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On Dangerous Ground

Screening on Film
Directed by Nicholas Ray.
With Robert Ryan, Ida Lupino, Ward Bond.
US, 1951, 35mm, black & white, 81 min.
Print source: Warner Bros.

A gripping thriller that suggests a melding of D.W. Griffith’s most elemental chase films with Alfred Hitchcock’s late crime films - a link made clear by Bernard Herrmann’s evocative score - On Dangerous Ground is one of Ray’s most complex and rewarding early films. Robert Ryan gives an electrifying, haunted performance as a violent city cop corroded by self-loathing and sent upstate to lead the chase for a child killer as punishment for brutally roughing up a suspect. The city scenes, shot in shadowy, atmospheric black and white, are filled with desperate characters (including a cameo by screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides) in dark alleys and cheap hotels, contrasting with the bright whiteness and natural elements of the country and making explicit Ryan’s physical and spiritual journey away from corruption and towards the healing embrace of the natural world, where, through his relationship with Ida Lupino’s blind sister of the suspect, he may regain his humanity.

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