It’s always a pleasure to watch ON DANGEROUS GROUND, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. The story of a hard bitten,self destructive big city detective who finally finds meaning to his life when he meets a blind girl who lives far away from the brutal world he works in.
I only recently got the blu-ray dvd of the film which includes a commentary by film historian and critic, Glenn Erickson whose website is http://cinesavant.com.
As this is one of my favourite films and I have been following Glenn Erickson for a while, I decided to take the time and listen to what he had to say about this film.
Erickson makes the observation that “On Dangerous Ground is a character study.” The story of a big city police detective Jim Wilson(Robert Ryan) who has been beaten down by the sleazy world he inhabits. He’s disillusioned with the human race. Unlike his two partners, Pop Daly ( Charles Kemper) and Pete Santos (Anthony Ross), he has no family to go home to at the end of the day, no life outside of the job.
He’s become a violent and dangerous cop and is finally sent out of town to investigate the murder of a young girl .
He meets a blind woman,’Mary Malden’ (Ida Lupino) whose young brother is the killer.
He has to deal with the bereaved father of the girl, ’Walter Brent ‘ (Ward Bond). The farmer just wants to find the killer and shoot him. The reversal of character is neatly done – Ryan is now the one having to restrain someone who is out for blood.
Glenn’s commentary is full of detail, about the film’s origins, the cast, the music, the director,Nicholas Ray.
Glenn points out that the film’s writer, A.I Bezzerides is in one scene in the film, as the sleazy bar owner who tries to bribe Robert Ryan.
Glenn Erickson was involved in the restoration of the original ending of KISS ME DEADLY ( for which Bezzerides also wrote the screenplay), and he was able to speak on the phone with the writer in the 1990s.
Two of Bezzerides’ novels, “The Long Haul”and “Thieves Market” were filmed as THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT and THIEVES HIGHWAY, with Bezzerides penning the screenplays.
We’re told about the complicated production history. Being an RKO film, Howard Hughes involved himself and tinkered with the film for nearly two years before release in January 1952.
In December 1949, Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino were assigned by the studio. Apparently Nicholas Ray wasn’t consulted about Ida’s casting. The working title was DARK HIGHWAY ( and I found a still showing this title.)
On Dangerous Ground was based on a 1946 book, “Mad With Much Heart” by an English crime writer Gerald Butler who had also written “Kiss The Blood of My Hands” which became a film with Burt Lancaster. Glenn makes comparisons with the book and indicates how much of the source material was used.
The character played in the film by Ward Bond is ‘Walter Bond’ in the book. He becomes ‘Walter Brent’ in the film.
Composer Bernard Herrmann completed his score in a month and then orchestrated and conducted the orchestra, thus keeping tight control of his music. Some of the exciting music anticipated elements of “North By Northwest”.
Sad to hear that Charles Kemper who plays ‘Pop Daley’ was killed in a car accident two days after filming finished. Kemper appeared in SCARLET STREET, WHERE DANGER LIVES and YELLOW SKY.
After a trade showing in November 1951. Variety said it was like two movies grafted together. It had a lookwarm reception on general release, but its reputation has grown over the years.
I enjoyed listening to Glenn Erickson’s commentary which he did in 2006 when On Dangerous Ground was released as part of the box set,Film Noir 3. The film was restored and released again in 2016.
I’d like to ask Glenn if he would make any changes to his narration from 12 years ago. Also, does he believe stories that Ida Lupino directed some scenes when Nicholas Ray was ill.
In addition to a film commentary, I’d also like reviewers to be able to pause the film at various points and comment on individual scenes .
The solid cast included Anthony Ross as the very believable cop who tries to reign in his partner, Robert Ryan.
In only one scene in the film, Richard Irving is riveting as the small time hood whom detective Wilson will beat up to get information on the murder of a fellow cop. This scene alone could be studied for its camera work and lighting and Ray’s inspired direction.
