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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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On Dangerous Ground is a flawed favorite, boasting an exceptional performance from Robert Ryan as a man as much attracted as repulsed by his own capacity for violence - the look on his face before beating a suspect into the hospital, the almost sexual glee tinged with disgust as he repeats "Why do you make me do it?" to justify his own imminent enjoyment to himself give him a disturbingly raw emotional violence that's far more worrying than anything his fists can do. Even Ward Bond's distraught and vengeful father of a murder victim is disturbed by the joy of the hunt he finds in that face. Nicholas Ray's camerawork is similarly on the brink of falling to pieces in the opening city section, eavesdropping in and out of windows and windscreens before erupting into a brutal alley chase shot with a bold use of handheld camera that's still seems shockingly vital for a 50s studio picture. They're both matched blow for blow by Bernard Herrmann's strikingly violent score, with a main title like a sword slashing through flesh and striking bone but with passages beautifully underlining the loneliness and sadness behind the savagery. Mad With Much Heart indeed.

Even the prolonged section with Ida Lupino's blind woman and the possibility of another, more compassionate way of life avoids mawkishness, not least because pity is neither sought nor given. Only the miraculous ending doesn't work. Whether this is due to the 10 minutes of studio-imposed cuts and the re-editing and restructuring the film went through during more than a year on the shelf or whether it was always a problem we'll probably never know. There is definitely the feeling that the whole third act of the movie has gone, making Ryan's decision seem almost arbitrary and not allowing us to see if he really has changed back on his home ground. Indeed, it probably would have been better to have ended the film a minute earlier with the almost purgative drive back to the city. But so much of what has gone before is so remarkable that it's a failure you can forgive.
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On Dangerous Ground is directed by Nicholas Ray and stars Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan & Ward Bond. It's loosely adapted by Ray and A. I. Bezzerides from Gerald Butler's novel Mad With Much Heart. Cinematography is by George E. Diskant & the music is provided by Bernard Herrmann & Paul Sawtell. The story concerns Ryan's weary, lonely and psychologically bothered cop, Jim Wilson. Who after finally snapping the patience of his superiors is sent to Westham in the rural north to aid a murder case there. The idea is to get him off the streets he's so bitter about and to stop him finally going over the violence tinged edge. It's here, amongst the wintry landscapes, that he is brought into contact with Mary Malden {Lupino}. A practically blind woman, Mary holds all the keys to the mystery and to the door at the end of Wilson's journey.

Right from the outset we are in no doubt that Nicholas Ray is about to take us on a noir journey. Herrmann's pulse like score accompanies its nighttime opening, Diskant's photography immediately painting a harsh city where life on the streets is tough. A place where loneliness can eat away at the soul and bleakness pours down off of the bars and the cheaply built apartments. It is in short, firmly encapsulating of Jim Wilson's bitterness and frame of mind. Wilson, once a prime athlete, is mired in solitude, his only telling contribution to society is his work, but that is ebbing away by the day. His mood is not helped by his partners, Pop & Pete, who can easily switch off once their shift has finished; but they have family to go home too, Wilson does not. Wilson's only source of joy comes courtesy of the paperboy he briefly plays football with out on the street {a rare ray of light in the films moody atmospheric first half}.

Then the film shifts for its second act, a shift that has made On Dangerous Ground a most divisive picture in discussions over the years. Sent north to effectively cool down by Captain Brawley {Ed Begley}, we find Wilson leaving behind the dank city and entering the snowbound countryside in the north. Dark has become light as it were. The whole style and pace of the film has changed, yet this is still a place tainted by badness. A girl has been murdered and Wilson is still here to locate potential evil. An evil that the murdered girls father {Ward Bond as Walter Brent} wants to snuff out with his own vengeful fury. As the two men track down the killer, Wilson sees much of himself in Brent's anger, but once the guys arrive at Mary Malden's isolated cabin, things shift just a little more.

