ON DANGEROUS GROUND (1952) B/W 82m dir: Nicholas Ray
w/Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, Charles Kemper, Anthony Ross, Ed Begley, Ian Wolfe, Sumner Williams, Gus Schilling, Frank Ferguson, Cleo Moore, Olive Carey, Richard Irving, Pat Prest
Unusual psychological drama delineating the moral profile of a burnt-out cop who hates humanity because of what he's seen on the street. As punishment for his harsh tactics on the job, he's sent out of town to investigate the molestation and murder of a girl.
The following material contains information you may not want to know before viewing the film for the first time:
From the www.notcoming.com website, this review of the film by Ian Johnston:
"For many, audiences and critics alike, On Dangerous Ground is a problematic movie. The sticking point is its split structure, the first third in the familiar setting of the rain-slicked streets of the film noir city, the rest in the wide snowy expanses of the countryside. Audiences and reviewers of the day were disconcerted by the way the change in setting was also reflected in how the very nature of the story changes. What starts out as a hard-edged crime thriller, centred on the violent personality of detective Jim Wilson (a superb performance by the ever-reliable Robert Ryan --- why wasn’t he ever a greater star?), turns into something gentler and more introspective, namely the theme of how a violent, self-loathing man can be redeemed.
"When On Dangerous Ground was made, RKO was in the hands of Howard Hughes, and it’s a sign of the problems the film’s narrative structure posed that Hughes continued tinkering with it for a year. (Admittedly, this was pretty par for the course for Hughes irrespective of how any film had turned out.) But even today, as perceptive a writer as James Harvey in his Movie Love in the Fifties (which includes a substantial section on Ray) has little time for the film, praising the early 'classic noir' section of the film as the best part and ignoring the rest. In fact, this seems to me a misreading and a critical misjudgment. The core to On Dangerous Ground lies in the countryside setting, the site of the film’s emotional force and thematic meaning. It’s also where the best scenes are too, above all those of Jim and vengeful father Walter Brent struggling across the empty stretches of snow.
"In many ways On Dangerous Ground is a companion-piece to In a Lonely Place, the film that preceded it. In both films the male protagonist’s propensity to violence verges on the psychopathic and a romantic relationship offers a way out of his psychological impasse. Perhaps we’re more convinced by the downbeat ending to In a lonely Place where, even though Dixon Steele is proven innocent of the suspicions of murder that the noir plot has cast on him, the violent side to his nature that he has revealed in the process destroys his relationship with Laurel and condemns him to loneliness. Still, there’s a pleasing symmetry to the way On Dangerous Ground now takes a similar character and offers a very different outcome.
"The film plunges us straight into the world of the dark, violent noir city --- during the opening credits looking out through a car windscreen that in a later scene is revealed to be the patrol car shared by detectives Jim Wilson, Pete Santos, and Pop Daly. (With the overlay of a Bernard Herrmann score you can’t help but wonder if there was some influence on Martin Scorsese when he was making Taxi Driver.) A sense is given of the violence that awaits these cops in the world outside with repeated scenes of both Santos’ and Daly’s wives handing them their guns as they prepare for their shift. But the delay in introducing Jim Wilson is critical in portraying him as different from his two partners. Whereas we see them in a supportive and loving home life, Jim is alone in his single room, gun already strapped on, gobbling down his food as he looks through police mug shots. His work is his life; there’s nothing else.
"The investment of his life in his work as a police detective has twisted Jim up inside, filling him with disgust, anger, and self-loathing, feelings that are all bottled up inside with no release but for his outbursts of violence. Unlike his partners, he has no perspective on the criminal world that they deal with every day ('What kind of a job is this anyway? Garbage. That’s all we handle, garbage!'), and his disgust is projected both within and without. These early scenes sketch the grubby world Jim works in --- the alcoholic informer, the underage prostitute, the sleazy bar owner that tries bribing him (a cameo by the film’s scriptwriter A.I. Bezzerides) --- and the violence that seethes within Jim. When an innocent citizen is harassed by them and mutters 'Dumb cop!' at Jim, he is barely restrained by his partners from attacking him. He’s sensitive to even the most innocent of casual comments --- watch how he spins around, hurt and silent, on his stool when the drugstore girl jokes about the impossibility of 'me going out with a cop.'
