On Dangerous Ground, starring Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, directed by Nicolas Ray, RKO Pictures, 1952
Sure, I have run through a ton of film noir of late good, bad, and indifferent and for lots of different reasons. In the film under review, On Dangerous Ground, you would expect that what I was looking at was an example of Nicolas Ray’s pre-Rebel Without A Cause resume. And this film is not a bad example of his directorial ability, especially his ability to frame black and white nature scenes rather starkly, but that is not why I am reviewing this film. The primary reason is one Ida Lupino. I saw her in a very B non-descript black and white film from 1942 with French star Jean Maurras and that reminded me of her great performance as Humphrey Bogart’s Roy Earle hard guy moll, or wannabe moll, in High Sierra. And so we were off to the races looking for her other work and here we are.
As for the rating part, good, bad or indifferent, remember, it is the latter. You always like a film to have certain cinematic core, a certain frame of reference, but this one just kind of gets away. That is not Ms. Lupino’s fault, or Mr. Ray’s, or for that matter Robert Ryan’s, who plays the high pressure big city cop at the center of the story. And maybe that is where it all falls down. See, Ryan, a guy who might have had early dreams of glory and kudos but they are long gone by the time he gets on screen, is waiting out his time until he gets his pension. Obviously in his chosen profession he sees nothing but bad guys, their tough dames and everything else that comes up from under the rocks. So this life steels him to any emotional commitment to see human existence as anything but short, nasty and brutish as Professor Hobbes used to say. Of course in an evolving “civilized” society one cannot be judge, jury and executioner so Ryan’s methodology for getting at the truth, the criminal truth, by beating it out of the tough guys, does not stand up to today’s Warren Court Miranda standards. So he is shipped out to the country to cool off for a while and to assist in a homicide investigation out in the wild-edged boondocks.
Bingo, primitive man meets primitive nature and one senses right away that Brother Ryan’s soul will be cleansed before we are through. But crime even hits the boonies every once in a while; here a heinous murder of an innocent young girl done by a very mentally disturbed young man. Enter, finally, Ms. Lupino as the disturbed young man’s sister, blind sister, who wants to do what’s right for brother but mostly that he not fall into the hands of the local vigilante justice that is hunting him like a dog, especially that dead girl’s father (played by Ward Bond) who swears vengeance unto death. Of course poor brother is doomed, one way or another. However during the course of the chase our cop is smitten (well, what else would it be) by Ms. Lupino’s ways of thinking and is drawn to her. The final segment of the film revolves around this unusual budding romance. Like I said, it is just a little too melodramatic to be a good noir. But don’t blame Ms. Lupino, Mr. Ryan, Mr. Ray, or even Mr. Bond for that.