On Dangerous Ground (Ray, 1952)


Nicholas Ray’s brilliantly contained character study of a police officer (Robert Ryan) haunted by a lack of faith in the job is more melodrama than Noir, but contains many moments of unease and angst all the same. Ryan’s Jim Wilson walks up to the edge of sanity and comes close to jumping off, convinced his destiny will forever involve taking out the human garbage of NYC. When he’s reassigned to help solve a murder case upstate, the mountainous, snowy landscape perfectly parallels Wilson’s outlook on humanity; cold, frigid, and merciless. Instead he finds solace and restraint in Ida Lupino’s Mary Malden, a blind woman inadvertently involved in the case, the breath of humanity Wilson so greatly needs. At first glance, the shifting and ambiguous narrative unfolds aimlessly, but Ray’s intentions do not involve solidifying pacing of the regular film policer. On Dangerous Ground displays a unique vision of the consequences an atmosphere of darkness can create. Bernard Hermann’s haunting score glides alongside Wilson’s advancement toward an awakening, adding textured layers of conflict to Wilson’s dilemma. Ray remains a favorite of mine and repeat viewings of his films only add to the complexities of his character’s relationships. Maybe the most fascinating thing about On Dangerous Ground is it’s lack of conventionality, a beautiful culmination of one of Ray’s grandest themes; the mesmerizing and transcendent thought that people can sometimes break away from they’re percieved/pre-ordained lots in life and start anew.


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