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


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Chase scenes have almost always instantly engaged me, mainly because I imagine that it's me being chased.  It doesn't matter if it's a prison escapee in a film classic or Indiana Jones being chased by a huge boulder.  I'm in it.  So using the first person POV is a great tool for this opening scene.  It puts me in Bogie's shoes, wet and all, and contributes very much to the tension.  I like it.

 

As the curator's note suggested, cinematic experimentation is a big part of film noir.  I don't know how often first person POV was used before, but it works here.

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An absolute beauty of a shot by Delmer Daves. Every film noir, and every film, in general, aims to make the viewer see things as the characters in it do, and which is the best way to do it if not with a POV shot? The shot follows every step and look of Bogart's character, and even without seeing his face you can tell who he is: a tough, quick-witted escaped convict who tries to find a way to complete his escape and reach San Francisco.

 

The POV shot helps the viewer to feel that he is a part of the "show", and not just a distant observer. It's almost like playing as a certain character in a video game, although here you cannot do anything to affect your character's fate, in fact, you don't even know if he is to like or to hate. Combined with Bogart's tough voice and narrative, it's one of the most personal opening scenes appearing in a film.

 

Of course, if you watch the whole film you'll see why the director has chosen not to show the leading character's face, but that's another story, a plot device. Watching this shot you can't possibly know it, so you just admire its artistic quality and the effect of it in your emotions and the way you are looking to the screen. 

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Bogart has come a long way from the romantic lead in Casablanca.  It seems to me that he would go on to play other quirky leads until his death a decade later.  

 

The POV from Bogart outward contributes to the noir movement, which was well underway at this point. As in yesterday's clip from The Letter, in which characters struggled with confinement, the protagonist in Dark Passage finds himself in prison, thenby turns in a barrel, under a bridge, behind a fence, in the visual vortex of a country stream, and in a car in which his identity is uncomfortably revealed.   In addition, though, Vincent is on the move all the time, until the very last frame of the film.

 

The POV that the director uses increases the sense of constant motion, of exploration, and of the possibility of acceptance of his true self.  The audience is drawn in at once and, moves along with the Vincent Parry character.  We, too, are in motion in this rootless world, seeking but not finding, seeing but not knowing, in motion but not quite free.  The audience's forced identification with Vincent's point of view brings us along with him willingly.  We are searching for identity, roots, relationships as well in a post-war world where promised certainties didn't turn out as planned..

 

Semi-spoiler:  later on in the film, the person who has the means to free Vincent of false charges against him becomes fatally entangled in a curtain while delivering a denouement speech that requires several watchings to decipher.  It's a great movie!

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Honestly I don't think the POV added much.  When he was going through the brush it gave a bit of a feeling of desperation.  The rest, however, didn't add much.  Frankly I think seeing the "grit and determination" (or whatever emotion Bogart was feeling) would have been more compelling.

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Ok let me stop for a moment and just say that was awesome. I have never heard of this film before but will definitely give it a watch. Anyway  I do believe that the POV was successful in how it really put you in the first person narrative mode like a lot of Noir with the voice over. In this case it just takes it a little more literally. I think that  the POV also makes you feel like an inmate escaping from prison. It adds tension by limiting our scope and creating suspense by adding an unknown element of how the cops could show up at any minute. This creates incredible tension particularly when we hear the radio announcement when the protagonist is getting a ride to San Francisco.   

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Sidenote first: This board has been incredibly civil and polite, and I do not want to give the impression that I'm trying to be rude. I'm not trying to challenge any opinions or say they're wrong. If this opening didn't work for you it didn't work, but I love discussion so I'm gonna give my opinion now.

 

I don't find the opening to be any more contrived than any other film. All films are contrived, in that they show you only what the writers/directors want you to see. They give you only as much information as they want you to know. A question you can ask, along with 'why is this in first person?' is 'why aren't they showing Bogart?' Because you're right, Bogart was a big draw that people wanted to see. Why not show him? The movie has its reasons, and the confusion that comes from the POV shots are, I think, intentional.