"Jim’s behaviour gets even more extreme when he actually has to deal with characters from the criminal world. First, there’s the sultry Myrna, boyfriend of Bernie Tucker (friend of the cop killers Jim and his partners are tracking down --- a plot element the film barely seems concerned with), who adds a perverse sexual mix to what we’ve seen so far. She practically taunts Jim into beating the information out of her, which she plays out as a sexual come-on --- 'You’ll make me talk, you’ll squeeze it out of me with those big strong arms' --- which Jim responds to with a menacing 'That’s right, sister.' But the significance of the encounter with Myrna rests as much in its moral commentary on Jim’s character. Jim is so turned in on himself that he has lost any concern for other people. Myrna is now under physical threat for the information she has given him, but he’s simply indifferent to this. As partner Pete Santos comments to him here: 'You sure don’t care about people, do you?'
"With Bernie Tucker the violence is racked up a further degree, with, again, an underlying current of sexual sadism. Bernie is lying on his bed when Jim bursts into his room and, even with Jim towering over him, Bernie repeatedly taunts Jim to beat him. This provokes Jim into a tirade, a paroxysm of conflicted self-hate and uncontrollable rage: 'Why do you make me do it? You know you’re gonna talk. I’m gonna make you talk. I always make you punks talk. Why do you make me do it? Why? Why?'
"The actual beating is elided, although we do see Jim attacking Bernie again in the patrol car at the station, but it’s clear that Jim is trapped in an ever-intensifying cycle of violent behaviour. He’s lonely and isolated, cut off from other people, consumed with pent-up rage and self-hate, and unable to break out of his entrapment --- symbolised (a little too neatly, perhaps) by his desperate but vain attempts to wash his hands when he returns to his lonely little room. His crazed beating of one of Myrna’s subsequent attackers, from whom Pop Daly has to pull him off, is the ultimate sign of how far Jim has lost control of himself and how far Jim is psychologically and spiritually lost.
"Jim’s posting out of town literalises his loneliness and isolation. He’s sent into the countryside to assist in tracking down the killer of a young girl, although for his police captain this is as much to get Jim out of town until controversy over his recent violence dies down. The change in environment is evocatively handled by Ray, the transition marked by face-on shots of Jim’s face as he is driving, over-the-shoulder shots of the landscape outside, and finally point-of-view shots out the windscreen of the road ahead. The roadworks that temporarily halt Jim’s journey at mid-point reflect the 'blocked’ nature of Jim’s psychological state; the increasingly empty expanses of landscape before him bring to the fore the sense of lack, of what is emotionally missing in the loner figure that Jim plays.
"This wide, snowy rural landscape is the background against which play Jim’s encounters with two key figures, Walter Brent and Mary Malden. Brent is the father of the murdered girl and he becomes here Jim’s alter ego, his dark mirror-image. All Jim’s rage and violence finds expression in Brent in a more basic and uglier form. Brent’s character is simply and only driven by his urge for violent revenge, which right from the start is positioned as opposed to Jim and hence a sign of how Jim is going to change: 'There won’t be any of your city stuff. No funny trials. No sob sisters. I’m just gonna empty this shotgun in his belly.'
"Brent’s excessive, violent drive is externalised in his obsessive pursuit through the snow, with Jim struggling to keep up. There’s no concern for anyone else, such as the wounded car owner (his car is stolen by the girl’s killer) --- although, significantly, and in contrast to his behaviour in the city, Jim does pause in a show of concern --- and, later, when their car skids on the icy road and overturns, Brent simply abandons him.
