Friday, March 18, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Cry Danger (1951) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

I can't say enough good things about CRY DANGER (1951), which we saw this evening with a sold-out house at the UCLA Festival of Preservation.

This relatively little-known film noir is an absolute treat, combining a sharp, witty script, tremendously atmospheric L.A. location shooting, and a top-drawer cast. Seeing such a film in a beautifully restored print on the big screen made this one of the most enjoyable movie experiences I've had in recent months.

I think I began smiling the minute the stylish opening credits appeared on screen over shots of a train pulling into Union Station. Rocky (Dick Powell) gets off the train, having been let out of prison after serving five years of a life sentence for a lethal robbery. Rocky was cleared thanks to a marine (Richard Erdman) who provided an unexpected alibi. Nonetheless, back in L.A. Rocky is perpetually shadowed by police Lt. Cobb (Regis Toomey), who's still looking for the $100,000 stolen in the robbery.

Rocky heads for a seedy Bunker Hill trailer park, home to Nancy (Rhonda Fleming), the wife of his best friend, who is still in jail for the robbery. From there, Rocky tries to piece together how he was framed. Did Castro (William Conrad) do it?

There isn't a wasted shot or moment in this 79-minute film. The repartee is absolutely delicious; William Bowers' brilliant dialogue, delivered with aplomb by Powell, Erdman, and Toomey, almost makes the film a noir comedy, though it's much more than that. I find it rather remarkable this film isn't better known, but perhaps it takes half a century or so for a film such as this to be properly "aged" and appreciated. Those who love seeing the Los Angeles of decades ago on film will particularly love this movie.

This is one of my favorite Powell performances, and I especially enjoyed seeing him share considerable screen time with his real-life close friend, Regis Toomey. I found Rocky and Cobb's adversarial yet sympathetic relationship perhaps the most interesting thing in the picture -- but there was a great deal more to enjoy, such as Erdman's acerbic one-legged alcoholic or Jean Porter's cute floozy, Darlene. (Porter was married to film director Edward Dmytryk in real life.)

Rhonda Fleming was excellent as Nancy, the pretty "good girl" secretary who soon has viewers -- and Rocky -- wondering why she doesn't want him to try to clear her husband.

It should be noted that filming of Fleming's last scene was interrupted by an appendicitis attack! You'd never know that in some of the shots she was in excruciating pain. Filming of the scene was completed after her hospitalization.

CRY DANGER was directed by Robert Parrish and photographed by Joseph F. Biroc. The supporting cast includes Joan Banks, Jay Adler, Lou Lubin, Benny Burt, Renny McEvoy, Hy Averbach, Kathleen Freeman, and Gloria Saunders. James Westerfield, who plays a cop, also played a policeman in THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) a decade later, which I saw last weekend at the Walt Disney Studios.

The movie was shown at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater. It was introduced by Alan K. Rode of the Film Noir Foundation, who also interviewed actor Richard Erdman after the film. We were disappointed that Rhonda Fleming had to cancel her personal appearance, but seeing Mr. Erdman was a wonderful opportunity. It may have been a few decades since he made CRY DANGER, but his voice is unmistakeable.

Erdman said that when he first went to meet Dick Powell, whose production company was involved in making the film, Powell asked him what he thought of the script and the part. Erdman said "It's the best part in the movie." Powell told Erdman he was right and then said, "How can we help you?" Erdman said that's how Powell conducted himself during the making of the entire film, always supportive and generous.

I've only had time to watch part of it so far, but here's Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation interviewing Erdman and Fleming at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood last year. Parts 2, 3, and 4 are also available.

The trailer is on YouTube.

CRY DANGER has had a VHS release. Alan K. Rode indicated that UCLA and the Film Noir Foundation hope to bring CRY DANGER to DVD.

We regretfully left before watching the second half of the double bill, James Cagney's KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE (1950), but later this month I'll return to UCLA for Cecil B. DeMille's THE CRUSADES (1935). I've also purchased tickets to several films in next month's Noir City Festival at the Egyptian Theatre, so there's much more good viewing ahead!

3 Comments:

Blogger Jacqueline T Lynch said...

What a swell experience. Thanks for taking us along.

6:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

So glad you enjoyed reading about it, Jacqueline! It was my pleasure to share a little of the experience. :)

Best wishes,
Laura

12:04 PM  
Blogger Robby Cress said...

What a great opportunity to see this film restored and on the big screen! I've only seen this film once, but I remember really liking the dialogue - so snappy! There are also some great shots of Bunker Hill. I will like to see how the restored film looks when it comes out on DVD.

4:06 PM  

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