When a detective scoffs at his suggestion that an 18 year-old criminal be referred for psychiatric examination Dr. Andrew Collins, the police psychiatrist, tells him the story of his encounter with Al Walker. Walker had a history of violence and killed the prison warden during an escape. He and his gang took the Collins family and their friends hostage but when Dr. Collins learns that Walker has a violent recurring dream, he offers to help him decipher the dream and determine exactly what has driven him to a life of crime and violence. Written by
[Referring to Stevens]
How's the tough guy? Is he behaving?
He's talking business. He wants to make a deal. He thinks his life is worth money.
How much did he offer... two bucks?
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Lee J. Cobb is a psychiatrist who works to discover "The Dark Past" of convict William Holden in this 1948 drama that also stars Nina Foch and Adele Jurgens. Two of Hollywood's favorite subject matters are part of the film plot: The post-war obsession with psychiatry and a hostage situation, of which there have been many in films over the years. Like Bogart in "The Desperate Hours," Holden's an escaped convict with a gang that holes up in someone's home while waiting for a ride that doesn't arrive when it's supposed to. And, like the later "Desperate Hours," the couple has a child that tries to escape. In "The Desperate Hours," you wanted to kill the kid; at least here, he doesn't cause as much trouble.
Psychiatry in America was really just being explored in film, and it was as a result of the trauma soldiers suffered in World War II and the problems they had when they came home. The script is simplistic and dated, but the performances are good. 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. When I was growing up, the striking Foch was in her forties and a constant presence in television, usually playing a neurotic mess. She still acts and is a very prominent drama teacher in Los Angeles. It was wonderful to see her in these early days - she made a fine ingénue. Cobb is convincing as a psychiatrist who keeps his cool as he tries to help the young man.
After William Holden's big splash at the age of 21 in "Golden Boy" in 1939, his career settled into a series of light leading man roles that took him nowhere. Superstardom didn't hit until 1950's Sunset Boulevard. One of the comments on IMDb remarked that in "Golden Boy," he looked like Tom Hanks, which stuck in my mind as I was watching "The Dark Past." Well, it's the strangest version of separated at birth that I've ever seen, but there is the oddest resemblance between these two stars. Here, with his hairline exposed, you can really see the similarity in the shape of Holden's face to Hanks', and there's even a similarity in profile and around the eyes. You'd never catch it unless someone mentioned it to you or you've seen "Golden Boy" where Holden is nearly unrecognizable - and then once you pick it up, it's totally distracting.
The other odd thing about this film which says something about our society today is that these people were getting together for a casual evening in a country home and they were all dressed to the nines - even the criminals were wearing suits and ties! Times sure have changed. Despite this and other dated elements of "The Dark Past," William Holden, a tremendous star, is always worth a look.
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