"When Jim and Brent first approach Mary’s isolated house, their initial conversation with the off-screen Mary is filmed as a two-shot, with the two of them facing and speaking to the camera, a visualisation of the two sides to Jim’s character. As they explain they’re looking for the girl’s killer (they’re yet to discover that he is Mary’s younger brother Danny), it’s as if these two sides are warring with each other before our eyes. Jim is courteous and diplomatic, adopting a gentle tone with Mary, while Brent is rude, blunt, aggressive, and brutal. Later, after Jim has his long conversation alone with Mary, Brent returns from another obsessive search outside and, refusing to believe Mary is blind, moves to strike her, only stopped by Jim wrestling him to the floor.
"Jim protects Mary here, just as, under her influence, he’ll try to protect Danny, actions that are in dramatic contrast to his behaviour in the city. Obviously, Mary’s blindness is there to parallel Jim’s moral/spiritual blindness, his entrapment in his own violent world and his inability to see beyond that world and to acknowledge and appreciate the world of family and relationships that Pop Daly proposes to him. Her blindness is also an image that reflects Jim’s isolation but that at the same time, in keeping with the film’s humanist themes, offers a way of successfully living beyond that isolation.
"Mary is associated with symbols of nature (brought into her life by Danny) that reinforce the contrast the film sets up between the urban and the rural. This is one of a series of binary contrasts On Dangerous Ground is structured around --- male and female, day and night, light and dark, blindness and seeing, the married and the celibate life, violence and compassion --- although it has to be said that the association of the country with positive imagery is not so straightforward. It’s here after all that we see in Brent the most brutal manifestation of violent aggression and on the other hand in the city there are specific precursors to the nature theme (Pop Daly’s rose garden) and to the almost paternal relationship Jim tries to establish with Danny (seen in Jim’s interaction with the newspaper boy, but tellingly there Jim still cuts himself off at the end of the scene).
"Mary’s house is decorated with nature motifs: wooden carvings, some greenery hanging down from overhead, a huge branch of a tree that’s set upright in the living room. It’s in the presence of these natural objects that Mary and Jim’s encounter takes place. Here, the act of touching becomes the central physical action. Jim makes the resonant movement of touching the branch beside him when Mary asks his name and she gives recognition of her sense of Jim’s loneliness by an exploration of Jim’s face with her fingers. It’s as if with her touch she breaks through the shell that Jim has grown up around him.
"From now on Jim is committed to protecting Danny on Mary’s behalf. Danny himself is a further refinement on the nature theme, with his constant association with the animal. He’s hunted prey in his early scenes where a clear view of him is consistently denied us --- instead he’s a vague figure dropping from the trees or scuttling in the dark of the cellar when Mary brings him food. When we do finally get to see him, he’s revealed as a nervy, confused, simple-minded boy, but Jim’s attempts to establish a bond with him --- the first sign of the transformation effected within Jim himself --- come to naught with the sudden incursion of Brent, Jim’s dark shadow, who fights with Jim and literally chases Danny to a tragic death.
"Still, the film grants Brent a note of grace, too. Danny’s death seems to drain him of his vengefulness. This is not the satisfaction of a goal attained, of an eye-for-an-eye justice achieved on behalf of his dead daughter, but rather the humble recognition of Danny’s own humanity. 'He’s just a kid. That’s all he is,' says Brent, and cradles the boy in his arms in order to carry him into a nearby house. Jim is now superfluous and ineffectual, wanting to help and comfort Mary but uncertain as what to do. This uncertainty is reinforced by the contrast between Robert Ryan, bulked up in his coat and hat, and smaller-statured, more delicate, but here more determined Ida Lupino (playing Mary). In the end, Mary rejects Jim. As much as she might need his assistance, especially when she falls in her home, knocking over her household symbols of nature, she still too much senses Jim’s own psychological damage: 'Why don’t you go away? The way you are, I don’t see how you can help anybody.'
