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.