On Dangerous Ground (1952) Nicholas Ray

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Nick Ray’s “On Dangerous Ground” is a film split into two distinct acts. Based on a novel by Gerald Butler, an excellent screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides, a magnificent score by the great Bernard Hermann with top-notch performances by Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino.

Robert Ryan is excellent as Jim Wilson, a neurotic, indifferent detective who has no life other than cleaning up the dirty slime filled streets filled with human vermin. Yet he manages to find salvation and rediscover his humanity in the gentle soul of the beautiful though blind Mary Malden (Lupino), the sister of the young murderer pursued by the law.  Ryan has portrayed many hard-edged, unsentimental characters in his career though this is arguably one of his best. Ida Lupino is truly touching as Mary giving one of her most vulnerable performances of her career.

In the hands of another director, this film could have turned in a sloppy melodrama. With Nick Ray in control, we get a post-modernist edgy film noir contrasting the dark harsh crime filled streets of the city against the clean stark cold wintry beauty of the country. Like many of Ray’s films, there is a sense of loneliness and sadness in the characters. Similar lost characters fill the screen in other Ray works like “Rebel without a Cause” and “The Lusty Men.” With “On Dangerous Ground” Ray again transcends the genre he is working in creating a personal vision fueled by outsiders and non-conformist structuring their own moral code to live by.

Ray’s opens the films with his own idiosyncratic style with an arresting scene of a cop’s wife ritualistically and sensuously fastening her husband’s shoulder holster as he prepares to leave for work.

“On Dangerous Ground” is a melancholy work of dark beauty that should not be missed.

TCM will be showing “On Dangerous Ground” on Tuesday at 3:30AM EST.417902_1010_A

4 comments on “On Dangerous Ground (1952) Nicholas Ray

  1. Dave says:

    I’m torn on this one… as you rightly point out in the review, you can tell very quickly that this is a Nick Ray film. And this is a good thing for me, because I am definitely a Ray fan. Still, though, part me of me has never been able to fully get into this one, as I do think that it sometimes dips a bit too close to sloppy melodrama. I say “at times” because there are some excellent spots throughout the movie. I like it, but don’t quite rank it as top-flight Nick Ray. I guess I’m still comparing everything from him to In a Lonely Place, which very few are going to match up favorably against! 🙂 But, I admit that I’m definitely in the minority on this one because many folks rank it among the finest films that he ever made.

    As usual, excellent work. I have a copy of this one already because I recorded it off of TCM a few months ago when it was on. Thank goodness for TCM and DVD recorders or my collection would be significantly smaller!

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    • John Greco says:

      Dave- the film does come close to the edge of “sloppy melodrama” though for me Ryan’s performance keeps it from falling over. In a Lonely Place is a great film and with Bogart and Grahame it would be hard to beat.

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  2. Sam Juliano says:

    Well, I consider this one of Ray’s greatest films. It’s an astute psychological study of loneliness and despair, and that “magnificent” Bernard Herrmann score you speak of there is my single favorite score in the entire history of the cinema. And music is probably the one component in a film that I have been infatuated with through my life. Herrmann is the greatest film composer, with Steiner, Rosza, Morricone, Korngold, Newman, Waxman, Rota and Newman up next, and this elegiac, bittersweet score includes some of film music’s most ravishing passages, music that reaches the soul with its piercing melodic elegance. As to the film, it’s a compelling noir that certainly rates with IN A LONELY PLACE as Ray’s masterpiece. The Warner DVD is quite excellent. This is one of those film’s that works beneath the surface, methinks. Great appraisal here as always John.

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  3. John Greco says:

    Sam – It is a terrific film and RobertRyan is great in it. Herrmann’s score is a real highlight, as it always is. I think you hit on the head when you say it is a “pyschological study of loneliness and dispair.” Definitely one of Ray’s great works.

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