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Film / On Dangerous Ground

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On Dangerous Ground (1952) is a Film Noir directed by Nicholas Ray, based off the book by Gerald Butler, Mad with Much Heart. The musical score was composed by Bernard Herrmann.

A violence-prone city cop, Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan), has punched one too many crooks because of his hate for all the lowlifes in the city. Jim brutalizing suspects on the flimsiest of reasons makes his superior send him upstate to cool off and help catch a murderer. The father of the victim, Walter Brent (Ward Bond), is on the chase to catch the man who killed his daughter and begrudgingly lets Jim help him.

On the haunt for the killer, Jim stumbles upon the house of a blind woman, Mary Marlden (Ida Lupino), and finds himself falling in love with her even though her brother, Danny, is the killer.

The film asks if a hateful, lonely man can be redeemed through love.


On Dangerous Ground displays the following tropes:

  • Anti-Hero: Brute Jim Wilson.
  • Ax-Crazy: Danny Marlden kills because he’s nuts.
  • Blind Mistake: Mary thinks Danny has come back in the house, but it’s actually Jim.
  • Bruiser with a Soft Center: Jim softens when he meets Mary.
  • Brutal Honesty: Jim’s partner thinks his isolation and hatred are ruining him, and he tells him so.
  • The Chase: Jim and Walter chase Danny through the woods, on a car during a snow storm, and finally, up a cliff.
  • City Noir: The film doesn’t specify where Jim works, but Nicholas Ray did research for the film in Boston.
  • Condescending Compassion: Averted: Mary notes that there’s no pity in Jim's voice when he addresses her.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Eleven years on the force has shown nothing but decay and ugly human interaction to Jim, so he ends up believing all people are horrible.
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  • Disabled Love Interest: Mary is blind.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Averted: Mary is surprised that she doesn’t have to say this to Jim because she can hear it in his voice; he doesn’t pity her.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The film begins with various vignettes about Jim’s daily routine: finding underage drinkers, fighting criminals, getting information out of various sources, not caring for the murder of an informant, and violently beating any criminal that crosses his path.
  • Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Jim gets underground information from a newspaper peddler.
  • Fallen Hero: Jim was a big football star before becoming a violent cop.
  • The '50s: And all the post-WWII anger that goes with it.
  • Film Noir:
  • Genre Shift: The first half of the movie plays like a regular film noir, but the mid-to-end is a bit more of a romance with a dash of noir.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Mary’s blonde.
  • Happy Ending: Surprisingly so. See Executive Meddling.
  • Hidden Depths: Who thought an embittered cop who isolates himself could love deeply?
  • Humans Are Bastards: Jim’s main philosophy against the world.
  • Insane Equals Violent: Danny suffers from some severe mental illness, and since this is an older film, he is also extremely dangerous.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jim, it turns out.
  • Jerkass: Walter. It’s reasonable that he’s upset for the murder of his daughter and wants to catch the killer, but he wants to do this by any means necessary. He wants to kill Danny with his own gun and ignore due process.
    • Additionally, he doesn’t realize at first that Mary is blind, and so when he does find out, he's almost smacks her in the face just to make sure, but Jim stops him.
  • Knight in Sour Armour: Jim deflects every sort of human interaction.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Jim wants to be alone and likes to be away from all the filth of the city. But people need love!
  • Love Redeems: Jim’s harsh past can be forgotten and forgiven with love.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Jim’s style of policing. He sends many of his victims to the hospital.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Danny falls down the cliff.
  • Police Brutality: Jim’s MO.
  • The Power of Love: Even the coldest of hearts can feel love.
  • Rousseau Was Right: The end of the film suggests this trope with Jim and Mary falling into each other’s arms and kiss.
  • Save the Villain: Jim promises Mary that he’ll try and save Danny and send him to an institution instead of jail. He fails to do so.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: On the cynical side for the beginning vignettes and more idealistic near the end.
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: Take the sour up to 11, and that’s Jim.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Jim steadily grows more sympathetic towards Danny solely because of Mary’s dependence on him.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Mary is just too full of human kindness.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Walter almost hits Mary to make sure she’s blind, but is stopped by Jim.
  • Vice City: The unnamed city where Jim works.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: Jim says this almost word-for-word when he's just about to beat up a criminal:
    Jim: I always make you punks talk! Why do you make me do it?