Saturday, February 21, 2015

Where Danger Lives (1950)

8/10 - Continuing with a series of Robert Mitchum noirs. His biographer calls Where Danger Lives “one of the darkest and most unrelenting examples of the film noir genre.” In this one, Mitchum plays a young doctor on the verge of great success, beloved by children and a pretty, understanding nurse. One night, as he’s about to go off duty, a suicide attempt gets rolled into the emergency room. She’s beautiful and mysterious! You can see the good doctor becoming entranced as he saves her life - while his devoted girlfriend nurse watches him during the procedure. But, come on, Bob, this dark-haired beauty just tried to kill herself! You don’t want to get mixed up with that! She’s also rich. With an abusive father. So, naturally, Mitch gets more and more involved, and you can only shake your head and say, "Bob, Bob, Bob... What are you doing?!" Then it turns out that her “father” is actually her husband! (Great smaller role for Claude Rains – I love Claude Rains). He tries to warn the young doctor that she’s crazy, and it’s so clear that there’s some seriously messed up stuff going on between this married couple. But Bob gets drunk – so torn up is he by this femme tres fatale. There’s a violent fight with Claude. Bob gets hit on the head with a fireplace poker. When he wakes up, Claude is dead and Bob has a major concussion. The woman says they have to run away to Mexico, and Bob, being groggy and not thinking clearly, agrees! So they start off on their dark journey to the border. Bob, being a doctor, realizes that his head injury is serious and that he could die at any moment! And everything is totally foggy and he can't think straight. It's like being trapped in a nightmare and not being able to wake up. He’s being chased by the police, hounded by a psychotic woman and making lots of bad decisions - because, he’s literally out of his mind. And it only gets worse...

The cinematography is by the great Nicolas Musuraca, who did Out of the Past, and the visuals are great throughout. (Mitchum said it was one of his many films “lit by matches.”) Real noir. The set-up of the concussion allows the director and cinematographer to get in some wonderfully surreal scenes. Very efficient directing by John Farrow, who was, evidently, a sick tyrant on the set – Mitchum’s agent “ran screaming at his throat” at one point, because he kept making Bob fall down a dangerous set of stairs instead of using a stunt man, and after several of these takes, Mitchum finally told Farrow to be fruitful and multiply, but not in those words. The screenplay, piling up one outlandishly extreme scenario after another, is actually by Charles Bennett, Hitchcock’s old screenwriter, who did The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Foreign Correspondent, etc. The only real drawback to the film is Faith Domergue, who plays the femme fatale. She does pretty well as a crazy woman, but I would like to have seen another actress in the role. Jane Greer, perhaps, who worked with Mitch on Out of the Past and The Big Steal. Or Gloria Grahame – that would’ve been interesting. All in all, it’s a classic noir, not one of the greatest but interesting and worth watching, with Robert Mitchum out of his head. Relentless is a good word. It gets on a roll, heading downhill fast to “the border” – the mystical line between love and hate, sanity and madness, and darkness and its even darker shadow.

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