I guess.

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The POV worked for me, especially as you hear his thoughts as you see what he sees.  Visually this style would get tiring if it went on for a lot longer, since the view seems really narrow and constrained.  I haven't watched the rest of the movie yet, but the opening definitely makes me want to see more.

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1. Do you feel this film's use of first person POV in this scene was successful or not successful?


 


Yes, because we are enveloped into a man's mind immediately and we instinctively realize he might, or must, be innocent. It is also successful in making viewers feel his fear as he imagines the danger, and when he is "caught" by the driver guessing his true identity as the escapee, we understand his need to punch his way out of the situation.


 


2. How do you think the use of a first person POV added to the tension of this scene?


 


We are the "I" as he narrates his journey and feel his tension between his relief at escaping and his fear at getting caught.


 


3. In what ways can the opening of Dark Passage be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?


 


Yes, because we gravitate toward the character-in-trouble, and we get sucked into the shadows of ambiguity -- in this case, we sense he should be free, but we don't know for sure, especially when he is harsh toward the driver rather than sounding grateful for the ride, since we believe he could have asked the driver to shut the radio, claiming a headache.

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I've always really liked this beginning to Dark Passage--there are so many elements of it that I find satisfying.

 

To begin with, the child-like persistent questioning of the driver who picks up Parry pushes into comedy ("Those are weird pants--where did you get them? Why are your shoes wet? Where are you from? Why aren't you more sunburned? Where is your shirt? Did you lose your shirt?"), but the whole time you're thinking about what Parry is going to do if (when) the driver realizes who he is.

 

Secondly, I think that there is a degree to which we, as viewers, are kind of superficial, and looking at a character's face (well, the actor's face,really) helps you decide if you are rooting for the person or against them. Denying us a look at the character's face (so that we don't see his expression when the driver starts questioning him, for example) means that we are in more suspense about what the character will do. We don't get to see how the actor is playing the part (aside from his voice,which is calm in a way that could either be menacing or benign) and that makes the character seem far more unpredictable.

 

Lastly, I just love that as the driver stops the car you get the little sign right behind his head showing San Quinten back the way they just came, and San Francisco in the direction they are driving.

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I've always really liked this beginning to Dark Passage--there are so many elements of it that I find satisfying.

 

To begin with, the child-like persistent questioning of the driver who picks up Parry pushes into comedy ("Those are weird pants--where did you get them? Why are your shoes wet? Where are you from? Why aren't you more sunburned? Where is your shirt? Did you lose your shirt?"), but the whole time you're thinking about what Parry is going to do if (when) the driver realizes who he is.

 

Secondly, I think that there is a degree to which we, as viewers, are kind of superficial, and looking at a character's face (well, the actor's face,really) helps you decide if you are rooting for the person or against them. Denying us a look at the character's face (so that we don't see his expression when the driver starts questioning him, for example) means that we are in more suspense about what the character will do. We don't get to see how the actor is playing the part (aside from his voice,which is calm in a way that could either be menacing or benign) and that makes the character seem far more unpredictable.

 

Lastly, I just love that as the driver stops the car you get the little sign right behind his head showing San Quinten back the way they just came, and San Francisco in the direction they are driving.

 

You brought up several things I liked about the scene like the "San Quentin/San Francisco" sign. Also, you mentioned the fact that we don't see Parry's face as a reason for the audience to not be sure if to root or not for him, but I was thinking the opposite. The fact that we are focusing on the driver's face makes us want to root for Parry, be it because of the driver's meddling questioning, or because well, he looks kinda douchey (which made me think of your first point about us being superficial)  :lol:

 

Anyway, I think that the POV allows the scene to be more tense than if you were watching someone running around. Like the "Daily Dose" bit mentions "we are in Parry's head", which makes us feel the way he feels.

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You brought up several things I liked about the scene like the "San Quentin/San Francisco" sign. Also, you mentioned the fact that we don't see Parry's face as a reason for the audience to not be sure if to root or not for him, but I was thinking the opposite. The fact that we are focusing on the driver's face makes us want to root for Parry, be it because of the driver's meddling questioning, or because well, he looks kinda douchey (which made me think of your first point about us being superficial)  :lol:

 

Anyway, I think that the POV allows the scene to be more tense than if you were watching someone running around. Like the "Daily Dose" bit mentions "we are in Parry's head", which makes us feel the way he feels.

