Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tonight's Movie: On Dangerous Ground (1951)

ON DANGEROUS GROUND rivets the viewer's attention from the moment the RKO logo comes on the screen, accompanied by jolting theme music composed by Bernard Herrmann. We watch the opening credits roll from the viewpoint of a car racing down a dark street past neon signs -- recalling the opening of PANIC IN THE STREETS -- and soon we're swept into the world of big city cops patrolling the night beat.

Robert Ryan plays Jim Wilson, a police officer who has become as brutal as the criminals he hunts. Wilson's chief sends him to assist on a murder case in a snowy rural area, hoping the change of scenery will cool Wilson's temperament. During the investigation, Wilson meets Mary Malden (Ida Lupino), a blind woman who will change his life. Despite its "noir" style in the early scenes, ultimately the film is about redemption and hope.

ON DANGEROUS GROUND is a starkly beautiful film, with the wintry outdoor scenes providing a contrast with the dark opening city sequences. The visual "look" of the film is striking and memorable. You can almost feel the cold, or imagine the snow soaking through Ryan's shoes as he runs after a suspect.

Herrmann's exciting score alternates between "action" music and gentler romantic themes. At times the music foreshadows his classic work for NORTH BY NORTHWEST -- my husband guessed the composer without seeing his screen credit.

The movie was directed by Nicholas Ray and produced by John Houseman. The supporting cast includes wonderful character actors such as Ward Bond, Olive Carey, Ian Wolfe, and Ed Begley. The film is in black and white and has a running time of 82 minutes.

ON DANGEROUS GROUND is available on DVD in a beautiful print as part of the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 3. The extras are a commentary by Glenn Erickson (who reviews the entire set here) and the trailer.

2015 Update: I had a great experience seeing this film at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, California.

October 2016 Update: ON DANGEROUS GROUND is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive. My review of the Blu-ray is here.


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