On Dangerous Ground (1952)

On Dangerous Ground (1952), directed by Nicholas Ray.

Years ago I was on a film discussion forum when talk turned to everyone's 1950s favorite, Robert Ryan. I asked "What was that one where he is a police detective, interrogating a prisoner and losing it badly, yelling at him: "Why do you make me do it? You know you're going to talk. I make all you punks talk..."

"On Dangerous Ground" was the answer. "A masterpiece".

I like it, too. Unexpected plot developments and unconventionally structured into city and country halves. This is partly due to meddling by studio owner Howard Hughes who took a couple of years in off-and-on-again post production.

"City cop in the country" is often a subject of fun, but not this time. And moving out of city grimness to the clean countryside had been done before, say in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Out of the Past (1947). Here it is not so simple: our violent, frustrated cop has come from a dark place but drops into a worse one where he has to be the voice of reason to an enraged father looking to shotgun the boy who killed his daughter. In the other films our central character finds his end in the country, but here our hero finds redemption.

How bad had he gotten? His colleagues have family and don't take the job home. He has no one and never stops working. He's good at it but fed up, violent and getting written up for it too often. The sado-masochistic relation between tough cops and underworld characters is underlined here. He questions bad-eyed bombshell Cleo Moore, who says "You can make me talk, can't you? With those big strong arms..." He agrees he can do that and we fade out. A few minutes later he is beating the terrified but strangely eager cop-killer, and it's the same thing.

Ida Lupino gets top billing as a blind woman in the country with a "troubled" little brother who has gone too far this time. It's a credit to the writers that we actually do feel sympathy for the boy, even though a psycho-killer.

Many familiar faces in the cast, with Ward Bond really showing his darker side as the angry and armed father.

Superb Bernard Herrmann score, sounding like his science fiction in spots. Some scenes shot handheld and with a camera moving in the cars.

Lupino is an uncredited director; I don't know how much she did. She thought it was a good production but a weak script.

Warner Archive Blu-ray with a commentary track brought forward from the DVD.