Monday, August 22, 2011

On Dangerous Ground. B


If the goal of On Dangerous Ground is to tell a complete story with as much economy and brevity as possible then it is nearly a perfect movie. But I'm sure that wasn't Nicholas Ray's point in making the movie. I generally don't mind a short film, but I feel like for its weighty material, On Dangerous Ground was far too short. It's 81 minutes, it tells two pretty distinct stories, each one getting about forty minutes each. The second half of the movie deals with a naturally slow psychological pattern of human relationships, but it lacks the time to let it play out realistically. On the flip-side, Ray would have needed a a movie of epic proportions to fully tell the story of the man behind the film's plot, so maybe going to an opposite extreme was the next best option. There's no plot to open the film with, which gives Ray a good chance to introduce Robert Ryan's Wilson, a troubled cop who can't stand his job or the people involved in it on both sides of the law. His generally pissed off demeanor and tendency to answer questions with silence surely inspired Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. Ray's goal in this first part is first to establish Wilson as a character on the verge of going out of control, and second to show how the cops would gather, listen to the chief's orders, get their tip cards, and go out in groups to find criminals. After Wilson begins to take out his frustration physically on suspects (his character has a lot in common with Bogart's from In a Lonely Place), he's sent out to the snowy mountains to find a murderer, and more importantly, to be released from the confines of the city and collect himself. While his pursuit of the killer is important, it's Wilson's encounter with his blind sister (Ida Lupino) that is really what the movie is about. Ray creates an I need you and you need me scenario, as these two people, united by a crime (once again, Ray's favorite theme) save each other from their tormenting demons. This movie could have been great, but that doesn't mean there aren't great things about it. Robert Ryan for one is incredible here. What a performance, given mostly by facial expressions and an occasional terse line of dialogue. I'd only ever seen Ryan in The Wild Bunch before this, which coincidentally came after reading a fantastic piece on his underrated screen presence by Manhola Dargis in The New York Times.

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