“ON DANGEROUS GROUND” is a good solid little movie. I’ve read a bit of discussion on “tone” in films; what works…what doesn’t work. “ODG” doesn’t have a big grandiose sweeping story. It has a simple one, in fact. But THIS is a good example of what it looks like when tone is handled right. This movie has two halves and I think they mesh seamlessly and the tone for each half is appropriate.
ROBERT RYAN plays Detective Jim Wilson who works the night shift and catches The Bad Guys by any means necessary. And most times, what’s necessary…is a beat-down. When Jim asks rhetorically, “Why do you punks make me do it?!!!” My answer’d be: “…because you want to do it Jim, that’s why.” And when Jim gets the come-on by blonde bombshell Cleo Moore you just know that their dalliance will not include a bed strewn with rose petals. Jim can work out any uhmm…“kinks” and societal rejections suffered via his line of work, with this soft hard blonde. Who’d have thunk redemption would come to our hero through actually catching a murderer.
Director NICHOLAS RAY draws us into the second half of the movie with a savage murder in a tight-knit, rural community upstate. He does this slow and easy with a car ride from an urban jungle to a snow-covered bucolic setting. He lets us get our bearings slow and easy, just as Jim gets his. We watch Jim’s heart melt in the snow. His brutishness is washed clean in the face of a blind woman.
My God, IDA LUPINO…I think she’s just fantastic here. Forget her brittle sexiness as the crazed ‘Lana Carlsen’ in “They Drive By Night” or her conniving manipulativeness as Helen in “The Hard Way” or her “questionable” prison warden in “Women’s Prison.” ( Well actually don’t forget it. That’s what makes me Ida…Ida Ida…I idolize ya! ) Here on dangerous ground Ida gives a heart-full performance. She’s as gentle as can be. She has strength… but it’s a different kind; not hard and brassy, but one filled with trust & faith ( “I have to trust everybody.” ) And not in a saccharine way either. By the sheer force in her belief and her goodness, she gets tough hard brutal Jim Wilson to make her a promise; a promise to bring her brother, the young girl’s murderer, to justice safely. And he doesn’t commit to this promise easily.
As Robert Ryan’s detec- tive’s heart and point of view shifts, we have Ward Bond as the grie- ving father ( Mr. Brent ) of the murdered girl. Let me tell you, his anger and grief are ferocious. Right off the bat it’s Country vs. City Slicker. Actually, Ward Bond seems like the Detec-tive’s former self: brutal, wild, shoot first and ask questions later…maybe. ( Ha! At that moment I thought the only actor alive not scared of Robert Ryan would be Ward Bond ). Bond is where Ryan used to be. When they tussled, it felt to me like Ryan was fighting his former self. I’m trying not to put any spoilers in my blog post, but your safe bet is to watch this classic before you read my entry. There’s so much that goes on that causes a man to go from that to this and Nicholas Ray eases us through his process. We go through the process too.
I’m not sure which side of the musical metronome Bernard Hermann falls with you, but my heart strings will always follow Bernie’s violins anywhere. But besides his music, which I think underscores and enhances the plot, I felt I was led by events; …Ryan’s promise to Lupino…Ward Bond’s venge-filled intent…a boy…a chase…a promise.
Out there in the cold, white snow…there’s forgiveness and redemption. I think Nicholas Ray handles it seamlessly in “On Dangerous Ground.” As for Robert Ryan..wellllllll, the man is a chameleon. He plays good guys. He plays bad guys. He plays good bad guys and bad good guys. And I might say the same for Lupino to some extent. Ryan’s had such a variety of roles throughout his career. If you want to get a handle on ROBERT RYAN’s screen persona \/ you just have to remember one thing:
He will make you believe anything.
( H O M E )