Columbia Noir: The Dark Past (1948)

cn3bI can’t very well ridicule contemporary films for excessive plot contrivances and let something like The Dark Past get away with it. This noir is so laden with leaden coincidence after coincidence that it largely collapses under their weight: prison escapee Al Walker (an astonishingly young and handsome William Holden who is clearly better suited to playing good guys than bad) on the run with his gang of accomplices that includes his girlfriend Betty (Nina Foch) holes up in the lakeside weekend retreat of -get this- University Criminal psychology professor Andrew Collins (Lee J.Cobb) who endeavours to analyse Walker and break the pattern of Walker’s violence while being held hostage. Based on a play and centred largely within one location, the film tries to intensify the tension of Collins and Walker’s sparring and attempts to suggest that criminal behaviour can be ‘cured’ and criminals rehabilitated through psychoanalysis. This may have been a progressive and revelatory idea at the time, but in practice it feels rather over-simplistic.

Both William Holden and Lee J. Cobb are in fine form but the material they have to work with isn’t strong enough, so they over-compensate in their heated arguments leaving the performances feeling a little ‘off’. Nina Foch benefits from a stronger role than she got in Johnny O’Clock, certainly- indeed she may be the films finest asset and I haven’t seen her as good as this up to now. This Indicator release includes a very interesting video interview with film historian Pamela Hutchinson about Foch’s life and career which is an excellent supplement to her roles in various entries of  this noir series, and proves a compelling reason to re-examine, for instance, what I considered a lesser film, Escape in the Fog, in light of her subsequent roles and career (which is to say, what a great special feature and further example of what’s great about these physical releases). 

So most likely one of this set’s lesser entries, but as usual with noir from this period, there is something quite seductive about this films milieu- the setting and décor, particularly of the lakeside retreat that looks utterly gorgeous and so of its time. And the film even features a (presumably early) role for Lois Maxwell, familiar to us now for her role as Miss Moneypenny in the early James Bond films. I wonder what twist of fate and career brought her to this supporting role (she plays Collin’s wife) in a Columbia noir? I guess that’s another story, and unfortunately one not revealed in the extras, unless its revealed in the commentary track which I haven’t listened to yet.

2 thoughts on “Columbia Noir: The Dark Past (1948)

    1. Cheers for the link Colin, I already appreciate nods in the right direction re: movies. Its not a bad thing to get discerning I’ve wasted far too much time on bad movies, and I’m not getting any younger, lol.

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