Richard Irving had been in a string of small parts (he played pilots in both Armored Car Robbery and Road Block), and finally gave up acting after making one more film. He then became a successful TV director/producer.
Surprising that top billed Ida Lupino doesn’t appear till the film shifts from the urban to the rural setting, half an hour in. Ida was negotiating with RKO for the distribution of her new company ‘s independent films, so perhaps she agreed to do On Dangerous Ground to encourage RKO’s cooperation. Just speculation on my part.
Adding much to the look of the film is the two week shoot in Granby Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. The snow scenes add so much to the stark atmosphere of the hunt for the boy. Local residents were paid $55 for speaking one line, and $10 daily for stand-ins.
My blu Ray of the film came via HMV’s Premium Collection which wrongly claimed “First Time On Blu -Ray”. (The restored film was released on region free blu-Ray in 2016).
It contained the blu-Ray, digital copy and 4 postcards and a mini poster. And was part of a two for £15 sale.
Of all the advertising for the film, this image below could surely have been bettered. The image of Ida Lupino is nothing like her character in the film.
The other blu-Ray I got in the 2 for £15 was DARK PASSAGE, which had a dvd as well as the blu-Ray disc, plus four postcards but no poster.
The four cards for Dark Passage.
And if anyone is interested in the origins of the book’s title, “Mad With Much Heart”, it comes from a poem by John Donne( 1572-1631) called “The Dream” which ends with:
”Fill’d with her love, may I rather grown
Mad with much heart, than idiot with none.”
Superb, comprehensive write-up of a great film, one of the best for all those involved. I recently got but haven’t watched the Blu-ray, which ought to be a major upgrade on the very disappointing DVD that’s been out for years.
Thanks, Colin. The blu-Ray print is excellent. I’m having a Charles McGraw double bill this week – Armored Car Robbery and Loophole.
A splendid essay — many thanks. I, too, love this movie.
It’s well worth listening to Glenn Erickson’s commentary.
Enjoyed your post about this film, a good noir film. I forgot Ray directed it but was aware that the music in it sounds similar to the music that Bernard Hermann made for North by Northwest. Ah, movie posters! Some are really great and some are nothing like the movies they advertise.
You are so right about some film posters which sometimes even feature scenes not in the movie!
And yes, Mr. Herrmann definitely used some of his On Dangerous Ground music for North By Northwest. Wonderful in both films. One of my favourite composers.
Great write up on another fine Noir. Ryan is great here and I love the contrast when he goes to the countryside and Bond is the antagonist and Ryan must play the peace maker with both Ida and her brother. Wonderful film of it’s time and like so many I think got overlooked but time has altered that opinion. Thankfully.
I should have mentioned Ward Bond did a good job as the grief/anger driven father.
Sounds like the public in ‘52 didn’t like the abrupt change from the dark city to the bleak outdoors. But the change is perfect for Ryan’s character to develop. He has to deal with a completely different environment and his natural instinct takes over.
Hi Vienna ! Thanks for the praise. I’d like to change things on most of my commentaries (like occasional grievous errors) but this one turned out pretty good, thanks to the availability of the book (which isn’t very good) and plenty of biographical material on the director and actors. I think it’s assumed that Lupino and Ryan collaborated on part of the reshoots. The conventional happy finish has little to do with Ray’s original ending, but the movie as reorganized and hacked about is still extremely satisfying — to see a hardboiled noir turn so sentimental (but still tough) always feels good — to me the ending is as pure as a silent movie, only with the kisses honestly earned. I hope that helps, Glenn
Delighted to hear from you,Glenn. It must have been so frustrating for Ray and Bezzerides to lose control of their film.
I love your phrase, “…the ending is as pure as a silent movie, only with the kisses honestly earned.”
Wow, I have to see this! I love Robert Ryand and, imho, you can’t go wrong with Nicholas Ray. Excellent review!
I love this film. Hope you see it sometime.