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The Dark Past

1949 | 4:3 | Black & White | Quality: Excellent

William Holden

Lee J. Cobb


Al Walker (William Holden) is a ruthless killer serving time in prison, and has become the leader of the band of thugs who have planned an escape. He murders the Warden (who they've taken hostage) just for kicks. He decides the gang will NOT hold up in one of the empty vacation homes nearby but one with people in it. This way, he figures, the cops won't suspect where they are hiding. As luck would have it, the home happens to be owned by a psychiatrist, Dr. Collins (the great Lee J. Cobb) who works to discover "The Dark Past" of convict Walker. His home is filled with quite a few characters, as Dr. Collins and his family are hosting a dinner party. Soon, all of them are prisoners and hoping that the gang doesn't kill them while Dr. Collins plays a mental game of cat and mouse with the troubled Walker - who is increasingly unstable as he's waiting for a ride that doesn't arrive when it's supposed to.

Although a remake of 1939's Blind Alley, for a film made in 1948 The Dark Past has a rather ground-breaking plot. The concept that crime in youth could perhaps be explained and treated by psychiatric means was still quite radical at that time. Interest in the subject matter was on the rise as a result of the trauma soldiers suffered in World War II and the problems they faced coming home. Holden is terrific as the on-the-edge convict tortured by partial hand paralysis and a recurring nightmare from an incident in his childhood; young, pretty Nina Foch is his girlfriend who loves him but is terribly hurt by his actions. Lee J. Cobb shines as usual as the methodical hero who uses his brains to overcome his adversary's brawn. Nowadays we are much more informed on psychological issues, and some will probably see this film as a somewhat primitive exercise, but The Dark Past has many elements that have stood the test of time surprisingly well. Director Rudolph Maté stays extremely close to the original production of Blind Alley (directed by Charles Vidor), with some scenes so closely developed that you could very easily swap them in the earlier film. I think this film is actually a bit better than the original largely due to the performance of Cobb and William Holden's more realistic and less sensationalist performance.

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