In the 1947 film Dark Passage, Bogart's character Vincent Parry was wrongfully convicted for the murder of his wife. He escapes prison at the beginning of the film and is a fugitive from the law for the entirety. He establishes his innocence for the murder of his wife to our satisfaction, although never to the satisfaction of the law; kills a couple of people in the course of things; and in the end flees this country for Peru, where he is seen dancing with Lauren Bacall in the final scene.

Why was this permitted under the Hays Code? I had the impression that crime could never pay. I have read a few web pages that appear to present the entire Hays Code, and they don't say exactly this; but it seems to me that in the bonus features to many films (like Angels With Dirty Faces or The Asphalt Jungle) in which the criminals are killed or captured, everybody seems to agree that this was required under the code.

Was the character's initial, wrongful imprisonment relevant? Was forced residence in Peru regarded punishment enough?

  • 2
    There are so many guidelines and bullet-points in that guide/code that 95% of movies could not be aired if they were to be followed IMO. And not only the main board wasn't willing to really enforce that code, but different boards had different opinions about what "indecent" was...
    – OldPadawan
    Jun 5 at 4:01

1 Answer 1


To my understanding, like with the Volstead Act, you have a battle between two groups (name any), like the National Legion of Decency and the Motion Picture Association for instance. On one side, what one claims to be education, decency, moral values and more, and on the other side, business and money. At the end, it all comes down to: "where do we draw the line so that we can carry on?". This debate still goes on decades after decades in Hollywood and the US. With its ups and downs and with more or less noise, including free speech.

There are so many guidelines and bullet-points in that guide/code that 95% of movies could not be aired if they were to be followed. Many states had censorship boards than didn't agree with the National Board of Review and many movies were blacklisted.

I think you base your understanding of the code and your question upon this statement:

I had the impression that crime could never pay.

From the Hays Code:

All criminal action had to be punished, and neither the crime nor the criminal could elicit sympathy from the audience, or the audience must at least be aware that such behavior is wrong, usually through "compensating moral value".

The financial success of both films1 became deciding factors in the weakening of the Code in the late 1940s. Hollywood continued to work within the confines of the Production Code throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, but during this time, the film industry was faced with very serious competitive threats. The first threat came from television, a new technology that did not require Americans to leave their houses to see motion pictures. Hollywood needed to offer the public something it could not get on television, which itself was under an even more restrictive censorship code.2

In the "Dark Passage", the hero isn't guilty, but is escaping prison. He's involved in two more deaths, but did he really killed? My reading of the story is similar to what many people think: fight for your rights and freedom. And it's still within their guidelines, as he's still guilty at the end. How far can a person go to prove itself innocent when the system is wrong and grinds you? What would the English think of the Boston Tea Party? What did the Americans think when they did that?

Certification: (source: IMDB)

  1. United States:Passed (National Board of Review)
  2. United States:Approved (pca #12248)
  3. United States:TV-PG (TV Rating)

1. The Outlaw and Duel in the Sun

2. The Hays Code

  • You seem to suggest that Parry's innocence of the original crime makes it EASIER to justify what he does morally. But strictly speaking, Parry's innocence makes it HARDER to justify A FILM ABOUT what he does, in that it elicits audience sympathy for him and so blurs the association (of law with right) that the code wants to reinforce. And I'm not sure I follow about television: if television "was under an even more restrictive censorship code" than film, it would seem possible "to offer the public something it could not get on television" without violating the Hays code.
    – Chaim
    Jun 5 at 18:45
  • Of course I should already know this, but I don't: did Dark Passage have the certificate of approval?
    – Chaim
    Jun 5 at 18:45
  • It might be another debate, but when TV was under more restrictive censorship, people would move to theaters to watch movies they couldn't watch at home. But it had to be more attractive movies. Means more sex, violence and so on... But not too much to pass the "censorship board", who had to balance between money and moral.
    – OldPadawan
    Jun 5 at 20:12
  • At IMBD, the film rating for Dark Passage is "Passed." The word is a link to the message "Passed (National Board of Review)." So I guess that means that they judged that the happy ending was permitted under the Hays code. That conclusion seems hard to reach.
    – Chaim
    Jun 5 at 20:47
  • I had checked too and edited my answer, but I'm not really surprised by the facts though...
    – OldPadawan
    Jun 5 at 20:54

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