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On Dangerous Ground

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

On Dangerous Ground
Poster - On Dangerous Ground (1952) 01.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNicholas Ray
Screenplay byA. I. Bezzerides
Nicholas Ray
Based onthe novel Mad with Much Heart
by Gerald Butler
Produced byJohn Houseman
StarringIda Lupino
Robert Ryan
Ward Bond
CinematographyGeorge E. Diskant
Edited byRoland Gross
Music byBernard Herrmann
Distributed byRKO Pictures
Release date
  • December 17, 1951 (1951-12-17) (United States)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States

On Dangerous Ground is a 1951 film noir directed by Nicholas Ray, produced by John Houseman, and starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. The screenplay was written by A. I. Bezzerides based on the 1945 novel Mad with Much Heart, by Gerald Butler.


Bitter and cynical police detective Jim Wilson is known for beating information out of suspects and witnesses. After Wilson ignores the chief's warnings, he is relegated to a case up-state so that he might cool off. He joins a manhunt for the murderer of a young girl, teaming up with the leader of the father of the victim. The posse is led by Walter Brent, who is determined to exact deadly vengeance. During a chase after the murderer is spotted, Wilson and Brent are separated from the others and track the killer to a remote house.

They find Mary Malden, a blind woman, by herself in the house. They learn that she lives with her brother, Danny. Wilson is drawn to the selfless Mary and when he learns that the killer is her brother and is mentally ill, he agrees to her request that he protect him from Brent and arrest him peacefully.

Mary secretly knows that Danny is hiding in the storm cellar. She tries to make him understand that Wilson is a friend to them and will take Danny away to be helped. On her way back to the house, Wilson confronts her. As she is explaining her brother's mental state, Danny flees the cellar.

Wilson trails Danny to a secluded shack and manages to calmly engage him in conversation. He rambles about the details of the murder while Wilson slowly advances and prepares to capture him. Brent then bursts in and a fight ensues between the two men. Brent's gun fires during the struggle and Danny escapes. Wilson and Brent chase Danny up a rugged mountainside, where Danny loses his footing and falls to his death. Brent carries his body to the home of a neighbor of Mary's, remorseful after realizing Danny's youth. Mary arrives, having walked from her home after hearing the gunshot. She absolves Wilson of responsibility and they walk back to her house. Wilson indicates he would like to stay with her but she insists he leave.

Wilson drives to the city as a changed man. Remembering her words about loneliness, he returns to Mary and they embrace.



Critical response

Robert Ryan and Gus Schilling
Robert Ryan and Gus Schilling

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther found the screenplay a failure that produced poor performances. He wrote, "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."[3]

Critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film and acting in the drama and wrote in 2005, "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."[4]

Fernando F. Croce, film critic for Slant magazine, admired the film and wrote in 2006, "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."[5]


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 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."[6]

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.


  1. ^ "Symphony and Concert -- Records: ". The Boston Globe. December 16, 1951. Last accessed: November 7, 2013.
  2. ^ "Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan In Star Roles". The Christian Science Monitor. December 18, 1951. Last accessed: November 7, 2013.
  3. ^ Crowther, Bosley (February 13, 1952). "'On Dangerous Ground,' Story of Detective Turned Sadist, Opens at the Criterion". New York Times. Retrieved January 30, 2008.
  4. ^ Schwartz, Dennis Archived 2008-06-09 at the Wayback Machine. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, January 30, 2005. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.
  5. ^ Croce, Fernando F. Slant magazine, film review, 2006. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.
  6. ^ Roland Kato, Interview with Virginia Majewski, Newsletter of the Viola d'amore Society of America, Volume 19, Number 2, 1995.

External links

This page was last edited on 29 July 2021, at 02:19
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