Saturday, January 16, 2016

ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1951)


This RKO film, directed by Nicholas Ray and produced by John Houseman, has a distinctly Bernard Herrmann opening score. His effect use of a "hammer against an anvil" (or muted chime) gives one note a definitively sharp, steely ring. Like a migraine headache. The film may have a few holes in the script but it is a standout performance by Robert Ryan. He plays a tough detective embittered by years of dealing with urban low-lives. So much so, he has become a violent man and after repeatedly beating several suspects, he is assigned a case in a remote, snow-covered part of the country to find the killer of a young girl. Ryan is “im-paired” with the victim's father, Ward Bond, who only wants to shoot the killer himself. He is impatient with Ryan, wasting his time with his methodical “big city” protocols. One still senses Ryan is about to lose it and hit somebody. 

The search provides interaction between Ryan and Bond but too numerous or inconsequential to mention here. When the two men come upon a cabin occupied by a blind Ida Lupino, the killer’s sister, it begins Ryan’s transformation from hyena to hamster. Lupino is a gentle and loving person who has cared for her mentally ill brother since the death of their parents. Ryan identifies with Bond’s single-minded rage and his subtle transformation is quite moving. His pride still intact, but his face indicates we are witnessing a new man. Though things do not turn out exactly as hoped, Bond is remorseful for his lack of understanding. And until the day Lupino spills that hot coffee in Ryan’s lap, we sense a long future for them.

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