Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Where Danger Lives (1950)

Having watched Faith Domergue help save San Francisco from a giant octopus last night in IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), tonight I returned to the actress and the city in the film noir WHERE DANGER LIVES.

WHERE DANGER LIVES, directed by John Farrow, is an especially bleak noir with Domergue playing Margo, a mentally ill woman who manages to romantically ensnare Dr. Jeff Cameron. The good doctor is ready to dump his patient nurse girlfriend (Maureen O'Sullivan) and marry Margo, when he learns there are, er, complications. Like the fact Margo is already married to a wealthy chap named Lannington (Claude Rains).

Next thing you know, Margo has bumped off her husband and tricked Jeff into thinking he's responsible for the death, and the couple are on the lam for Mexico. Whether they'll make it is seriously in doubt, as Jeff has suffered a terrible concussion which could lead to a fatal cerebral hemorrhage.

The screenplay was by Charles Bennett, who had worked on one of Hitchcock's classic couple-on-the-run stories, THE 39 STEPS (1935). The film has some odd Hitchcock-style humor such as Jeff and Margo being arrested during a town festival because he doesn't have a beard. Other than brief bits of such humor, it's a very dark film, as Jeff's life spirals completely out of control in parallel with Margo gradually revealing the extent of her psychosis.

Mitchum is always good at playing fatalistic characters who recognize that things aren't likely to end well, although one does question just a bit how such a smart man like a surgeon allows himself to become so entangled with Margo in the first place -- especially given that they met due to her attempted suicide! That said, Domergue's femme fatale is quite luscious in her early scenes, so her physical pull on Mitchum explains at least part of the unstoppable attraction. Domergue does well gradually exposing herself as one very disturbed woman.

Given the plot, it's pretty bleak, even for a film noir, though this aspect is somewhat redeemed by an unexpectedly -- if unbelievably -- upbeat ending. As John wrote a couple years back at Greenbriar Picture Shows, it's also a somewhat painful film to watch. Mitchum gets clobbered in the head with a poker, staggers through much of the film in a daze, and then falls down a staircase in a stunt it appears Mitchum did himself; I rewound and watched it a second time to make sure!

Although billed over the title with Mitchum and Domergue, Claude Rains has what almost equates to a cameo role. He's quite effective, but it was a bit of a surprise not to see more of him. Lovely Maureen O'Sullivan was perhaps just a tad old for Mitchum, but she was also the wife of director Farrow so... As it is, she's almost wasted; I think she spent her entire small role behind a surgical mask until late in the film!

I was surprised to see Jack Kelly (MAVERICK) playing another doctor; this was Kelly's fourth film as an adult, and he had considerably more lines than he did in some other films he made in that time frame, such as HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949); in that film he's a drunk getting in the way of Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh's reunion in the last scene on the train.

The supporting cast also includes Charles Kemper (WAGON MASTER), Tol Avery, Harry Shannon, and Geraldine Wall, along with child actors Sherry Jackson and David Stollery.

The movie looks great, as one might expect of a black and white film photographed by Nicholas Musuraca. Musuraca worked on many dark classics including CAT PEOPLE (1942), THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946), THE LOCKET (1946), and OUT OF THE PAST (1947),

Although the first half of the film is set in San Francisco, the film doesn't have much of a feel for the city, simply using some stock footage of the Golden Gate. The movie does a better job capturing dusty towns near the Mexican border, although I suspect the production company didn't have to go very far outside of Los Angeles to shoot scenes with Mitchum and Domergue driving through the desert.

WHERE DANGER LIVES is available in a sharp-looking print as part of the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4. It's an excellent set which I highly recommend. Extras include a commentary track and featurette.

The movie can also be purchased on a less expensive double feature DVD teamed with the excellent film TENSION (1949). (September 2017 Update: WHERE DANGER LIVES has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.)

WHERE DANGER LIVES can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, which has the trailer on the TCM website.


Blogger Silver Screenings said...

I like how you said this: "Mitchum is always good at playing fatalistic characters who recognize that things aren't likely to end well..." So true!

3:38 PM  
Blogger Raquel Stecher said...

It's been quite a while since I've seen this film (which I saw of course because Robert Mitchum is in it). I do remember Faith Domergue and her performance being quite weak. I didn't like her at all! Perhaps I should try another of her films.

I can see how a surgeon, smart as he is, can be entangled like he did. Some folks can be really book smart but have no common sense. I have found this to be the case for many a genius!

This film was uncomfortable for me to watch as well. Perhaps that's why I have forgotten so many of the details.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for the feedback, Silver Screenings!

I was interested in your take on the movie, Raquelle. You make an excellent point about some people being "book smart" but lacking common sense. Truth to tell I do know the type you mean!

Best wishes,

7:42 PM  

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