"This is the point at which Ray intended to end On Dangerous Ground. Such an ending clearly parallels that of In a Lonely Place, making it another portrait of a damaged male who’s unable, because of the flaws in his own psychological makeup, to respond adequately to a woman who is otherwise his ideal companion. Yet the film’s studio-imposed ending in fact makes greater emotional sense. In the film as it stands, we have another set of dissolves, point-of-view shots first of the snowy country road and then of the rain-slicked city street, with a cut to a close-up of Jim’s achingly sad face. Two conversations play in his mind, Mary’s talk of loneliness, and Pop Daly’s much earlier advice to Jim that 'to get anything out of life, you gotta put something in it. From the heart.'
"Pop and Mary are the two characters that identify what is wrong with Jim, and the film traces a passage from Pop to Mary and then to Jim’s own process of transformation. In this sense the film’s ending of Jim turning back from the city to return to Mary, while sentimental, is the final necessary link in this chain. Again, the motif of touch is central, as it has been throughout, from Jim’s hand on the tree branch in Mary’s living room; to Mary’s twice running her fingers over Jim’s face as an act of identifying who he is; to Jim’s hesitation to touch her, in his uncertainty as to how to comfort her; and then to this final scene with its close-up of their two hands meeting on the staircase banister. In the film’s final shot, the long slow pan over the snowy landscape, our sense of the meaning of that landscape has changed. No longer a symbol of Jim’s isolation and struggle with the dark forces within himself, that shot is now epiphanal, a simple coda to the transformation Jim has undergone."
From Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style, edited by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, this article on the film by Bob Porfirio: "Nicholas Ray's visual treatment of despair and salvation is one of the most moving in film noir. Although the elements of the plot are somewhat arbitrary and contrived, the central character of Wilson [Ryan as the cop] is conceived and delineated with great impact. The structural division of the film is in two parts, city and country. It creates a narrative framework of a journey that is literally from city to country and, subtextually, an inner journey of self-realization. Beginning as an archetypal film noir in its violent and brooding city 'overture' (defining the probable 'dangerous ground' of the title), the film becomes more profound as the setting changes and Mary [Lupino, as the sister of the disturbed teenage boy thought to be responsible for the crime] is introduced to alter the entire tone of the work. High contrast lighting pervades the city sequences, and the action is harsh and quick with each scene concisely staged. The country sequences are relatively slower and photographed more naturally as the visual style emphasizes the snowy landscape's beauty or light from Mary's fireplace as it casts strange shadows about her living room. However, the intensity and imbalance of the protagonist's emotional state is expressed also through subjective shots of the road as Wilson drives. That emotion carries over to and from other moments (rendered subjectively with a hand-held camera), such as the chase of a suspect in the city sequence or his subduing of the brutal Brent.
"The special qualities of On Dangerous Ground are primarily attributable to Nicholas Ray. Strangely, he regards it as a failure, perhaps because of the 'miracle' ending in which a series of dissolves of the anguished face of Wilson driving, the country in daylight, and the city street at night, abruptly brings Wilson back into Mary's house and the warmth of her embrace. 'I don't believe in miracles,' Ray has said. And yet he has suggested in the film that Wilson's violence results from a spiritual crisis precipitated by the dehumanizing nature of his occupation clashing with his innate sensitivity --- an internal conflict that cannot withstand the pressure placed on him by a violent environment and that only begins to dissipate in his very first moments with Mary. The film is both psychologically realistic and spiritually mysterious; and, if Ray would not concede this, he could not deny the specific virtues found in the creative responses of certain of the film's participants. George E. Diskant (also photographer of Ray's first film, They Live By Night) captures exactly the contrasting moods of the city and country locales. Bernard Herrmann contributes one of his most beautiful scores, unusual in its use of horns during the chase and in its viola d'amore theme for Mary. Above all, there is the mesmerizing presence of Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. Ryan's face expresses the motif of alienation that pervades Ray's work better than any dialogue could. As played by Ryan, Wilson's violent interrogation of a suspect, asking, 'Why do you punks make me do it?' is one of the most neurotic and self-destructive actions in film noir, so that the character's return to his apartment later that night becomes a gripping vision of loneliness. Wilson looks for a moment at his sports trophies, which are the only positive symbols left in his life and bitterly asks, 'Who cares?' Few actors could give this simple line as evocative a reading."
