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.
Be forewarned: the following material contains specific story information you may not want to know before viewing the film:
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."