Like Robert (West Side Story) Wise, director Mark Robson started out as an editor and got his first directing gigs from producer Val Lewton. After that, their careers went off in very different directions, culminating in Wise directing such bloated Hollywood productions as The Sound of Music, Star! and Star Trek-The Static Picture and Robson directing such bloated Hollywood productions as Earthquake–In Sensurround! Both were of the less-is-more studio style, avoiding New Wave camera and editing gimmicks that drew attention to technique.
So little-known that it’s one of those DVD-on-demand Amazon discs, EDGE OF DOOM is one of Robson’s best movies, a crime drama that uses bits and pieces from the noir catalog. It’s actually darker than most noir flicks, but the source of that darkness isn’t crime but faith, or lack of it. There isn’t an organized crime goon in sight, but there are plenty of shots of a crucifix.
Farley Granger is Martin, a guy who lives with his dying mom in an apartment building so crummy you’d envy the guy who owns the noose stand down the street. The location photography adds a sense of reality, as it often does, but the location scout did maybe too good a job. The shoddiness of the neighborhood tells you most of what you need to know about the people living there. Martin needs cash, and you know he won’t get it; Martin’s mom is sick, and you know her death will be what kicks the story into gear. Martin goes to beg the local priest for a big funeral. The priest didn’t do much for Martin’s late father, a criminal who offed himself, and Martin accidentally kills the old fart. The plot follows Martin’s efforts to get his mom a big funeral before the cops close in. The cops and Father Dana Andrews are sniffing around, and Martin starts to come apart while he tries to get his freakin’ flowers.
Edge of Doom would make a great co-feature with Hitchcock’s THE WRONG MAN. Both are grim black and white stories filmed in straightforward style. In one we follow an innocent man being hounded by the police, and in the other a guilty man hounded by his conscience. In Wrong Man we share Henry Fonda’s sense of injustice at the machinations of society, and from a completely different angle we share Granger’s anger at that same society. It’s a surprisingly grim movie. Four of the five or six musical stings are played when Martin looks at religious icons; I can’t remember ever seeing a cut to a statue of a saint used as a jump scare moment.
Granger is both sympathetic and annoying as hell. We get that he’s in distress over his mom’s death but his obsession with getting “a lot of flowers” for his mother’s funeral makes him look like a lunatic. When Granger unloads to his departed mom about how no one cares if either of them lives or dies, it’s startling–how did this make it into a mainstream movie produced by Samuel Goldwyn? The church is shown in a good light, of course, but Granger’s belief in the church’s failure to help his mother is not just treated as displaced guilt. We’ve seen where this woman lived and heard about her troubles, so we get Granger’s feeling of abandonment by the church and the community.
Andrews does his usual good job. He gets into another fight that’s obviously done with the actor and not a stunt double, and he ends up on his ass twice, and doesn’t get the last punch in. If Granger has too many scenes in which he’s in danger of going over the top, Andrews is stoic and objective, a perfect balance for Granger.
Edge of Doom isn’t often mentioned as a film noir because it’s really a drama, but it has some truly noir-ish moments. The scene in which Granger walks into the basement of a funeral home, complete with clanking machinery, could be dropped into Eraserhead. It’s also got a cynicism that makes most noirs look upbeat. Granger tells his girl to find someone new, and then we never see her or hear about her again. She’s not waiting around for our hero to pay his debt to society. We have to be satisfied with Granger saying he wants to go to church once he gets out of jail. Nothing we’ve seen indicates he finds Jesus in the course of the movie, so maybe he’s one of those jailhouse cases.
Robson’s clean direction, the Philip Yordan script and the location work combine to create a real urban hell hole. Fun for depressives of all ages.