Notes for a lecture given on the film:
ON DANGEROUS GROUND:
John Houseman: colleague of Orson Welles:
was producer at RKO:
secured rights to novel by Gerald Butler:
Mad with Much Heart:
when Robert Ryan showed interest:
in playing leading role
got writer A.I. Bezzerides to adapt novel:
specifically to director Nicholas Ray's needs:
& to add some tough dialog
Bezzerides: also wrote: 2 other terrific noirs:
THIEVES' HIGHWAY: 1949
KISS ME DEADLY: 1955
in 1950: when GROUND was made:
"rogue cop" subgenre: just getting started:
WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS: 1950
DETECTIVE STORY: 1951
THE BIG HEAT: 1953
trend continued: many films re: "rogue cop":
TOUCH OF EVIL: 1958
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL: 1997
"rogue cop": good policeman:
trapped in vicious cycle of brutality
GROUND: main char: Jim Wilson: Robert Ryan:
has serious problem with rage:
frequently beats suspects
may be Ryan's best performance:
"Ryan ... is taught, intense, masculine &
exceedingly handsome. A definitive man’s
man, absolutely perfect for the role &
film: opens in city: very claustrophobic:
puts us right in middle of:
Jim's world: deals with snitches &:
sleazy bar owners who try to bribe him
like character of Gatos:
played by screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides:
guy with big glasses sitting at table
director Nicholas Ray: for weeks before filming began:
drove out with police squad cars:
in toughest district of Boston
sequences in countryside: filmed in Colorado:
Granby / Grand Lake / Tabernash:
near Rocky Mountain National Park:
gets deep winter snowfalls:
in higher elevations
GROUND: made at RKO Studios:
when mogul Howard Hughes ran it:
Hughes: ran roughshod over many movies:
made during his time at studio:
GROUND: shooting completed: May 1950:
sat on shelf for more than 1 year:
not released until February 1952
partly re-shot: violence in city toned down
re-edited: changed from Ray's original continuity
original ending changed
what resulted from all this meddling:
"exceedingly memorable picture"
Lupino: reportedly directed some scenes:
when Ray was ill:
she & Ryan: blocked & directed new ending
not success at box office: RKO lost $450,000:
later: became staple of late-night TV
Bosley Crowther: NY Times:
Lupino: "mawkishly stagey"
story: "a shallow, uneven affair"
recent critic: "above all, there is the mesmerizing presence of
Ida Lupino & Robert Ryan"
Ryan's Jim Wilson: closes himself off from feelings:
distances himself from his humanity
Lupino's Mary: also closed off from outside world:
but: her distance: geographic & physical
Bernard Herrmann: composer:
score: "veers from frantic action to deeply sentimental":
sounds like future work for Hitchcock:
NORTH BY NORTHWEST / PSYCHO:
but in GROUND:
his music: "refined for Ray's tastes"
only score he did for true film noir
Herrmann: wanted to use an obscure baroque instrument:
viola d'amour: to symbolize Mary's isolation & loneliness:
sound of it can be heard much of the time:
when she is onscreen.
Herrmann: so impressed with Virginia Majewski's performance:
on instrument: wanted her credited in the film:
Ray told him "there aren't enough cards"
Herrmann replied, "put her on mine"
in film's opening credits: Herrmann's credit reads:
"Music by Bernard Herrmann —
Viola d'Amour played by Virginia Majewski"
GROUND: 1 of Martin Scorsese's favorite pictures:
key influence on TAXI DRIVER: 1976:
Herrmann's final work:
finished recording score
died from heart attack in his sleep:
Xmas eve: 1975
Scorsese: dedicated TAXI DRIVER in his memory
ending of film: changed from what Ray wanted:
& many noir experts: criticize ending:
but: because of change:
GROUND: goes beyond noir:
becomes very satisfying drama
"Ray's deeply humanistic conclusion"
things to notice while viewing film:
opening of film: how it sets everything up
ending of film
which location is "dangerous ground" of title?