Said to be a favourite of Martin Scorsese, and an influence for Taxi Driver, On Dangerous Ground has often been called Nicholas Ray's best film by some of his fans {I'd say In A Lonely Place personally}. Odd then that Ray himself wasn't happy with the film, calling it a failure and not the finished product he had envisaged. Ray had wanted a three structured movie, not the two part one it is; with the final third being far bleaker and more noirish than the one we actually get. However, and the ending is a bit scratchy for the genre it sits in, it's still a fabulous film that is more about the journey of its protagonist than the diversity caused by its finale. Ryan is terrific, a real powerhouse and believable performance, while Lupino beautifully realises Mary's serene impact on Wilson and the counter opposite to the darkness within the picture. It's a given really, but Herrmann's score is potent, listen out for the opening, the crossover section from city to countryside and the rock face pursuit. While Ray directs with his customary knack of blending the grim with the almost poetic. 8/10
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On Dangerous Ground is a strange sort of noir. Whatever "classic" means in films these days, it may well be one. The film is powerful. It hasn't become dated after more than 50 years, and it features a classic, compelling performance by Robert Ryan. On Dangerous Ground is not so much a noir as it is a movie of redemption. I can't think of any other actor of Ryan's era who could have performed the role of Jim Wilson half as well.

Wilson is a big city police detective, a cop for 11 years, with a short fuse. He's wound so tight even his fellow cops are uneasy.

"Hey, what's the matter with Jim? I think he's sore or something," says one cop to Pop Daly, an older detective who has been Jim's partner for quite a while.
"He's sore all right," says Daly. "All we ever see is crooks, murderers, winos, stoolies, dames...all with an angle. You get so you think everybody's like that. `Till you find out different, it's kind of a lonely life."

Jim doesn't much care what happens to the people he's after. He beats them, puts them in the hospital, even sets up a gangster's girl friend for some brutal treatment by the guy after he makes her talk. His boss warns him about his behavior but he can't stop himself. He catches a cop killer and starts beating the life out of him until he's pulled off by Pop.

"What kind of a job is this, anyway?" Jim cries. "Garbage, that's all we handle...garbage!"
"Didn't you know? That's the kind of job it is!" Pop yells at him.
"How do you do it? How do you live with yourself?"
"I don't." says Pop. "I live with other people."

Halfway through the movie the director, Nicholas Ray, abruptly moves us from the dark, mean streets of a typical noir film. Jim finds himself temporarily exiled to a small town upstate in the middle of winter. His boss makes it clear that Jim will either change his outlook or lose his job. He's assigned to help the local sheriff find the murderer of a young girl. Suddenly he's an outsider dealing with vigilante justice, and the biggest vigilante is Walter Brent (Ward Bond), the father of the girl and a man determined to kill the man who killed his daughter. Before long the two find themselves at the isolated house where Mary Malden (Ida Lupino) lives. From now on there's no secret who the killer is (this is no spoiler), Mary Malden's brother. And before long, in Mary's living room, Jim realizes that she's blind. While Brent is stomping through her house, Jim suddenly finds himself dealing with a situation that may make him human again. How Jim Wilson responds to Mary Malden and her concern for her young brother -- and how he deals with Walter Brent's rage -- is what the movie is all about. How Robert Ryan makes his response believable is what makes the movie memorable.

Ryan doesn't just show us the burned out cop who is quickly turning into the kind of person no better than those he arrests. He doesn't just show us a man who finally, tentatively, may have found something...somebody...to believe in. Ryan shows us the transition, and he does this with little dialogue. He acts with his eyes, with his tired face, with his jaw muscles. It's a subtle, powerful, uneasy and poignant transition, and he makes us believe it.

The down side of On Dangerous Ground, for me, was Ida Lupino's performance as the blind Mary Malden. It wasn't bad, just too actorly. Lupino's carefully modulated voice and cautious blindness was a little off-putting, especially next to the deep authenticity of Ryan. And it may be heresy, but this is one Bernard Herrmann score I didn't care for. If the movie had been a brutal noir, the score would have been just fine. But On Dangerous Ground is not a brutal noir.
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on 6 January 2015
The Spanish version offers these audio choices - Spanish, Spanish with Spanish subtitles, English with Spanish subtitles. If you don't mind watching the film in one of these three ways you'll be OK.
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on 28 March 2016
Bought for my sister at her request.
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on 12 July 2016
Excellent item.
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on 3 June 2015
Ida Lupino gets full responsibility to direct and kills it.The first 30 minutes is 4 stars though..
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