William Holden plays a man on the run who takes a family hostage while Lee J. Cobb plays a psychoanalyst who means to help him. Holden is Al Walker – a killer who cares for nothing and no one and a man who is plagued by nightmares. He and his crew need to kill a few hours so to speak, before they go any further and what better way to spend it than with a group of unwilling volunteers who just so happen to be the family and friends of Dr. Andrew Collins, the character that Cobb plays. Walker is damaged and Collins can see that and while most would be quite distraught in such a situation, Collins is as cool as a cucumber. He believes that he can help Walker and if he is successful in doing so, than he knows that he may have just helped those he cares about.
The Dark Past features a fine cast, one led by Holden and Cobb and they do a good job of it. Holden is appropriately crazy and desperate, a man willing to do whatever it takes to keep his freedom while Cobb is the good guy, a man thrust into a position by force of arms, but one he aims to make the best of. The two men are completely unalike, opposites in every way and because of that; they seem to have a sort of respect for each other, as uneasy as it might be. The problem for Collins is that Walker is a wild card and though he thinks he might have read the man correctly, it being his job to do such things, there is no telling what Walker will do. It is like watching a game of cat and mouse between the two and at first, Walker is the man in charge. That soon changes as he starts to open up to Collins about his past and about what it is that troubles him and soon enough, guns or no, Collins is in complete control of the situation, at least as much as he is able to be without a gun and whether Walker realizes this, is another thing altogether.
The relationship between the two men affects all those around them, specifically Walker’s girlfriend Betty as played by Nina Foch and to a lesser extent, the rest of the cast. If Collins is able to cure Walker of what ails him, then it could be a good thing, but Betty cannot stand to see Walker dredging up the memories that Collins is bringing forth and by doing so, it also brings to light a terrible truth about her as well. Additionally featuring Adele Jergens, Stephen Dunne and Lois Maxwell, they do exactly what is called of them – to support the main characters and they do it well, if sometimes quite understated as a result.
Director Rudolph Maté does a great job at building the tension throughout the film, the time passing quickly and the audience being entranced by what is happening on-screen. There are times when the primary setting in a film can give the feeling of being closed in and claustrophobic, adding to the suspense in some pictures, and while this movie is suspenseful, Maté leads the viewer away from that. The picture is not so much about the situation the people find themselves in, it is about Holden and Cobb and the dynamic between the two, that between doctor and patient. Though it is a little silly in the fact that Collins is able to solve Walker’s problem so quickly, especially as the man has had years and years of psychological difficulties, it makes for very compelling viewing.
3.5 out of 5