Dark Passage / On Dangerous Ground Blu-ray Reviews: Bogie. Bacall. Lupino. Ryan. Sold.

The Warner Archive Collection shows us its dark side with two more gems from the fabulous world of film noir.
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While history's greatest philosophers wise men may have brought forth many a pertinent question as to the purpose and situation of the human race, it was a total wise-ass the history books have unapologetically miscredited as a guy named Murphy who really seemed to hit the nail on the head with the phrase "Anything that can go wrong, will." In fact, Murphy's Law is one of the few philosophies which can be applied into storytelling without fear of alienating an audience, because if there's one thing any adult who has ever had to work for a living can tell you, there are pitfalls and pratfalls aplenty out there, waiting for us as we face our various day-to-day plights.

In the fictional world of celluloid, however, there is perhaps no better genre capable of grasping the concept of Murphy's Law than that of film noir. In the case of Warner Bros. 1947 classic Dark Passage ‒ one of four films to feature another real-life dynamic duo, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall ‒ the whole "whatever can go wrong, will" formula was not solely limited to the characters of its story itself, as it was the only film out of the whole Bogart/Bacall quartet to receive the least amount of praise, be it from critics or studio heads. But it's always that way when you try something new. And in the instance of Dark Passage, we witness a very example of first-person perspective in the movies.

In fact, because of Dark Passage's innovative cinematography, our lead actor's unmistakable face isn't even seen for the first hour of the feature ‒ something audiences of the late 1940s certainly weren't used to (whereas we have entire remakes of Joe Spinell horror movies made in the same fashion today). But don't let that or the heavy criticisms of the era in which the film was made prevent you from enjoying everything Dark Passage has to offer. Here we explore the particular quandary of Vincent Parry (Bogie ‒ well, mostly) ‒ an escaped convict falsely convicted of murdering his wife, whose pursuit for justice is so dire, he's willing to have a new face etched onto his own if it means getting one step closer to the truth.

Of course, finding the right kind of plastic surgeon and the people a recently escaped convict will need in order to recover from such a procedure is vital. Naturally, the world of film noir isn't that simple, as Bogart's amorphous character (other than his present pickle, very little is revealed about Mr. Parry) learns once a kindly cabbie (Tom D'Andrea, who looks like a cross betwixt Alan Arkin and Bela Lugosi) leads him to the peculiar, disgraced physician (a magnificently creepy Houseley Stevenson) who will eventually give us The Man with Bogart's Face. In the meantime, however, even as our hero recuperates with the assistance of a beautiful young woman (Bacall, whose motives for doing so are mysterious at best), Parry becomes a suspect in another murder.

Cinematography plays a vital part in Delmer Daves' adaptation of David Goodis' 1946 novel of the same name, from the many POV shots (the great Sid Hickox, who photographed most of the Bogart/Bacall quartet) employed the motion picture industry's first handheld camera just for the occasion, ensuring we get plenty of late '40s San Francisco preserved in the process. Likewise, every frame of this film noir classic has been impeccably preserved by the Warner Archive for this release. Thoroughly restored along with its original soundtrack (which is presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0), this Dark Passage has never been more travelable. Accompanying the feature film is a TCM featurette, a classic WB Merrie Melodies cartoon short, and theatrical trailer.

From a logical point of view, a Dark Passage can surely take a traveler onto some dangerous ground, so I suppose it's only fitting our next film is entitled On Dangerous Ground. Like the previous film, this slice of noir from RKO Radio Pictures takes a different approach to the tried-but-true formula, becoming what one might call noir rural as director and co-writer Nicholas Ray (who also penned the tale with Kiss Me Deadly writer A.I. Bezzerides, as taken from English author Gerald Butler's novel, Mad with Much Heart) retreats to the country in this dark drama from 1951. Here, the one and only Robert Ryan (no stranger to either film noir or Warner Archive releases) stars as a big city cop on the verge of a major breakdown.

With his superiors more than just a tad bit disappointed by his habit of beating up suspects, Ryan's Jim Wilson is sent out into the less-civilized part of the county to search for the murderer of a young woman. There, Wilson's own mean streak is matched with the vengeful father of the fallen lass (Ward Bond), who is set on shooting first and that's that. While Wilson himself is pretty much on the same page, he starts to reconsider his entire outlook once he and his fellow tracker stumble upon a remote house occupied by a beautiful blind woman, Mary (top-billed star and unbilled co-director Ida Lupino, who, like Bogart in Dark Passage, shows up halfway into the movie ‒ though, in this instance, her character isn't even so much as mentioned prior).

Also starring in this fun little different thread of yarn are Charles Kemper, Ed Begley (Sr.), Ian Wolfe, and Frank Ferguson. For this Blu-ray release, the Warner Archive Collection went straight to the original nitrate negative (which was preserved by the Library of Congress) in order to bring us this beautiful presentation of a film which saw very little distribution back in '51. The original soundtrack elements have been restored to bring us a DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 track, and it should be duly noted the legendary Bernard Herrmann composed the score for this film. Apart from some English (SDH) subtitles, the only extras for this release consists of an audio commentary with historian Glenn Erickson (as ported over from the 2006 SD-DVD release) and the original trailer.

Dark Passage, On Dangerous Ground, and many more great film noir classics are available on Blu-ray now from the Warner Archive Collection.

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