Day 14 of Noirvember – Great Performances: Agnes Moorehead in Dark Passage
Dark Passage (1947) isn’t one of my favorite noirs. Oh, it’s interesting enough, with half of the feature filmed from the point of view of the protagonist and, of course, any film with Bogie and Bacall is worth the price of admission. But the best part of this film, for my money, is Agnes Moorehead, who played what was described as “a definitive portrait of bitchery.” (Watch your step – there’s spoilers ahead!) Today’s celebration of Noirvember shines the spotlight on this great performance.
The film opens with the prison escape of Vincent Parry (Humphrey Bogart), who was wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife. While on the highway, he is given a ride by Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall), who takes Vincent to her apartment and provides him with clothes and money. Admitting that she had followed his trial with great interest, Irene confides that she suspected Vincent was “getting a raw deal.” Vincent later undergoes plastic surgery, with plans to stay with a friend, George Fellsinger (Rory Mallinson), until the bandages can be removed. But after the operation, Vincent finds out that George has been murdered and, realizing that he will be a prime suspect, seeks refuge with Irene.
As Vincent and Irene grow closer, Vincent learns that both his wife and George were actually killed by Madge Rapf (Moorehead), his wife’s friend and, coincidentally, also a friend of Irene’s. Infuriated by Vincent’s rejection of her, Madge had murdered his wife in a jealous rage and offered the testimony in court that ultimately resulted in his conviction. Vincent confronts Madge, prevailing upon her to sign a confession, but the shrewish, manipulative murderess refuses, revealing her fury over Vincent’s relationship with Irene. “She wants you very badly, doesn’t she?” Madge sneers. (And when I say sneers, I mean SNEERS.) “She’s willing to run away with you and keep on running and ruin everything for herself. But she wouldn’t care because she’d be with you, and that’s what she wants. Well, she doesn’t have you now, and she’ll never have you – nobody will ever have you and that’s the way I want it!” Ironically, just moments after this explosive outburst , Madge turns to flee from Vincent and falls to her death from her apartment window. Faced with the hopelessness of his situation, Vincent flees to South America and is later joined there by Irene, where they begin their life together.
Although Dark Passage paled in comparison to previous Bogart-Bacall teamings, Moorehead’s unsympathetic role was a standout. She walked away with every scene she was in, and her performance lingered in the mind long after the credits rolled. She was rightfully singled out in several reviews; one critic termed her character “one of the most poisonous termagents the screen has presented in some time.” If you haven’t seen Moorehead’s performance in this film, you’re in for a treat. Do yourself a favor and check it out – posthaste!
Join me tomorrow for Day 15 of Noirvember.