city or country?
at ~ 35m mark, listen for sequence that Herrmann reused:
1957: as opening theme to the television series
Have Gun Will Travel with Richard Boone
GROUND: film noir where:
detective never fires his gun
no sinister villain
no femme fatale
GROUND: "seizes hold of film noir conventions as a
springboard rather than a guidebook"
many film noirs: show character's descent into darkness:
GROUND: instead re:
Jim: clawing his way toward light
chiaroscuro lighting of noir: transformed into:
metaphor for liberation:
from confinement to openness
from personal alienation & distrust:
to reaching out to other with trust
from despair, hatred & self-loathing:
to hope, compassion & love
ending: Ray: envisioned 3-part structure:
city / country / city:
with bleak ending: Jim: returns to city:
& to his old life for good
"On Dangerous Ground enacts a spiritual rebirth that is
an unexpected, hard-won, convincing, & very
moving reversal of the fatalistic ideology that
usually informs film noir"
solace Jim finds with Mary: like in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE:
Jim, Judy & Plato: try to make family together
"Ray's visual treatment of despair & salvation is one
of the most moving in film noir"
black & white:
city = black / country = white:
which location is "dangerous ground" of title?
city: corrupt / claustrophobic / dark:
leads to Jim's rage
country: locals: suspicious & violent
but: open expanses / bright:
leads to Jim's salvation
transition between 2 locations: from city to high mountains:
few POV shots thru car's windshield:
tracking shots / dissolves:
gives effect of remoteness & calm:
big contrast to previous scenes in city
image goes from darkness to bright:
also: tonal changes: more romantic:
like silent film melodrama:
music helps this
color white: used to establish cleansing of soul:
after grime of city
but even in brightness of day: backgrounds / buildings:
used in frame to darken image
Mary's blindness: darkness in midst of light
Ray's use of camera: opening ½ hour: depiction of:
dingy tenements / crowded streets / sleazy bars:
creates cramped & oblique compositions
city: claustrophobic composition of frame:
darkness adds to this
some use of handheld camera:
adds to tension / sense of danger
shows Jim's mental instability
country: sequences on icy roads & in deep snow:
"achieve a convincing realism":
no fake snow here:
only optical effects:
few matte paintings used
handheld camera: when Jim restrains Brent
city: chaotic / countryside: "equally treacherous":
music: "binds the episodes together as if they
were movements in a symphony"
"Herrmann's score holds it all together in an
unbroken emotional progression"
Jim: tracks killer in deep snow:
realizes everything's been reversed:
in city: he needs to be reigned in
in snow: he is representative of law & order:
must stop Brent from going rogue
"Ray depicts Wilson's torment with an astonishing
use of the snow-covered hillsides"
"Leads Robert Ryan & Ida Lupino are so deeply immersed
in their roles that they remain in your memory as real
people inhabiting a white & craggy landscape steeped
in a tragedy redeemed only by sacrifice & human compassion"
Jim & Mary: both: isolated:
Mary: in her blindness & location
Jim: in way he deals with his job
Jim: trusts no one:
Mary: because of blindness:
must trust even total strangers
"the scene where she realizes her needs & begs Wilson to
please leave is extremely moving"
Jim: driving back to city: voice-over narration:
hearing other characters' words:
Mary: makes Jim realize: he's found someone who needs him:
person he can care about: more than his job:
more than his personal bitterness:
redeems him: helps him learn hard lesson:
how to separate job from personal life:
Jim: now knows he cannot return to city:
with same hostile attitude:
"sometimes people who are never alone are the loneliest"
act of touching: important in film:
way Mary guides herself without sight
way she breaks thru Jim's protective shell:
touches his hand, then his face
way Jim hesitates in touching her:
all culminates with:
Jim's ultimate redemption / humanization by her:
symbolized by image of their hands:
reaching out to each other:
idea of redemption: to some critics:
runs contrary to conventions of film noir:
does Jim's redemption taint this noir film?
