Friday, September 28, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Dangerous Mission (1954)

DANGEROUS MISSION is a somewhat odd but quite entertaining thriller starring Victor Mature as a New York detective on a special mission at Montana's Glacier National Park.

Matt Hallett (Mature) suspects that pretty Louise Graham (Piper Laurie), who works in Glacier's hotel gift shop, is the sole witness to a mob murder. If Louise is identified as the witness, there's a contract out on her life, and the hitman could be anyone at the resort.

The killer's probably not Chief Ranger Parker (William Bendix)...and we'll give good old Bess Flowers, the perennial movie party guest, a pass...and it's unlikely to be young park ranger Dennis Weaver or ranger Walter Reed...but perhaps it's photographer Paul Adams (Vincent Price) or Mr. Elster (Harry Cheshire) or...

DANGEROUS MISSION was one of a string of "resort thrillers" released by RKO in the early '50s. It followed in the footsteps of that studio's HIS KIND OF WOMAN (1951) and SECOND CHANCE (1953), both set in Mexico, and it also bears some similarities to the previous year's Fox film NIAGARA (1953).

Like SECOND CHANCE, DANGEROUS MISSION was filmed in 3D in beautiful settings; location shooting also distinguished NIAGARA, although that title wasn't in 3D. I think of the style of these types of movies as "Hitchcock meets Traveltalk" -- which the Master himself pulled off to perfection in his own NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) at decade's end.

DANGEROUS MISSION blends spectacular footage shot at Glacier with some really bad back projections and soundstage work; the final glacier sequence was obviously all filmed indoors. The really good shots, which capture not only the scenery but the wardrobes and vehicles of a particular time and place, outweigh the silly-looking stuff and make the movie worth seeing.

The movie also emulates HIS KIND OF WOMAN in featuring Vincent Price as a strange hotel guest, a genial photographer who has a curiously potent effect on a gorgeous young Indian girl (Betta St. John, from the Broadway cast of SOUTH PACIFIC). What she sees in him I never did figure out. I also didn't understand why she was so curiously unaffected by the fact that her father (Steve Darrell) had very recently been charged with murder, but since that was simply a red herring in the plot I guess it didn't matter anyway!

The plot tends to meander in pointlessly entertaining directions; producer Irwin Allen couldn't resist ending a party scene with an avalanche, apparently for no other reason than it would make an exciting 3D sequence. The avalanche is soon over, Victor Mature saves the day by turning off the electrical power, and that's the end of that.

Similarly, Chief Ranger Parker drafts Mature to help out in a nonsensical firefighting sequence that could easily have been lifted from Paramount's THE FOREST RANGERS (1942). What these men think they'll accomplish by standing right next to trees with falling burning branches I'll never know, but apparently this was considered state of the art firefighting in the '40s and '50s. The fire is likewise soon over and Mature is back to his real job, trying to protect Laurie from the killer.

Lest I leave the impression I didn't like the movie, I had a really good time watching it, despite -- because of? -- its stranger aspects. Victor Mature on location in Glacier National Park works for me! The movie may have been silly at times, but it was never dull, and I found it to be fun Friday night viewing.

Louis King directed this 75-minute film. The photography was by William Snyder.

DANGEROUS MISSION does not appear to have had a DVD or VHS release, although it had a video release in Europe. It was recently shown on Turner Classic Movies. Here's the trailer.


Blogger dfordoom said...

Victor Mature is a rather underrated actor. I'll keep a lookout for this movie.

1:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I like him a lot. Hope you can check it out in the future!

Best wishes,


1:14 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Sometimes it's the "stranger aspects" of a film that really make it appealing.

I can't believe Bess Flowers didn't do it. I just don't trust the woman. She's always got her nose in everything.

5:22 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's very true, Jacqueline! This one had its own unique, goofy charm -- "Hey, kids, let's throw in an avalanche just 'cause it'll look great in 3D!"

You may be on to something there regarding busy Bess...

Best wishes,

11:07 AM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Piper Laurie was popular in 50s. I liked her deep voice.
Don't you just love spotting Bess Flowers. Wonder if anyone has attempted to catalogue all her appearances.
My friend Alistair has started a new blog and hope you might take a look.


11:38 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Just to be fair re "state of the art" firefighting, the 1952 Fox film RED SKIES OF MONTANA is an excellent movie and definitely more conscientious in treating the subject. It was apparently based on a documentary on the subject SMOKE JUMPERS that the film's director Joseph Newman had made. Richard Widmark, great as always, stars in this and it's worth checking out.

As for Victor Mature, he really can't do wrong for me. I always like him and always believe him. Fair to say he was generally undervalued, even by himself, and rarely given the best movies, but there are exceptions--for example, Laura has written about KISS OF DEATH. And Mature was handily the best Doc Holliday ever in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, not only fascinatingly self-destructive but a poetic soul in that movie for perhaps the only time; put an actor with John Ford and you'll know what they are really made of.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, many thanks for the recommendation of RED SKIES OF MONTANA. Thought I had that one but apparently not, so I'll be on the watch for it!

It's interesting, I didn't like Victor Mature at all when I was younger, but in the last few years I've become a big fan. :) Certainly agree with you about CLEMENTINE. A little movie he did which I enjoyed a lot was ESCORT WEST, from John Wayne's production company.

By chance I stumbled across FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER on the internet today! Going to try to watch before it vanishes.

Best wishes,

1:35 PM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

By now maybe you've watched FOUR GUNS TO THE BORDER. I can't get used to the idea of YouTube for a whole movie but I guess plenty of people I know are catching up with a lot of movies this way.

I posted this at 50 Westerns, too, just to let you know that FOUR GUNS has been on Western Channel (I have it recorded for when I feel like getting back to it since it's still not on DVD) and I'm sure it will again sometime.

RED SKIES OF MONTANA has been on Fox Channel--they've cut back so much and make so little effort to vary with their whole library that I wouldn't count on them getting back to it soon, though I guess they might.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Blake! Have been hung up with work today but hoping to watch FOUR GUNS later tonight. Thanks very much for the additional info!

The schedule at Fox Movie Channel has become so repetitive I'm not sure how much longer it will even be worth my posting the month's highlights -- it's the same movies every month! Sad...

Best wishes,

7:07 PM  
Blogger Mark McGlone said...

I like this movie too. It is rather silly and I've never found anyone else who had a nice thing to say about it, but Mature is a likeable presence, and I enjoy the whole 1950's National Park vibe. But the real reason to see it is for pleasure of looking at Piper Laurie. Wow, she's beautiful.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Mark,

Nice to hear from someone who enjoyed the same aspects of the film that I did. You put it well, in addition to the attractive lead actors, I liked the "1950s National Park vibe."

Best wishes,

8:25 PM  
Blogger Rafe said...

Look Bess up at IMDB; her hundreds of appearances are catalogued in her filmography. If you're really into Bess, check out the sixth and final "Thin Man" movie, "Song of the Thin Man" (1947). Not only does she have billing, for her role as the mother of Jayne Meadows, but she actually has lines. Not a lot of lines, and that's just as well, because truth to tell, she wasn't much of ab actress. She found her appropriate niche in Hollywood as the "Queen of the Extras," because she was no Ethel Barrymore.
P.S. "Song of the Thin Man" was a nice finale for the franchise; it was a return to the quality of the first two movies; the third and fourth are pretty dreadful. Nick and Nora were again in fine form in 1944's "The Thin Man Goes Home," and "Song" is a lovely farewell.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Bess just turned up in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, which I saw last weekend, as the newspaper editor's secretary. Always fun to see her!

Best wishes,

7:58 PM  

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