Sunday, April 08, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Danger Signal (1945) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

DANGER SIGNAL (1945) is a most enjoyable film noir, just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

DANGER SIGNAL has a tremendous cast, including Faye Emerson, Zachary Scott, Rosemary DeCamp, Mona Freeman, Bruce Bennett, John Ridgely, Dick Erdman, and Joyce Compton. They just don't come any better! The great pleasure of watching this group of actors makes up for whatever storyline shortcomings this enjoyable film may have. I like this one a lot.

In an opening reminiscent of Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943) we learn that Ronnie Mason (Scott) is a coldblooded killer who's romanced at least one woman for her money, then killed her.

Ronnie heads for California, where he rents a room from the kindly Fenchurch family. Ronnie courts oldest daughter Hilda (Emerson), a typist, until he learns that her teenaged sister Anne (Freeman) is due to inherit $25,000 and she becomes his new target.

The shy, hardworking Hilda is crushed when she realizes Ronnie has taken up with her sister, and she quickly determines she needs to prevent the marriage by any means possible, as it's increasingly apparent that Ronnie is a very bad man.

Psychiatrist Dr. Jane Silla (DeCamp) and Dr. Andrew Lang (Bennett), both clients of Hilda, play key roles helping Hilda during her family crisis. It's worth taking a moment to note that Dr. Silla's attempts to analyze Ronnie make DANGER SIGNAL one of a long line of mid '40s films with strong psychological themes.

I reviewed this film in considerable detail back in 2011, and rather than restating that entire review here, I recommend visiting it for a more in-depth look at the movie. Suffice it to say that while I still agree that some of the film's script problems, as laid out in that review, prevent it from being a truly great film noir, I think I liked the movie even more this time around... and I enjoyed it a lot the first time. It's briskly paced at 78 minutes, and all in all it's simply a lot of fun to watch.

While last time around I had a little trouble believing in Hilda's plans for dealing with Ronnie, on this viewing I was struck that this quiet woman was even more hurt by Ronnie's rejection than I'd gleaned on the first viewing. At the same time, once she realized just how low his character truly was, she had the spine to do anything it took to protect her family, at risk of her own life. She may have been misguided, but she also had nerve...and fortunately she had astute friends in her corner.

Particular kudos go to Rosemary DeCamp, who was about 34 when this film was made. She never ceases to amaze me; as seen in this film, she was quite beautiful yet at the same time easily played "mother" roles of actors who were close to her age -- or even older, as when she played James Cagney's mother in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942). Her remarkable facility with accents is on display in DANGER SIGNAL. Some of her best roles of the '40s include HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1941), PRIDE OF THE MARINES (1945), and FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946).

The DANGER SIGNAL screenplay by Adele Comandini and C. Graham Baker was based on a novel by Phyllis Bottome. The movie was directed by Robert Florey and filmed in black and white by the great James Wong Howe.

The Warner Archive DVD is a very nice print. The disc includes the trailer.

DANGER SIGNAL is one of a trio of Faye Emerson films recently released by the Warner Archive. I previously reviewed MURDER IN THE BIG HOUSE (1942) and will soon review HOTEL BERLIN (1945).

Emerson also appeared in THE HARD WAY (1943) which I saw this weekend at UCLA; it's also available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

3 Comments:

Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Have not seen this yet, but sounds interesting. I like the cast. Just as a bit of trivia, this was to have been the next movie for Ann Blyth after MILDRED PIERCE, but for the severe spine injury she suffered and could not continue with DANGER SIGNAL and had to be replaced.

4:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jacqueline! I think you'd probably like this film - there are different historical aspects which make it interesting as well, including the "public stenographer," the savvy professional woman played by Rosemary DeCamp, and the idea of three women renting a room to a man who's a complete stranger!

If Ann had made the film the story would have had definite Veda-Monte overtones! It's probably better, strictly in terms of the film, that another actress played the sister, though I surely wish the reason behind the cast change had never happened. Ann went through a lot!

Best wishes,
Laura

10:22 AM  
Blogger KC said...

I also loved this film! I'm not too familiar with Faye Emerson, though apparently I have seen her in a few films. It was nice to see a heroine who was ultimately quite cool-headed and intelligent. I think I forgave the oddities in the plot because I came into it expecting a 'B' production and, because of the performances, felt like I got better than I anticipated. You are right that there are some head-scratching moments though. Overall, such a nice find.

9:32 PM  

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