Another great Robert Ryan performance. And two stories linked amazingly well. The first half hour is about as quick and gritty as noir can get. I know many reviewers think that the rural setting is too much of a shift; but it gives Ryan’s detective character Jim a convincing way to reverse his brutal methods and cynical outlook. The metamorphosis begins almost immediately, as Brent (Ward Bond, as the murder victim’s father) becomes a grim reminder of Jim’s old self. Jim quickly builds trust with Ida Lupino’s Mary, the murderer Danny’s (Sumner William’s) sister. She represents his developing emotions, her blindness signifying how he has shut out that part of himself. In fact, by trying to figure him out, she seems to analyze him
One way to take the urban to rural change is to comparing it with a shift in viewpoint from a wide-awake to a dream-like state. Jim allows himself to act out of character because for once he’s relatively free from pressure–an outsider, he’s just there to help. As in other film noir country settings, the vistas and skies only seem limitless. Many of the scenes in the latter part of the movie take place in or around the confines of Mary’s house, a storm surrounding them with snow.
Danny’s escape towards the mountains relieves the sense of entrapment. It’s obvious, though, that Danny can’t really get away; his fall is rather anti-climactic, since, even if Jim succeeds in safely capturing him, Danny knows he’ll wind up in an asylum. That scene is made more poignant by Brent’s realization that Danny is no ogre (“he’s just a kid”). Not only has Jim lived down his ex-partner’s line “you…don’t care about people, do you?!” but even Brent’s vengeance dissipates.
And that’s where the movie should’ve ended. Maybe add on the nice touch with Jim driving back from the snowy fields to the bright lights of the city. But instead we’re stuck with all the schmaltzy stuff with Mary. Their connection works, but not their romance. As I hinted at earlier, she, like Brent, is there for Jim to play off of. Her blindness works as a device similar to Brent’s ever-present shotgun. Jim isn’t defined anymore by the false sense of power that a gun implies, whereas he does ‘see’ what he’d been blind to before. Otherwise though, it makes no sense for Jim to junk everything, and arrange his life around her. Strangely, she acts helpless all of a sudden. This isn’t the same person who respected Jim initially for not assuming that she needed help.
Without the last ten minutes On Dangerous Ground makes a superb film noir, with an unusual amount of character development. Unfortunately, the end eats away at what was a finely-developed story. Still, for Ryan in full-noir mode, and deft pacing and plotting, this is worth some close watching. 7/10.