Favorite Robert Ryan Performance: On Dangerous Ground

Oct 29, 2010 (Updated Oct 29, 2010)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino, Action, Supporting Cast, Score

Cons:Hollywood ending, short running time

The Bottom Line: A good film noir that morphs into a happy ending for the protagonist.  Excellent work by old pro Robert Ryan

On Dangerous Ground (1952)

On Dangerous Ground is an interesting crime drama from Warner Bros Film Noir Collection Vol 3 that I watched a couple of times recently. 

A violent tempered bitter police detective, Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan), under scrutiny for beating the truth out of suspects, is sent away to a rural town to help the local sheriff track down a young girl's killer.

The investigation reveals a blind woman Mary Malden (Ida Lupino) who they think is hiding the perpetrator. The blind woman exhibits a calm demeanor and seems very dependent on others which is a total opposite to the detective's character.

Another character, the father of the dead girl, played by Ward Bond, is even more violent tempered than Jim Wilson.  Between the two examples Ryan encounters he learns to see his own conduct and moderates his behavior to the betterment of all concerned.  He solves the crime but the story morphs from the very astute character study it begins with to a romance that ends with boy getting girl and everybody living happily ever after. This is a pretty big jump for something that started out as a dirty little crime drama.

The movie has a couple of blue ribbon elements that raise it above the general herd but as a product of RKO head Howard Hughes' tinkering the movie is certainly not as good as it could have been. 

Robert Ryan
is probably as good as he gets as the lead and he does both sides of the character proud showing the meanness and loneliness of the cop character and the blooming tender feelings he develops in the rural country.  Ryan who lacked the looks to be a leading man except in a story like this, was among the best of the actors of his time able to put on a lot of mannerisms and make them different for each character.  He has certainly earned his star in my personal walk of fame and I always expect something good when I see another of his movies for the first time.

Ida Lupino is a favorite of mine and she puts across her character well, particularly as she cannot use her expressive eyes because her character is sightless.  Ward Bond as the bereaved and angry father is also believable and Ryan is able to finally judge his own temper based on Bond's raging.

Score by Bernard Herrmann is a symphonic nightmare of howling horns evocative of a fox hunt at times and this establishes the Jim Wilson character and a more thrilling theme for the woman. 

The fault I noticed is the story does not seem quite together. Emotionally, yes, it seems to work out, but the sentimental Hollywood ending grafted on by Howard Hughes is probably not what Director Nicholas Ray would have chosen had he had the call as the movie seemed to have a much more sinister tone.  

Glenn Erickson provides a commentary track with the DVD which is 82 minutes of black and white drama in fully restored condition.  Anybody liking dark crime dramas will want to see On Dangerous Ground.

© 2010 George Chabot

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