 

To me, the driver is an innocent (albeit kind of an annoying one), and waiting to see how Parry will handle him is a big part of the suspense in the opening sequence.

 

I really need to see a character's face before I know how I feel about that character. Not just his face, but also his body language. Because of the first-person POV, we don't get a great sense of how Parry is reacting to the questions. It makes the character distinctly unlikable to me that when the driver is scared of him, Parry begins to hit him. The driver is so not a physical threat, and you get the sense that if Parry had simply, calmly, told him to get out of the car, the driver would have done it. You sort of want Parry to get away with his escape (partly because he is obviously our protagonist and also because Bogart), but it's unpleasant to see him hurting someone who is an innocent bystander.

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To me, the driver is an innocent (albeit kind of an annoying one), and waiting to see how Parry will handle him is a big part of the suspense in the opening sequence.

 

I really need to see a character's face before I know how I feel about that character. Not just his face, but also his body language. Because of the first-person POV, we don't get a great sense of how Parry is reacting to the questions. It makes the character distinctly unlikable to me that when the driver is scared of him, Parry begins to hit him. The driver is so not a physical threat, and you get the sense that if Parry had simply, calmly, told him to get out of the car, the driver would have done it. You sort of want Parry to get away with his escape (partly because he is obviously our protagonist and also because Bogart), but it's unpleasant to see him hurting someone who is an innocent bystander.

 

I believe the driver knew in his subconscious that Parry was an escaped convict.   The driver was just slow in connecting the dots.  Note that we find out later that the driver was sent up to San Quentin twice.   The pants and shoes Parry were wearing were government issued (he didn't get them at Macy's!) and the driver knew he was driving within miles of the joint.      If Parry had remained calm it was likely the driver would have helped him since the driver's profession was being a criminal.

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In Dark Passage, I think the first person point of view (POV) is very successful.

As soon as the barrel went over the cliff and POV is rolling, I noticed that as I watched,

I was unconsciously holding my breath!    Then forcing myself to take a good breath.

Then again, holding my breath!  

 

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- I think the use of first person POV was very successful.

- First person POV is very effective in not only putting the viewer
  inside the head of the character, but makes the viewer sympathize  
  with that character.
 

- In this film, we root for the "bad guy".
 

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Recalling how cameras lacked mobility, the POV for me, works. I am sure with today's smaller cameras, that many folks may not appreciate the technique.

Like others, the limitations of camera when using character POV always unnerved me for the lack of peripheral vision information I am used to, but now, that lack becomes part of the tension being built up, and shouts noir to me.

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Note that we find out later that the driver was sent up to San Quentin twice.

 

I think that there's a lot going on in the movie in terms of first impressions and what we think we know from them. I'd forgotten the detail of the driver having been a convict (it's been several years since I've watched it). I've mostly been talking about it in terms of us as an audience (as in, our first impression of Parry). But you're right--I make the assumption because of the actor's younger appearance and mannerisms that he is an innocent.

 

It's funny how so many movies (especially action/thriller/crime movies) involve relationships between characters (especially men and women) where those first impressions and snap judgements evolve into deeper, more serious connections. Like, think about how many movies involve a scenario where a man on the run ends up hiding where a woman can see him, he says some version of "please help me, I'm innocent," and she helps him. Just from looking at a pleading face. I think we find it really appealing to think that we can look at someone and, just from that first glimpse, read in their face if they are a decent human being. Of course, in film noir movies, some of the prettiest faces turn out to have some of the dirtiest souls.

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I understand the purpose of using the 1st person POV in this film, but it feels manipulative in a not-good way for me.

 

I like a story to draw me in obliquely, always offering the option for me to bail on my sense of relatability to a character in his or her circumstances, while continuing to maintain my interest in the final outcome.  The opening of Dark Passage is just too overt for my tastes.  It feels heavy-handed.

 

Don't get me wrong:  I still enjoy the film.  Also, Bogart reminds me of my late husband, so I can watch him do anything and be satisfied.  The opening of this particular film makes me want to have a very cross conversation with the director, though.

