Short Takes: Bogart, Bacall and Widmark Times Two

This week’s short takes are not a particularly great bunch. Like most bloggers I tend to write about the films I love, or at least like. I decided that’s not fair; makes every film that is considered “classic” sound great. They are not. This group is not necessarily horrible, except for one; another is mediocre and another is just decent. Now mediocrity can be enjoyable on some levels, recently I have been watching some low budget Boston Blackie films from Columbia Pictures which have been on TCM every weekend. They are light hearted, a bit corny, but enjoyable pieces of detective fluff. Blackie, as played by Chester Morris, is the only one with any brains, and in every film has to prove his innocence to the two dumb and dumber detectives who see him as a one man crime wave. You see, Blackie was a former jewel thief, now gone straight. At best, these films are fair, lightweight entertainment. Classic? Well, I guess it all goes down to your definition of classic, which by the way, has been discussed recently by some members of CMBA and there is a particularly good posting on the subject by Gilby of  Random Ramblings of a Broadway, Film and TV Fan.  Anyway below are this week’s short takes. classics or not.

DARK PASSAGE (1947) Directed by Delmar Daves

There is very little that is dark about this film, except for the title. The DVD cover calls it a “stylish film noir thriller.” It is stylish in its use of a subjective camera and there is the story of an innocent man wrongly convicted but this film lacks too many characteristics of a true noir work. Where is the cynical attitude, the femme fatale, the off kilter composition, the expressionistic lighting? This is more a crime drama about a man on the run trying to prove he has been wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. Based on the David Goodis novel, THE DARK ROAD, Delmar Daves wrote and directed the third of four films co-starring Bogart and Bacall. It is also their weakest. Bogie is either off screen, his voice heard only from the camera’s point of view, or he is wrapped up in bandages for more than half of the film. Bacall continually stares toward the camera with her seductive cat like eyes as she hides Bogie from the law in her San Francisco apartment.

Too much coincident along with sub par writing mar the script, for example we have Bogart’s character who is not too bright, leaving his fingerprints at the scene of his murdered friend’s apartment, and Bacall’s character has to tell him everything he needs to do to keep the law at a distance. It is a wonder he escaped successfully from San Quentin. Then there is the over the top acting by Agnes Moorhead, as Bacall’s “friend” which gets annoying real quick. In fact, one is glad when she finally exits for good accidentally tossing herself out a high rise window (this scene is pretty badly done). Tom D’Andrea is entertaining as a cab driver who befriends Bogie. The film works best as a travelogue of San Francisco highlighting the Golden Gate Bridge, Powell Street and other locations.

THE TUNNEL OF LOVE  (1958) Directed by Gene Kelly

Painfully unfunny comedy directed by Gene Kelly. The only reason I watched it was to see how one of my favorite actors, Richard Widmark, does in a comedy. He fails miserably! A Dean Martin or Jack Lemmon in the role would have helped a bit. Widmark is flat playing a man who cannot get his wife, Doris Day, pregnant. He eventually “flirts” with baby adoption agency worker, Gia Scalia, and comes to believe he is the father of her expectant baby. Of course this is 1958, a Doris Day flick, and the production code was still flexing its muscle, so nothing turns out to be as “shocking” as it all may sound. There is more suggestive talk and innuendo than reality. Based on a semi-successful Broadway play that does not transfer well to the screen. With a cast of Widmark and Day who have no chemistry together, the film just shuffles along to its predictable end. To its meager credit the film does reflect the white picket fence standards of 1950’s suburbia with sexual double standards and three martini lunches. This was one film that was truly hard to sit through.

MADIGAN (1968) Directed by Don Siegel

Filmed in New York, Los Angeles and on the back lots of Universal, “Madigan” is a police procedural, a tough, down and dirty look at two veteran detectives. Dan Madigan (Richard Widmark) and Rocco Bonaro (Harry Guardino) botched the pickup of suspect, Benny Benesch (Steve Ihnat), wanted by another precinct. They soon discover Benesch wasn’t just a suspect, he was wanted for murder. The two detectives are given 72 hours to find Benesch by the grim moralistic Police Commissioner Anthony Russell (Henry Fonda).  It gets even worst for them when Benesch kills two police officers who attempt to arrest him.

