On Dangerous Ground
|On Dangerous Ground|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nicholas Ray|
|Produced by||John Houseman|
|Screenplay by||A. I. Bezzerides
|Based on||the novel Mad with Much Heart
by Gerald Butler
|Music by||Bernard Herrmann|
|Cinematography||George E. Diskant|
|Edited by||Roland Gross|
|Distributed by||RKO Pictures|
On Dangerous Ground is a 1951 film noir directed by Nicholas Ray and produced by John Houseman. The screenplay was written by A. I. Bezzerides based on the novel Mad with Much Heart, by Gerald Butler. The drama features Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, and others.
Robert Ryan plays Jim Wilson, a tough police detective embittered by years of dealing with low-life urban scum. After severely beating several suspects, Jim is assigned to a case far from the city to find the killer of a young girl. Joining the manhunt, in snow-covered terrain, Wilson finds himself paired with the victim's father, Walter Brent (Ward Bond), who plans to shoot the killer himself. When the two men come upon a cabin occupied by Mary Malden (Ida Lupino), a blind woman who is also the killer's sister, Wilson's life is changed forever. Mary, a generous and loving person who has cared for her mentally ill brother Danny (Sumner Williams) since the death of their parents, convinces Wilson to protect Danny from Brent. Wilson also promises to get help for Danny if he surrenders to him. Inspired by Mary's courage and recognizing Brent's rage as the mirror image of his own, Wilson gains the insight to free himself from his own blindness.
- Ida Lupino as Mary Malden
- Robert Ryan as Jim Wilson
- Ward Bond as Walter Brent
- Charles Kemper as Pop Daly
- Anthony Ross as Pete Santos
- Ed Begley as Capt. Brawley
- Ian Wolfe as Sheriff Carrey
- Sumner Williams as Danny Malden
- Gus Schilling as Lucky
- Frank Ferguson as Willows
- Cleo Moore as Myrna Bowers
- Olive Carey as Mrs. Brent
The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a harsh review based on the screenplay. He wrote, "But, as we say, the story is a shallow, uneven affair, as written by A. I. Bezzerides from Gerald Butler's Mad With Much Heart. The cause of the cop's sadism is only superficially explained, and certainly his happy redemption is easily and romantically achieved. And while a most galling performance of the farmer is given by Ward Bond, Ida Lupino is mawkishly stagey as the blind girl who melts the cop's heart. For all the sincere and shrewd direction and the striking outdoor photography, this R. K. O. melodrama fails to traverse its chosen ground."
Fernando F. Croce, film critic for Slant magazine, liked the film and wrote, "Perched between late-'40s noir and mid-'50s crime drama, this is one of the great, forgotten works of the genre... Easily mushy, the material achieves a nearly transcendental beauty in the hands of Ray, a poet of anguished expression: The urban harshness of the city is contrasted with the austere snowy countryside for some of the most disconcertingly moving effects in all film noir. Despite the violence and the steady intensity, a remarkably pure film."
Critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film and acting in the drama and wrote, "A schematic film noir by Nicholas Ray (They Live by Night) that overcomes its artificial contrivances to become a touching psychological drama about despair and loneliness--one of the best of this sort in the history of film noir... Robert Ryan's fierce performance is superb, as he's able to convincingly assure us he has a real spiritual awakening; while Lupino's gentle character acts to humanize the crime fighter, who has walked on the "dangerous ground" of the city and has never realized before that there could be any other kind of turf until meeting someone as profound and tolerant as Mary."
The film score was composed by Bernard Herrmann (1911–1975). Instrumentation: piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, an English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, tam-tam, bell plate, piano, solo viola d’amore and strings.
Herrmann wanted to to use an obscure baroque instrument, the viola d'amore, to symbolize Mary Malden's isolation and loneliness. The sound of the instrument can be heard much of the time she is on-screen. Herrmann was so impressed with viola d'amorist Virginia Majewski's performance that he wanted her credited in the film. Nicholas Ray told him "There aren't enough cards," so Herrmann replied, "Put her on mine." In the film's opening credits, Bernard Herrmann's credit reads, "Music by Bernard Herrmann — Viola d'Amour played by Virginia Majewski." 
At the 35:25 mark, listeners can hear a sequence that Herrmann reused in 1957 as the well-known opening theme to the television series Have Gun Will Travel starring Richard Boone. The scoring in the film version is only slightly different from that in the better-known TV theme; the sequence in which this theme appears also contains other fragments of incidental music later adapted for use in the TV show.
- "Symphony and Concert -- Records: ". The Boston Globe. December 16, 1951. Last accessed: November 7, 2013.
- "Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan In Star Roles". The Christian Science Monitor. December 18, 1951. Last accessed: November 7, 2013.
- On Dangerous Ground at the Internet Movie Database.
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, February 13, 1952. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.
- Croce, Fernando F. Slant magazine, film review, 2006. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.
- Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, January 30, 2005. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.
- Roland Kato, Interview with Virginia Majewski, Newsletter of the Viola d'amore Society of America, Volume 19, Number 2, 1995.
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