ON DANGEROUS GROUND is another ‘troubled’ production.
Robert Ryan plays a cop who Doesn’t Go By the Book, in this case one who beats the hell out of anyone who won’t give him answers. This is tough stuff for 1950’s mainstream cinema, where upstanding Glenn Ford in THE BIG HEAT is pushed to be rough, but his wife was killed, give him a break! You just didn’t see many movies in which police brutality was questioned.
After beating the crap out of a suspect, Ryan ends up getting sent out to the country to assist in a manhunt of a boy who killed a girl. I had no idea cops were just sent off to other towns so casually. Much of the second half of the movie is spent with Ryan and the angry father of the victim, and both of them hanging out with Ida Lupino as a blind lady. It’s like a whole new movie.
Putting aside everything that happens after Ryan leaves the city, the first half hour or so is worth seeing all by itself. Director Nicholas Ray and photographed by George E. Diskant (who worked together on THEY LIVE BY NIGHT), the opening scenes are pure-heroin-strength film noir. Dark alleys! Dingy hallways! Crummy rooms! Whores on the make! Grinning, greasy pimps!
After Ray finished with it, the movie was reworked. One scene in this first part–when a nympho who gives Ryan info is beat up and/or killed for talking–was meant for the end of the movie, after Ryan’s out of town adventure. One of his partners shouts at him about his behavior, and this was meant to send him back to Ida Lupino. Now it shows Ryan at the very end of his rope and precipitates his heading out. In the original, it was a breakthrough moment, with Ryan realizing he has to change and taking a step toward being a nice guy. Here, it’s a sign this guy needs to get out of town.
The photography, the pacing, the violence–it’s all here. In the second half, white (snow) dominates. In the first part, Ryan is a mean man in a mean, dark town.
The standout scene in the movie shows Ryan alone with a guy who won’t talk.
Ryan’s response is one of the great noir moments: