Bogart, Bacall and San Francisco Still Shine in Film Noir Classic ‘Dark Passage’

I first saw ‘Dark Passage’, the 1947 thriller, when I was in my twenties and about to move from the UK to San Francisco.

I had become a little obsessed with all things black, absorbing the long shadows, morally dubious heroes and double-crossing femme fatales in “The Maltese Falcon”, “Touch of Evil”, “Double Indemnity” and dozens others. But I had read that one film captured the city I was going to move to like no other film. Plus, it starred two of the biggest movie stars of all time — real-life husband and wife Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Except it doesn’t, at least for the first hour of the film. Bogart, who at the time was a true global icon, doesn’t show his famous smirk and sad eyes until an hour into the race, despite being in every scene.

The film begins with a panoramic view of San Quentin prison, where convicted wife murderer Vincent Parry hid in a barrel of oil on a truck leaving the prison grounds to escape. Parry rattles in the back of the truck as he goes down Paradise Drive near Tiburon until his barrel bounces off the back.

After beating a man who identifies Parry from a police radio dispatch, a guardian angel in the form of Lauren Bacall appears from the bushes.

It’s hard to describe Bacall’s mesmerizing beauty in this film. Her brilliance epitomizes the Golden Age of Hollywood like no other star.

Lauren Bacall in 1946.

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Right off the bat, it’s clear that something different, and at the time experimental, is happening as the story unfolds. Almost every shot is from behind our escaped hero’s eyes, but it’s unclear why we can hear Bogie’s famous drag and never see his face. Bacall’s Irene Jansen takes Parry south through the now-iconic Waldo Tunnel (adorned with rainbows and named after Robin Williams) and over the Golden Gate Bridge.

They cross Crissy Field to Jansen’s Telegraph Hill apartment, and it’s almost as gorgeous as our heroine. The Malloch Building is an architectural marvel, still standing today at 1360 Montgomery Street. The Streamline Moderne Art Deco style, built in 1937, resembles an Airstream cruise ship jutting over the cliff. Curvy lines, silver sgraffito-painted walls, spiral staircases, and nautical chrome styling surround one of San Francisco‘s coolest elevators. It still glows at night and moves up and down the Montgomery Street side of the building, a shot repeated often in the film.

Visiting the building is now worth the 400-step climb on Filbert Street Steps (or the narrow road to the steep northern slopes of Montgomery). The building has been meticulously maintained over the decades and looks exactly like the movie, and occasionally a resident holds a life-size Humphrey Bogart cutout in the window.

The Monarch Building, <a class=San Francisco.”/>

The Monarch Building, San Francisco.

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In her luxurious apartment, Apartment 10 at the Malloch, swing music plays as the mysterious Jansen reveals that she is a true crime fanatic who likes to spend her days wandering around the federal penitentiary and believes that Parry is a man innocent – although no one else in San Francisco does. Together, the two begin to flirt like only Bogie and Bacall can, and rush around town in an attempt to prove his innocence.


The absence of Bogart’s mug in the film’s first hour is made up for by some of the best city footage ever seen on screen. Director Delmer Daves shows us many corners of 1940s San Francisco, from neon-lit Geary Street to the shaded steps of Kearny’s sidewalk to the long-gone wagon cafe, Harry’s Wagon, in the Fillmore.

The plot then takes a gloriously ridiculous turn as we find out why we haven’t seen our hero’s face yet.

On the advice of a charismatic taxi driver, Parry has the brilliant idea of ​​having surgery in the middle of the night at a scary surgeon in Nob Hill. And finally, we and Bacall take a look at Bogart’s smile.

Bogart and Bacall’s chemistry is hotter than ever. The film was the third of four films the married couple made together in the 1940s. (A fifth was planned but was cut short in pre-production when Bogart was diagnosed with esophageal cancer which would cost him his life in 1957.)

American actress Lauren Bacall and her husband Humphrey Bogart on the set of

American actress Lauren Bacall and her husband Humphrey Bogart on the set of “Dark Passage”, based on the novel by David Goodis and directed by Delmer Daves. (Photo by Warner Bros. Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

At the time, the face-swap twist was pretty bold and Warner Bros. used it to sell the image. Now, that looks like a big, fun gimmick that distracts from the nuanced story of doomed lovers on the run in the closing act.

After Parry’s friend George is found dead in his apartment on tiny Florence Street on Russian Hill (just around the corner from the house at 1001 Vallejo St. at the center of “The Matrix Resurrections”). Parry locks himself in a dilapidated boarding house – the Kean Hotel at 1018 Mission St. This single-room hotel is still there under the same name and still in disrepair; the place was cited in 2014 for a cockroach infestation, among other things.

The film’s attention to location detail is so precise that director Daves took a camera to the roof of the Kean Hotel to capture a three-second shot of the city, reflecting Parry’s view from his window.

Bogie escapes on the Filbert Steps in

Bogie escapes on the Filbert Steps in “Dark Passage”.

(Big spoilers ahead for a movie released 75 years ago.)

After discovering that Jansen’s friend Madge (played brilliantly as an accomplice bachelor by Agnes Moorehead) is, in fact, the jealous lover who killed Parry’s wife, he escapes the cops to find her in his penthouse at 1090 Chestnut St. on Russian Hill. (Check out Reel SF’s excellent preview of all the then-and-now locations in the film.) Parry manages to get a confession out of Madge — proving her innocence — moments before she falls out of the 13th-floor window. when he died. It’s now a steep third over Parry.

As the SFPD close in, Parry knows he must leave town forever, so heads to the Greyhound station on Mission and Fifth to catch a bus to the Mexican border in Arizona. (The old bus arches can still be seen on the ground floor of the Pickwick Hotel, kitty corner of SFGATE’s newsroom.)

At the bus depot, Parry gets his ticket but is told his bus won’t leave until another seat is sold. In a phone call that surely influenced the ‘Shawshank Redemption’ finale, Parry tells Jansen that if he survives a bus trip to the border, she should come meet him in the small Peruvian beach town of Piata in a few years.

It’s not the faceless Bogie, Bacall’s sultry beauty, or even the stunning shots of San Francisco that make “Dark Passage” one of the most memorable films of the era. It’s the next little scene and its poignant magic that stays with you.

Parry watches two lonely souls sitting on a bench at the bus station – a desolate single mother with two young children and a lost man, both waiting alone to catch buses somewhere in America. Parry approaches a jukebox and plays the song he and Jansen fell in love with in his apartment. The song, “Too Marvelous For Words”, sparks a connection in the strangers and they start talking – “You know we have something in common. Being alone.”

With this, the man, wife, and two children become a family and board the same bus for Arizona, allowing the driver to leave San Francisco as cops flood the station. Our innocent fugitive escapes San Francisco and travels to Peru, where Jansen finally finds him sipping a rum cocktail. Seventy-five years later, it’s a finale that still makes your heart throb.

About Dwaine Pinson

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