does it make it not noir?
other critics: say ending makes film "transcend":
in other words: it's still noir:
but goes beyond it: closes circle
"the film's studio-imposed ending in fact makes
greater emotional sense"
"it's the ending we want & the one Ray says
structure: film divided into 2 parts: city & country:
creates story of journey:
literally from city to country:
also creates subtext:
inner journey of self-realization:
no character from 1st part of film: besides Jim:
is ever seen again in film:
2 key characters: take their place:
Brent & Mary
film: begins as archetypal film noir: in violent city:
becomes more profound:
as setting changes & Mary introduced:
entire tone of film: changes
city sequences: high contrast lighting used:
all shot at night: show bleak city life:
reflect Jim's bitterness
country sequences: relatively slower:
photographed more naturally:
mostly in light of day
visual emphasis on beauty of snowy landscape:
or light from Mary's fireplace
D.P. Diskant: "captures exactly the contrasting
moods of the city & country locales"
credits: play over view thru car window:
hurtling into night-time city streets
opening: shows Wilson's isolation:
3 cops: shown at home before work:
last of all: Jim
2 others: have family
Jim: has no one / nothing else:
even working while eating:
looks at sports trophies: "who cares?"
2 hunting scenes: exciting but also rather brutal:
pursuers: follow Danny's tracks in snow:
Herrmann's score: emphasizes violence
metaphor of Danny as prey:
implied in stalking sequences:
becomes more explicit:
his animal-like movements:
leaps from tree
makes den for himself
piccolo / 3 flute / 2 oboe / English horn
2 clarinets / bass clarinet / 2 bassoons
contrabassoon / 8 horns / 3 trumpets
3 trombones / tuba / timpani / bass drum
tam-tam / bell plate / piano / strings
as Jim beats informant: music: punctuates each hit:
melancholy music: used with Mary & Jim:
as their relationship grows:
"the tender music never descends into
"Herrmann's outstanding score alternates between the
heartfelt & the aggressive, in keeping with
Jim's inner tumult"
director: Nicholas Ray:
GROUND: "came in the middle of an astonishing string of
masterworks from Ray":
1950: IN A LONELY PLACE
1951: FLYING LEATHERNECKS
1952: THE LUSTY MEN
1954: JOHNNY GUITAR
1955: REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE
1956: BIGGER THAN LIFE
Ray: studied under Frank Lloyd Wright:
concerned with architecture of his films:
"knew how to use space around the characters as part
of [the] emotional landscape":
GROUND: cramped violence of city:
contrasts openness of countryside:
Mary's house: all by itself: lonely:
"it's not realism that Ray strived for so much as
compassion in the face of fantasy"
Ray: became known as major filmmaker:
because of being championed by Cahiers du Cinema
career in Hollywood over by 1963:
had heart attack while filming:
55 DAYS AT PEKING
went on to make few more films:
taught at NY University:
1 of his students: Jim Jarmusch
final film: LIGHTNING OVER WATER: 1980:
re: director trying to finish final film before dying:
co-directed with Wim Wenders
summer 1979: died of lung cancer
characters / actors:
Ray's characters: insecure, unstable & either:
scarred by their environment
or carry seed of their own destruction:
GROUND: characters have real strengths & weaknesses:
makes film more realistic
gives drama more impact
Jim: being detective all he knows: caught in cycle:
mistrust of cops: has taken toll on him:
tears away his humanity
fuels his isolation & self-loathing:
his violent outbursts:
perpetuate people's negative views of cops
Jim: an idealist: but expresses his disgust:
by becoming unfeeling monster:
hero = predator
believes ends justify means:
he does get results: criminals caught
we also see more positive side to him:
Pop's shoulder hurts: so he takes him to Doc
almost kills perp: then plays "football":
with newsboy's newspaper
clear in film: he's good cop:
with Jim: we see his capacity for violence
with Myrna: gets her to disclose information:
knows full well: may put her life in danger
his tragic flaw: lack of empathy:
his "madness" explodes with Bernie Tucker:
"why do you make me do it?"
