DANGEROUSLY THEY LIVE (1941) is a curious early WWII propaganda film, with fine lead actors cast in what is basically a "B" movie in terms of production values and its 77-minute running time.
A taxi carrying Jane Graystone (Nancy Coleman) crashes in the midst of an attempt to kidnap her. Jane is hospitalized with amnesia and treated by intern Dr. Mike Lewis (John Garfield).
Jane's "father" John Goodwin (Moroni Olsen) and a respected specialist (Raymond Massey) come to visit Jane, who then confides to Mike that Mr. Goodwin isn't her father at all, and that she's a British spy with particular knowledge of shipping routes; her life is in danger and she's faking amnesia to buy time.
Jane agrees to go "home" with her father and the specialist if Mike can accompany them as well. (I was never quite clear why Jane agrees to put herself in such danger; apparently she wants to find out what the men are up to.) The Goodwin mansion proves to be a creepy place where Jane and Mike are forbidden to do much more than stay in their rooms.
The movie at this point becomes a sort of Gothic noir with Nazi agents seemingly everywhere. Mike's attempts to get help are thwarted to the point where he's thrown in a mental hospital!
The climax of the movie is an extended sequence using stock footage to show a U-boat fleet sunk off the Atlantic coast, which was no doubt an encouragement to audiences watching the movie weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Coleman and especially Garfield are appealing young leads, but the whole thing feels a bit heavy-handed and clunky. The premise is promising but the execution is disappointing.
That said, there are a couple nice spooky moments such as the scene where Dr. Lewis calls the hospital with a message and we realize the receptionist on the other end of the line is someone in the mansion, not the hospital. Likewise, the idea of a spy faking amnesia to protect herself from danger is a good one. The film simply needed a better-developed script and perhaps less cartoonish villains.
DANGEROUSLY THEY LIVE was Nancy Coleman's film debut. She played leads from the very start, building an impressive list of credits in her short film career, including KINGS ROW (1942), EDGE OF DARKNESS (1943), and DEVOTION (1946). I very much enjoyed her in HER SISTER'S SECRET (1946) at the recent TCM Festival and hope to review it soon.
Garfield's career was firing on all cylinders as of 1941, when his other films included the classic adventure tale THE SEA WOLF (1941).
DANGEROUSLY THEY LIVE was directed by Robert Florey. It was photographed in black and white by L. William O'Connell.
It's shown from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer on the TCM website.
For more on this film, please visit Dorian's post at Tales of the Easily Distracted, written for last year's John Garfield Blogathon.