On Dangerous Ground

Charles Kemper, Anthony Ross, and Robert Ryan in On Dangerous Ground (dir. Nicholas Ray, 1952)

On Dangerous Ground was panned upon its initial release because critics didn't understand the brilliance of the sudden shift in setting halfway through the story from the dark crime-ridden city to the great snowy outdoors. Now it's generally recognized as a significant Ray film, a major noir, and a great Robert Ryan performance. It's not perfect; the ending, despite film scholar Glenn Erickson's tolerant attitude towards it on the DVD commentary, reeks of studio interference. Still, it is a tremendously satisfying movie. Ryan radiates presence in every shot, playing a cynical city cop who is quickly slipping over the edge into brutality and despair. Bernard Herrmann's score registers his character's volatility perfectly, as do the recurrent point-of-view driving shots filmed by George Diskant. All three of these elements, as is often noted, presage Scorsese's 1976 Taxi Driver (also scored by Herrmann). My favorite moment: Ryan's Jim Wilson is confronting and being confronted by Cleo Moore's Myrna Bowers (a hood's girlfriend who holds information about the whereabouts of some cop-killers):
Myrna: You'll make me talk--you'll squeeze it out of me with those big strong arms--won't you?
Jim [pause]: That's right, sister.

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