Ha ha, I think we can blame the instructor, here!  jk :)  But the probing questions do lead one to evaluate without seeing the whole film and I believe you cannot witness the benefit of the pov shot in the opening without seeing the whole film.  imho

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This is not a film noir gimmick. It was a gimmick in The Lady in the Lake. I didn't particularly enjoy it there. 

 

The POV is required by the story. Don't worry -- no spoilers here.

 

That being said, it is interesting to watch, and adds to the clip. When the camera pans to show the road behind the car, we know it is because Bogart is checking to see if they're being followed. When we see the rolling barrel from the inside, we know that we're supposed to identify with the escapee, so it's unlikely that he's a monster. 

 

This is the first film we've seen from the official noir period. That may be why we're supposed to empathize with the escapee. He isn't just any criminal. He could be one of us.

 

 

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Wow, what a great opening!  It had me riveted from the start and now I want to see the rest of the movie!  The perspective was a little jarring at first, transferring between around Bogart and then turning into his perspective. But I get why Daves did that - in order for us to see what was going on before turning it into Bogart's POV.  Really cool start - can't wait to see the rest of it!

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I'm not a big fan of POV but this scene works better than an entire film that was done that way ("Lady in the Lake"?). At least you get a sense of Bogart's escape and what it is like. Having seen this movie, I know the POV device was used because of what comes next. It was probably a bold step to start the film this way and it must have caused quite a stir at the time. The fact that POV was seldom used would say to me that as innovative as it was, it really did not create major changes in the way film noir flourished.

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You definitely feel like you are a part of the movie and the conversation when Bogart is talking to the guy who picks him up.  Especially when you see the expression on the guy's face when he realizes who he picked up and than the punches just come out of nowhere.

 

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Sweet! It's part of the summer course, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again with a more critical eye. I didn't like it much when I first saw it, but maybe I'll find something I missed.

It grows on you. For me the story line is very effective, the problem is the cast :-) For that reason, movie wise I give the lady in the lake a 6.9 out of 10- and it is very watchable.

I dont want to spoil it for any one or color any one's opinion. it should be watched with an open mind

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Some comments pointed out how experimental this first person POV is and it's true; I had a feeling the crew was experimenting something new when they filmed this opening scene. That being said, it definitely adds something to this opening. The first person POV makes perfect sense for me because I associate it with film noir (Double Indemnity and my favorite moments of Out of the Past use a voice over, for instance). Besides, by not showing Bogart who was very famous at that time, the film director almost thumbs his nose at the audience. It's rather cheeky.

 

I like the fact we only hear the voice over after one long minute, once Vincent Parry realizes his escape has been noticed. The first minute looks very clinical, in my opinion, and the danger becomes more palpable when the driver picks him up. The rest of the scene builds up tension until Parry punches the driver. Great opening.

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You can just tell the guy who picks Vincent up in the jalopy wiil turn out to be a leech!

The use of POV here is fabulous! I love the feeling of Lauren Bacall looking me dead in the face (pun intended)!

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Interesting choice.  All the movies chosen previously this week have been lead-ups to Film Noir, contributing some element here and there to the prototype.  But Dark Passage was made in 1947, squarely in the middle of it all.

 

That said, the journey toward San Fransisco - THE film noir locale - is poingant.  And I suppose the first person POV strongly empahsizes/exaggerates the way most film noir seeks to bring us into the main character's head (and keep his face obscured, for that matter).

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At the risk of being a downer, I did not care for the POV shot to the extent that it was used in this scene.  I think it would have been more effective using it on a limited basis, which would have added more to the drama.  Instead, I was engaged more in the director's technique instead of content of the scene itself.  In fact, some parts were almost laughable (inside the barrel as it rolled downhill, when he waved his hand in front of the camera and when the driver was punched).  To me, this technique was a distraction.  (But who am I to criticize Delmer Daves?)

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I agree with others.

 

This was good, but not as captivating as the other intro's we've seen.

 

While the acting of Bogart was good, the questioning by the driver was tedious.

