Sunday, November 27, 2011

Troubles Lying Underneath the Surface

One of Nicholas Ray’s earlier, more well known films, this one is as much a romantic drama as it is a film noir. The main character, Jim, portrayed by Robert Ryan, is a brute, a violent detective working in a bleak urban jungle. In one scene, he mercilessly beats up a suspect, uttering “Why do you do it? Why do they all do it? You know I’m gonna make you talk. I make all your punks talk.” It’s a rather chilling moment, and it only illustrates how close to the edge this man really is.

Rebuked for this disturbing act, he’s shipped out to the countryside to solve a murder. There, he finds a father bent on taking justice into his own hands, and thus Jim experiences a role reversal. Jim goes from being the aggressor to advocating restraint, which begins his transformation into a more civilized man. Even though he too wants to see the killer caught, this time he opts for by the book. No loose cannon, rule breaking or bending this time. The father, in criticizing Jim’s notions of justice as being that of the city, only underlines Ryan’s slow realization that his previous ways were wrong, or at the very least gross overreacting.

Ida Lupino’s blind woman, who ends up actually being the killer’s sister, throws a wrench into all of this. Here the film switches from noir to love story, as she melts Jim’s cold heart and dents his gruff exterior. Either she will be the key to his salvation, or damn him to loneliness. How that plays out must be viewed, and I really found the film’s conclusion to be a bit unsatisfying. Ray’s original’s ending was scrapped in favor of what the studio wanted, which is a shame.

Boasting incredible, expansive cinematography that captures the lonely and empty landscape covered in snow, On Dangerous Ground is a really good film. The score by famous composer Bernard Herrmann also adds to the proceedings, and Ryan turns in another fine performance. Ray has made better movies than this one, but once again he his themes of alienation and lonely souls seeking companionship in a harsh world, shines through. 85

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