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Absolutely, I think the use of first person POV was successful! It makes it crystal clear with whom the viewer is supposed to identify. This seems both useful and necessary, considering this character is an escaped convict in prison for murdering his wife--not who the average contemporary viewer would be drawn to instinctively, we can assume. By sharing the convict's experience, we are essentially forced to take his side--to feel his fear, to consider his options as if they were our own--and, presumably, the result is that we root for this guy throughout the movie, despite what we learn about him and see him do. This seems crucial to the film noir idea of the anti-hero; perhaps before the viewer was very familiar with this sort of character (a convict we wanted to root for), that emotion and identification needed, perhaps, to be imposed upon the viewer. Later, of course, I'm sure we will question our feelings for this character, doubt him and ourselves, as anti-heroes always demand.

 

It helps, of course, that it's Bogey the whole time...

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The first person POV worked for me.  I have always loved escapee type movies and in this one the POV makes you really feel like you are the one on the run right away.  I only thought it didn't work as well when he was punching the driver.  

The constant questions from the driver really added tension to the movie.

I was really hooked and I am trying to find a way to see the whole movie.  I don't have TCM.

Another source for movies could be your local public library.  I was able to find Laura and M at mine.

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I was really hooked and I am trying to find a way to see the whole movie.

 

If you have Amazon Prime, it is free in their Instant Video library. If you don't have Prime you can rent it from them for $2.00.

 

You can rent it for $3.00 on YouTube.

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The POV works for me.  We are inside the barrel and that sets us up for the first twist--we are being hunted by all manner of police and are willing to die trying to escape them.  Next, we are trying to get to San Francisco without having to answer too many questions about ourselves.  Then we are found out to be a convicted wife killer and have to get out of a jam with our fists. 

 

We don't know what we look like but the radio and the facial expressions of the driver of the car we are riding in confirm it.  Since nobody is what they seem to be in noir, this is a perfect setup for the viewer and a pretty effective draw into the story of the running man.  All of this happens in broad daylight which is interesting in itself because there are no shadows but when the driver gets punched out we don't need streetlights and alleys to tell us this is not a sunny story.

 

We are invested in whatever ride the running man is going to take because we are joined to him like a Siamese twin.  We root for him and run along with him right or wrong because now we have a history together.  I kind of dig that.

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The first person POV worked for me.  I have always loved escapee type movies and in this one the POV makes you really feel like you are the one on the run right away.  I only thought it didn't work as well when he was punching the driver.  

The constant questions from the driver really added tension to the movie.

I was really hooked and I am trying to find a way to see the whole movie.  I don't have TCM.

Another source for movies could be your local public library.  I was able to find Laura and M at mine.

I have to agree: the 1st Person POV worked sometimes.  The barrel scene was good.  Just doing half the film in it got to be annoying, after a while. 

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Definitely the use of POV camera was not common at the American cinema form the 40's. But I think on this case its use was really effective. You can feel the tension of our main charcater almost if we were at his skin all the time. You can't see fugitive's face, but you almost feel its agony and starts to cheer for his success on the run.


Its contribution to noir genre relies on the tension and dramatic contruction. The thriller, the mystery and the tension are all there, even though on this particuylar sequence we don't have shadows and sillouetes.


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Love this opening! Reminiscent for me of La Bete Humaine, at least of terms of grit.  Noticeable is the Noir hallmark voiceover.  The voiceover puts us in the head of the escapee, and with that identification, he kind of becomes the hero.  We root for him - ourselves - to escape the cops, rather than for him to be caught.  In fact, we're nervous about getting caught.  I find it interesting that this identification is built before we learn why the person we are in the head of was in prison in the first place.  As viewers, the first face we meet is not that of the protagonist, but that of the driver.  Upon realization of who he's picked up, the scared driver is a mirror reflection of what we the viewer feel.

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Given that Vincent Parry undergoes major facial surgery it only makes sense that the director would use the POV approach. We don't see Parry's pre-Bogart face, and we don't need to. Not seeing it only adds to the mystery. All we can gather is that the new face is older than the pre-surgical look. "You'll look older, but feel younger."

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