Based on a novel called “The Commissioner” the film centers on Madigan and his partner as they hunt to find Benesch within the 72 hours allotted them before they get their backsides handed to them. We are given an insider’s view of the case as we watch the two detectives’ fish and hunt for leads in tracking down their suspect, balancing their personal lives with a demanding job.

The women in the film are portrayed by Inger Stevens as Madigan’s status seeking wife, and Susan Clark as a married woman having an illicit affair with the supposedly straight-laced, uptight Commissioner. Stevens role is the weaker of the two, portraying a shrewish wife more interested in climbing the social ladder than she is in her husband’s career. The two love each other but always seem to be on different tracks. Clark’s character, on the other hand, is conflicted, an intelligent woman who acknowledges to being happily married, even admitting to missing her husband when he’s away on business, yet finds herself yearning to continue her affair with the Commissioner.

As directed by Don Siegel, some folks familiar with his work may find this film a bit more cerebral than some of his better known films (“Dirty Harry”). Other than shootouts at the beginning, and a particularly realistic and brutal one at the end, the film has little and no action. It reminds me more of an Ed McBain ’87th Precinct’ novel in its tone (this is not a bad thing). Grunt police officers walking the mean streets of the big bad city looking for their man.

Widmark and Guardino make for a good team and are extremely believable as the two hard bitten, streetwise cops who don’t mind bending the rules to accomplish their mission. Henry Fonda, in what is basically a supporting role, is cold and convincingly stern but his entire performance comes across as particularly played on one note, most likely due to the script’s lack of developing the character than Fonda giving a bad performance. Cast also includes Raymond St. Jacques, as a prominent African-American pastor attempting to straighten out the mistreatment of his son by the police and Sheree North in a small but touching role as Madigan’s former lover.

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8 comments on “Short Takes: Bogart, Bacall and Widmark Times Two

  1. Just read Goodis’s Dark Passage in the new Library of America anthology — it reads more like psychological horror than noir, and for all that I like Delmer Daves, the film as I remember it has little of that anxious sense of dread that’s only enhanced by all the improbable coincidences and chance meetings. The book felt more worthy of David Lynch, for what that’s worth.

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  2. John Greco says:

    I have not read any of Goodis’ work but your description sounds interesting. I will have to check them out. I have always found Daves a mixed bag with BROKEN ARROW, JUBAL, 3:10 TO YUMA and THE HANGING TREE on the plus side and others like KINGS GO FORTH and just about everything 1959 on a real bore.

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    • I’ve steered clear of Daves’s 60s soaps so far, but his westerns are good bets for the most part. I’d definitely add The Last Wagon and Cowboy to the plus side of his ledger. The Goodis anthology is especially interesting because all five novels included were turned into films. There’s a blog series in there for someone willing to track down all the movies — The Burglar only just became available on DVD in Sony’s third Film Noir Classics collection but the rest have been around for a while.

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  3. John Greco says:

    I have seen both of the two you mention above but it’s been many years, COWBOY especially but I sure they would be on the plus side. I justed looked up the Goodis anthology on Amazon and it looks enticing.

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  4. DorianTB says:

    John, any post involving Bogart, Bacall, and Widmark can’t be all bad, even if it isn’t among their absolute best. I must confess I’ve always had a soft spot for DARK PASSAGE, despite its flaws. The cast is great even if the script based on David Goodis’ novel could’ve used some serious tightening-up. There isn’t an uninteresting face in the cast, plus I’ve always thought DARK PASSAGE showed the softer, more tender, vulnerable side of Bogart and Bacall; their romantic chemistry shines through even if the script is sketchy. In any case, John, your review was a fine read, as usual!

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    • John Greco says:

      Good point’s Dorian. I have seen the film about three times over the years and it’s not bad, its just could have been better. But as you mention the cast is great!

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  5. DorianTB says:

    P.S.: Thanks for including the ad that Becky and I created for our upcoming BEST HITCHCOCK MOVIES (THAT HITCHCOCK NEVER MADE) Blogathon from July 7 through July 12th! We’re happy to hear you’ll be writing about DRESSED TO KILL!

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