Passage to Marseille (1944)

Genres - Drama, War  |   Sub-Genres - Escape Film, War Drama  |   Release Date - Feb 16, 1944 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 110 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Wheeler Winston Dixon

Michael Curtiz was a dependable workhorse for Warner Brothers from the '30s through the '50s; his finest achievements include 20,000 Years in Sing-Sing (1932), Female (1933), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936), Casablanca (1942), Mildred Pierce (1945), Young Man With a Horn (1950), and numerous other films. Altogether in his career, he made more than 170 films as a director both in the United States and his native Hungary (under his birth name, Mihály Kertész). Unfortunately, Passage to Marseilles is not one of Curtiz's finer efforts, nor does it do much to burnish the reputation of Humphrey Bogart, who stars in the film. Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre are all on hand to lend capable support, and for a moment, it seems as if the viewer has been transported back to the set of Casablanca, and the magic that inspired that film will strike again. But the film is poorly constructed and is fatally weakened by the casting of Michele Morgan as Bogart's love interest; there is absolutely no chemistry between them. One has only to look at this film and then watch Howard Hawks' To Have and Have Not (1994), which was made shortly after this film wrapped, to see the difference that the casting makes. As a crusading French journalist whose newspaper is destroyed by Fascist thugs, Bogart hits his marks with conviction, delivers his lines, and Curtiz keeps the entire project moving with his usual brutal efficiency. But in the end, one can't help but see Lauren Bacall in Bogart's embrace, not Michele Morgan, and thus Passage to Marseilles, no matter how much it tries, cannot escape its commercially compromised origins.