The Warner Archive Collection has recently released the 1951 Film Noir classic On Dangerous Ground for Blu-ray. Is it worth a coveted spot in your collection? Read on to find out!
Even if you don’t know who director Nicholas Ray is I am sure you have heard of his films. Ray’s work on Rebel Without A Cause, Johnny Guitar and King of Kings made him a recognizable and influential name in Hollywood. Before entering into the film business Ray studied architecture under Frank Lloyd Wright. This is noticeable by his selection of shots.
It’s unfortunate that Ray is often not credited as a writer on his movies. In reality he often re-wrote large portions of the scripts. He also greatly encouraged improvisation and feedback from his actors. Ray was quoted as saying “If it were all in the script, why make the film?”
On Dangerous Ground is a film that seems to be split in two parts. The first part is a hard edged Noir about tough cop Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan) who beats confessions out of criminals. The film makes a point to show that with his brand of justice he is basically just a gangster with a badge. Eventually it gets so bad that his superiors tell him to cut it out or he will be off the force. His understanding Captain steps in and decides to send him on a little breather away from the city, to help a small snowy town investigate a murder. This starts the second part of the movie which is more of a melodrama. This is the part where Jim starts to question his methods and he meets Mary (Ida Lupino). To find out what happens next you’ll have to check out the film.
On Dangerous Ground can be seen as a heartbreaking tale and a case study of loneliness. The lead character Jim Wilson is complex and his performance is an interesting depiction of despair. I think the movie is thrilling enough to keep you watching for possible redemption. Parts of the film almost feel like a classic Western. The framing and shot decisions are interesting too. The film even uses some hand held shots which was very rare at the time.
The score is done by Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Taxi Driver) and is practically a character itself. After watching the film I was surprised that I haven’t heard more about it in the past. It seems like a forgotten gem of the era. I wouldn’t say that this film is the best of the genre or even of it’s era. However, I feel it is a very important piece of film history and I am glad it is preserved.
Audio and Visuals:
The original mono recording has been transferred here into a English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. There are also English subtitles. The dialogue is clean and crisp and the score sounds very nice. It is a solid presentation.
The same goes for the visuals. The color palette is fantastic, which may sound odd to say for a black and white film but there are so many tonal qualities and shades of grey and black that really stand out. This is a gorgeous transfer and probably the best the film has ever looked. The visuals are a big part of the film as the first section of the movie takes place in a forever night time dark city with inky shadows. The second part takes place in a white covered snowy mountainous region. The level of detail seems fantastic. I wish I had seen the movie before in other formats because I am sure there are all kinds of new details to discover in this print. The only “negative” to so much detail is that special effects shots stand out so much more in comparison to on location/practical techniques.
The previous release of On Dangerous Ground was part of a DVD box set called Film Noir Classics volume 3. The special features from that set are replicated here. They are:
Commentary with Film Historian Glenn Erickson – This is a very informative commentary that goes into great detail about the production, development and eventual studio interference involved in the making of the film.
On Dangerous Ground Final Thoughts:
Sadly On Dangerous Ground did not do well at the box office and therefore hasn’t had the exposure that other films from this time period have had. Plus even in modern times the film was mostly negated to poor DVD transfer releases because of the available prints. Thankfully the Warner Archive Collection decided to re-scan the original negatives housed at the Library of Congress and release the film on Blu-ray. I’m happy to report that it looks and sounds great! While there are no new special features it is nice to at least have everything as presented on the previous DVD release.
The movie is very much so a part of the 1950’s but if that doesn’t bother you then I think this is a great film to buy for your collection. It has a little bit of everything in the story and it seems to be one of those movies that just gets forgotten for no reason. If you enjoy Noir, classic story telling or black & white films in general I highly recommend picking On Dangerous Ground up from Amazon or other fine retailers.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.