1940s Dispatches From the Land of Wynken, Blynken and Noir


If Mr. Nebenzal’s was the strongest artistic personality associated with “The Chase,” its greatest champion has been the Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin. Mr. Maddin, who compares “The Chase” to David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet,” supplies a commentary filled with love for the movie — not least its battered condition prerestoration. Reflecting on one actor’s demise, he impulsively declares that “it would be an honor to keel over talking about ‘The Chase.’”

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Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in Delmer Daves’s “Dark Passage” (1947).

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Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

“Dark Passage” (1947), reissued on Blu-ray by Warner Archive, is another dreamlike noir predicated on and inspiring mad passion. In his book “Le Surréalism au Cinéma,” the French critic Ado Kyrou calls it “sublime.”

Escaping from San Quentin, where he has been unjustly imprisoned for murdering his wife, the hero (Humphrey Bogart) is rescued and sheltered by a sultry gal of mystery (Lauren Bacall). The film is the third that Mr. Bogart and Ms. Bacall, who married in 1945, made together, and their banter — some of which might as well have been lifted from “To Have and Have Not” or “The Big Sleep” — has a relaxed quality.

For much of the movie, however, Mr. Bogart is heard but not seen. Employing a device Robert Montgomery used only months earlier in “Lady in the Lake” (1947), the writer-director Delmer Daves employs a subjective camera to present the fugitive’s point of view. Roughly midway through, he gets plastic surgery, and an hour into the movie, the bandages finally come off his face — it’s Bogie! (Ms. Bacall approves.)

Although less shadowy than the Havana created for “The Chase,” San Francisco — where much of “Dark Passage” was shot — is also a labyrinth inhabited by monsters. Just as Mr. Cummings was hunted for a crime he did not commit, so Mr. Bogart is hassled by cops and witnesses searching for him (his new face notwithstanding). The two most deadly are a malignly histrionic Agnes Moorehead and an impressively creepy Clifton Young (a bucktoothed graduate of many “Our Gang” comedies).

Adapted from David Goodis’s novel, “Dark Passage” is a movie of strange coincidences and occult connections. The least of these is the repeated use of “Too Marvelous for Words,” a ballad by Johnny Mercer and Richard Whiting. The most electrifying, singled out by Mr. Kyrou for its “exaltation of total love,” is the transition from a San Francisco bus station to a nightclub overlooking the Pacific, somewhere in Peru. As with “The Chase,” it’s unclear whether the protagonist has awakened from one dream or entered into another.

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CITY OF WOMEN Federico Fellini ponders feminism, and Marcello Mastroianni dreams a dream in this phantasmagorical comedy. “Though the film is overlong, even for a Fellini aficionado, it is spellbinding, a dazzling visual display that is part burlesque, part satire, part Folies-Bergères and all cinema,” Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times in 1981. Available on Blu-ray and DVD. (Cohen Media)

MANHUNTER The cannibal Hannibal Lecter made his screen debut in Michael Mann’s 1986 adaptation of Thomas Harris’s “Red Dragon.” “The movie drives along with such intensity for much of the time that you can just let it work on your senses without worrying about whether it makes sense,” Walter Goodman wrote in The Times. Reissued on Blu-ray with both the theatrical and director’s cuts. (MGM/Scream)

THE NAKED ISLAND The Japanese director Kaneto Shindo uses no dialogue to depict a farming family’s daily struggle irrigating its meager crop with water brought by boat. Initially released as “The Island,” Shindo’s 1960 existential parable was an art-house hit; the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther mistakenly deemed it a documentary,comparable to “Nanook of the North.” On Blu-ray and DVD. (Criterion)

WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS Otto Preminger reunited the “Laura” stars Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney in this tough and visually impressive 1950 police thriller, reissued on Blu-ray. Writing in The Times, Mr. Crowther declared that “Mr. Preminger’s megaphoning and some expert photography have resulted in a most vivid blend of action and New York City backgrounds.” (Twilight Time)

WOMAN ON THE RUN A rare film noir with a female protagonist, Norman Foster’s taut 1950 B-movie sends Ann Sheridan on a desperate mission through nocturnal San Francisco. Reviewing it in The Times, Mr. Crowther rated it “several notches above the usual cops-and-corpses contributions from the Coast.” The restoration, by the U.C.L.A. Film & Television Archive, in a Blu-ray/DVD dual format edition, is also impressive. (Flicker Alley)

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