remains sympathetic: because violent episodes:
distress him as much as his victims
maneuvers Mary to tell truth:
uses same tactics as with Myrna:
but: this time: he's 1 who's being seduced
Mary's lies & evasions re: Danny:
like lies & evasions of NY hoodlums:
but Jim can see difference in value:
of what she's trying to do
Jim's attempts to connect with Danny:
1st sign of his transformation
Jim: in country: shows 2 sides of himself at war:
with Mary: he's gentle & concerned:
he protects her & tries to protect Danny
with Brent: he's aggressive & brutal
"inspired by Mary's courage & recognizing Brent's rage as the
mirror image of his own, Wilson gains the insight to
free himself from his own blindness"
Ray: suggests in film: Jim's violence comes from spiritual crisis:
caused by dehumanizing nature of his job:
that clashes with his innate sensitivity
Ryan: when in army: boxed competitively:
made his face more rugged
made it hard for Hollywood to cast him
Ryan: specialized in "damaged" characters:
"he was the best at it":
in real life: pacifist / campaigned for civil rights
Ryan: internalizes feelings of hostility & rage:
does not gnash his teeth
no exaggerated mannerisms
instead: uses subtle signs:
way he transforms his face:
way he sets his jaw
way he just stares
Ryan: also shows Jim's sensitivity:
drugstore scene: young woman jokes re:
going out with cop: so hurt he turns away
"Ryan certainly deserves a lot of praise for the
human tone he gives to Wilson"
"Robert Ryan's face expresses the motif of alienation that
pervades Ray's work better than any dialog could"
"Robert Ryan's fierce performance is superb, as he's able to
convincingly assure us he has a real spiritual awakening"
Mary: not out for anything for herself:
only out to protect her brother:
does this: at significant cost to herself:
eye surgery refused
Mary: like Pop: Jim's partner in city:
only 2 chars who identify what's wrong with Jim
Mary: POV shots: lighter, etc.:
shows extent of her ability to see
Mary: redeems Jim: also: restores his empathy:
after Danny's death: really isolated:
no purpose left in life: indicated by:
her knocking over stuff in living room
"Ida Lupino (stunning) ..."
"Lupino's gentle character acts to humanize the crime fighter,
who has walked on the 'dangerous ground' of the city
& has never realized before that there could be any
other kind of turf until meeting someone as profound
& tolerant as Mary."
"Lupino is terrific, bringing her trademark intelligence &
sadness to an otherwise gimmicky role"
Danny: artist: long before we meet him:
we see "art installation" he's made for Mary:
using found objects & small sculptures
when Danny dies: his sacrifice:
so Mary can live her own life
Williams: Ray's nephew
Brent: shows his violent side: much like Jim's:
Jim's mirror image of himself:
seeing Jim with Brent:
lets us see different side of Jim:
Brent: simply abandons Jim when car crashes:
so focused on killer: not concerned re: him
Brent: when Danny dies:
seems to lose all thoughts of revenge:
recognizes Danny's humanity:
"he's just a kid"
is Brent more violent that Jim?
countryside: far from innocent
"Brent (played wonderfully well by Ward Bond) ...
is Wilson --- but without a badge to hide behind"
film: contains many contrasts:
city / country
day / night
light / dark
blindness / seeing
male / female
married life / solitary life
violence / compassion
"The urban harshness of the city is contrasted with the austere
snowy countryside for some of the most disconcertingly
moving effects in all film noir"
"with a runtime of just over 80 minutes in length, this is a taut
romantic drama / thriller with nary a wasted moment"
"On Dangerous Ground is a film of contrasts: between beaming
sunlight & shadowy back alleyways, between urban
decay & an unspoiled countryside, between misanthropy
& compassion, between a balled fist and a helping hand"