 

The POV served it's purpose well, but I think it could have been over used. It was a good technique to connect us to the main character, but I felt it lacked the intensity of other clips.

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Point of view, in my opinion, has always given a film that experimental feel.  It can certainly disengage some viewers (to the opposite of its intention to involve them in the action).  In this case, as a way to grab the viewer's attention, I think it works more than it doesn't.  I am not a huge fan of POV films -- it really depends on each separate film.  I have nto seen this entire movie, and I guess the reason for starting with POV will come into play later (from what I have read).  Either way, at the time this was a gutsy way to start.

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Great POV opening sequence, this film, Lady In The Lake (1947), and Jigsaw (1949) is the third classic noir I've seen that utilizes a POV camera. Mister Buddwing (1966) also uses this device well.

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While the acting of Bogart was good, the questioning by the driver was tedious.

 

One thing I was thinking about during that scene was how even polite conversation would be very stressful for Bogart's character, but instead of a man of hapless curiosity, we're given this suspicious guy interrogating him for his life story.  It struck me as unnecessary, but at the same time, it's pretty clear the film wants us to root for Bogart.  Having him punch the lights out of some poor fool just trying to make pleasant conversation would be  a significantly different characterization from what we ended up with (someone who only punches the lights out of nosy jerks).  That said, it's still kind of contrived.

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This one doesn't work for me.  Ironic considering Bogart would come to an integral part of defining the Noir genre as Sam Spade.  The biggest problem I have with this opening is that in the beginning we go from third to first person to third person and back again. It's an interesting idea, but as we've seen in some of the other openings, the way to keep tension is to stick with a POV... eliminate cuts.  So in this instance I feel it would have been more effective to stay in first person POV  once there.  

 

Ordinarily I don't like VO, as I feel it's a lazy bit of writing .. not being clever with the exposition.. just have a narrator tell you how we got here...  In this case however, we are clearly inside the main characters head  visually, so why not hear the thoughts?... and it's not back story being delivered, just thoughts about the current desperate situation.

 

I felt the driver's insistent questioning to be forced. If someone like Boggie says he doesn't want to talk.. you shut up. But when he started punching him in the face.. that worked.  There's some conflict.  The punches as filmed didn't look real though.  Maybe it was a limit of having to get around a large camera (would be interesting to try re-creating this scene with a goPro or BMPCC). If I was the actor getting punched I would want it to look real. 

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To me, Daves' decision to use POV for the opening scene completely works. While most of us haven't escaped from prison before, one would imagine it is highly stressful and makes you completely paranoid. The POV takes you inside the mind of Bogart's character and immerses you with the picture. You are forced to become a willing accomplice to Bogart's escape. You never feel like the decision to use POV is a gimmicky one. It just feels necessary and really adds to the film's tension. I don't think you'd feel as drawn into the film if the POV wasn't being used. It gives you something fresh, something new.

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Sidenote first: This board has been incredibly civil and polite, and I do not want to give the impression that I'm trying to be rude. I'm not trying to challenge any opinions or say they're wrong. If this opening didn't work for you it didn't work, but I love discussion so I'm gonna give my opinion now.

 

I don't find the opening to be any more contrived than any other film. All films are contrived, in that they show you only what the writers/directors want you to see. They give you only as much information as they want you to know. A question you can ask, along with 'why is this in first person?' is 'why aren't they showing Bogart?' Because you're right, Bogart was a big draw that people wanted to see. Why not show him? The movie has its reasons, and the confusion that comes from the POV shots are, I think, intentional.

I didn't find your response rude; please, no worries there.

 

But I did find the opening to Dark Passage a bit contrived. While it may be true that all movies are contrived, I don't want to be reminded of that or feel that when I am watching the beginning of a film and hoping to be caught up in the story. If I am watching a movie (or reading a novel or doing just about anything else that an audience does), I don't want to be so conscious of technique. I want to enjoy first, analyze later. This opening just didn't work so well for me, but it's not going to stop me from seeing the movie.

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