On Dangerous Ground was an esoteric masterpicece, which Nicholas Ray and A.I. Bezzerides adapted from the British novel, Mad With Much Heart. Robert Ryan may have given one of his subtlest portrayals in the film, which was short on dialogue, high on visual expression, and augmented by Bernard Herrmann's dramatic score (he later stated that this was his favorite personal composition). As Detective Jim Wilson, Ryan's character was a noir type with which he was familiar, a man so tormented by what he sees in the line of duty that he is driven to commut brutal acts. Wilson's role delineates the conflict of the story, that of a man turned rancorous and cynical from dealing with the dregs of society. He has become a loner, an essentially good man gone sour, and though his conscience bothers him, he is trapped. Stooping to the level of those he detests, he has incorporated their self-destructiveness into his own actions. One scene, with the blonde, vampish Myrna (Cleo Moore), indicates the extent of his frustrations, as masochism and sexuality are tied together. As Myrna shows Wilson the bruise her boyfriend recently gave her, she directs his hand, holding an unlit cigarette, into her mouth. The music in the background synchronizes with a shot of Wilson turning toward Myrna, who says, "You'll squeeze it out of me with those big strong arms, won't you?" He softly replies, "That's right, sister." The next fade-in shows Wilson slowly descending the dark staircase of her building in deep thought, leaving one to ponder whether he has left Myrna safe or sorry. Another spare, yet graphic, scene depicting Wilson's violent impulses occurs in an eerie film noir setting, appropriately named the Harbor Hotel, a seedy tenement on a one-way street. A stool pidgeon has tipped off Wilson and his partner about a murder suspect, Burney Tucker, and the two cops pay him a visit. Accompanied by the rising crescendo of Herrmann's magnificent score, Wilson loses control of himself and snarls, "I always make you punks talk! Why do you make me do it? Why? Why?" He is on the verge of a total breakdown as he responds to Burney's masochistic entreaty, "Hit me, hit me," by nearly beating him to death. The pangs of conscience that erupt when Wilson returns to his apartment are acted out symbolically. Frowning as he shuts the door and switches on the bare overhead light, Wilson's face contorts into a desolate mask of anger and hopelessness. As he gazes despairingly at the trophy resting on his dresser, it is the sole remnant from his optimistic past. To blot out the world, he jerks down the window shade, walks to the sink, and while a trombone insinuates a somber melody in the background, he is compelled to wash his hands of his recent dirty work. It is an unconscious "undoing" act, but as he anxiously wipes his hands with a towel, the guilt remains. In addition to director Ray's high artistic talent, cinematographer George E. Diskant's expertise in low-key, high contrast lighting situations, and Herrmann's beautiful score, counterpointed the drama as it unfolded. Virginia Majewski's virtuoso viola work perfectly complemented his orchestration. Working within Ray's unconventional story, Ryan and co-star Ida Lupino brought the whole piece together by making their scenes together into intimate conversations. Although their romantic involvement is depicted only briefly in the final frames, their embrace possesses real emotional power. Ryan's predilection for appearing in films dealing with the raw truths of existence sometimes prompted queries about his attraction to the melancholic. He was once asked why he never played comedy roles, and he responded, "I play them as I see them." Author James Kreidl discussed On Dangerous Ground and Ryan's performance, and concurred that he had an affinity for tragedy. Calling the picture "deadly serious and completely cut off from the romantic comedy," Kreidl described Ryan's interpretation as "subdued, controlled, understated - almost expressionistic." Despite being undervalued in 1952, On Dangerous Ground has resurfaced often for study by serious film scholars, and is frequently featured in film retrospectives.