On Dangerous Ground Screen 12 articles

On Dangerous Ground


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    The Nation: Manny Farber
    March 22, 1952 | Farber on Film (p. 380)

    The story is told with a camera and a rather unorthodox one, though it is often late to the scene and not sure of what is about to happen. Some of the support—Ward Bond and Anthony Ross—is good, but the chief virtue of the film is the fascinating jumble of action that results when two awkward, determined characters (Bond and Ryan) try to outclaw each other at the job of detecting.

  • Also remarkable is the strikingly clever and forceful technique with which the material has been put together. Dramatically effective photography, both in the city street melodrama and in the chases through the snow, the ingenious use of a subjective camera–notably in some of the car driving scenes and in Wilson's discovery of Mary's blindness—and an effective musical score give the film considerable excitement.

  • One of the loveliest of Nick Ray's movies: this 1952 feature begins as a harsh film noir and gradually shifts to an ethereal romanticism reminiscent of Frank Borzage... Ray excels both in the portrayal of the corrupt urban environment, a swirl of noirish shadows and violent movements, and in his exalted vision of the snow-covered countryside, filmed as a blindingly white, painfully silent field for moral regeneration.

  • One of Ray's more subtle films. Yet the movie is as hard-boiled as they come... Ray constantly locks [Ryan] into tight frames through acute editing, cutting away from expressive action, and preferring the anguished close-up. At the end of Ryan's trail of noirish redemption, Lupino brings great feeling to her portrait of a blind woman. A small film, but a precious one in the Ray oeuvre.

  • Perhaps the purest expression of Ray's belief in the transformative power of love and a classic of its genre, ON DANGEROUS GROUND is among his most beautiful and moving works... The daring stylistic tonal contrasts between the film's two halves, and the theme of the difference between moral and physical sight, intensify the film's tragic irony. In the end, all ground seems dangerous.

  • From the first couple reels of lamp-lit, thug-filled rainy city sidewalks, ON DANGEROUS GROUND unexpectedly veers to the bright skies of a mountainous countryside (supposedly Upstate NY but obviously shot in the Rockies) with a wildly differing moral code; it's a perfect exemplar of a genre made up entirely of exceptions to the rule.

  • Noir crime and silent-era melodrama, an anguished symphony in two movements. Rain-slick asphalt merging with the nocturnal sky, desolate flats and saloons and back alleys, Scorsese’s feverish city decades in advance... An exalted modulation from harsh to lyrical and back, the culmination of Nicholas Ray’s Borzagean side, brimming with angular rhymes and echoes... Illumination for the blind and serenity for the beast in Ray’s most transcendental work, a composition of disconcerting purity.

  • Ryan’s emotional nuance and complexity persist throughout. Furthermore, Nicholas Ray’s direction is characteristically taut, and the deep yet hard-nosed sympathy for off-kilter people that endeared him to the French New Wave filmmakers as well as Scorsese and Wenders shines through. These features of On Dangerous Ground, along with the ambitious subject of the traumatized tough guy, lift the film to iconic status.

  • Halfway through the movie, [Jim] meets the woman who will transform him (and many in the audience): Ida Lupino’s Mary, the blind older sister of the teenager Jim is after... In On Dangerous Ground, Lupino is at once unguarded and independent. “I have to trust everybody,” Mary tells Jim, a line that jolts this long-dejected man back to life.

  • Ray’s images are often unnervingly obsessive, most notably a close-up of Jim and Mary’s hands, intertwined, that’s worthy of silent cinema. Ryan, a wonderful and reliably underrated actor, pares Jim’s misery down to a series of succinct gestures, most memorably facial movements that fleetingly convey sadness within stoic hostility. Lupino has the more difficult task, though, as she must inform an especially thankless stock role—the redemptive blind woman—with tough pathos.

  • Abetted by Bernard Herrmann’s ambitious, elaborate score, “On Dangerous Ground” is notably kinetic... The visual style may be unusual, but the conflict is elemental: Mr. Ryan’s character trusts no one; Ms. Lupino’s has to trust everyone. Mr. Ray was evidently unhappy with what he called the movie’s “miracle ending,” but there’s a hint of the Nordic moralists Carl Theodor Dreyer or Ingmar Bergman in this stark tale of faith and redemption — and not just because of the landscape.

  • Even more than most film noir films, On Dangerous Ground is marked by its expressive realism, especially in the opening half hour, where the precise depiction of dingy tenements, crowded streets, and sleazy bars is enforced by the protagonist’s experience of them in cramped, obscured, and oblique compositions... But surface realism was never Ray’s goal, and On Dangerous Ground is closer to Carl Theodor Dreyer than the contemporary thrillers of Robert Siodmak or Jules Dassin.

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