On Dangerous Ground

On Dangerous Ground
On Dangerous Ground

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by John Houseman
Written by Screenplay:
A. I. Bezzerides
Nicholas Ray
Gerald Butler
Starring Ida Lupino
Robert Ryan
Ward Bond
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography George E. Diskant
Editing by Roland Gross
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date(s) February 12, 1952
(United States)
Running time 82 minutes
Country United States
Language English

On Dangerous Ground (1952) is a film noir directed by Nicholas Ray and produced by John Houseman. The screenplay was written by A. I. Bezzerides based on the novel Mad with Much Heart, by Gerald Butler. The drama features Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, and others.[1]



The film opens with Bernard Herrmann's music, played over the both the RKO logo and then the title credits as the camera cruises down a dark city street. The stark nighttime scenery immediately establishes a noir atmosphere.

The police officers are getting ready for a day's work and head to the squad room. It is announced that it has been two weeks since the killing of a cop and the culprit is still on the loose. Detective Jim Wilson and his partner, acting on a tip, visit Myrna Bowers. Her very abusive boyfriend, Bernie Tucker, is supposed to be a partner of the suspected murderers.

Jim convinces Myrna to reveal Bernie's hideout, and after he tracks Bernie down, he beats him into betraying his partners. Although Jim's actions lead to the arrest of the killers, his superior, Capt. Brawley, cautions him to take it easy. Later, while on patrol, the detectives hear a woman scream and discover Myrna being beaten by two thugs.

Jim grabs one of the men and starts to rough him up. The next day, Brawley yells at Jim that he is becoming a liability to the department and assigns him to assist in the investigation of a young woman's murder in the rural north.

Jim Wilson has lost control, and says after he's restrained by his partner from beating up a suspect:

What kind of job is this, anyway? Garbage, that's all we handle, garbage!

In the second act, Wilson is sent up north to cool out. "Siberia," he wryly notes. Though he is given a job similar to what he has left behind in the city—a murder investigation—Wilson's exile to the wintry countryside marks the beginning of his journey of redemption. Following a pursuit of the killer, Wilson is brought together with a blind woman, Mary Malden (Ida Lupino), the sister of the fugitive. In the brief final act, Wilson's redemption is a foregone conclusion, but it is his journey toward it that matters most: Wilson has made his way on dangerous ground.


Critical reception

Film critic Bosley Crowther gave the film a harsh review based on the screenplay. He wrote,. "But, as we say, 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."[2]

Fernando F. Croce, film critic for Slant magazine, liked the film and wrote, "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."[3]

Critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film and acting in the drama and wrote, "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]


The film score was composed by the legendary Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975). Instrumentation: piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, english horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, tam-tam, bell plate, piano, and strings.


  1. ^ On Dangerous Ground at the Internet Movie Database.
  2. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, February 13, 1952. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.
  3. ^ Croce, Fernando F. Slant magazine, film review, 2006. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.
  4. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, January 30, 2005. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.

External links

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