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On Dangerous Ground (1951)

Approved | | Drama, Film-Noir | 1952 (UK)
2:10 | Trailer

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Rough city cop Jim Wilson is disciplined by his captain and is sent upstate, to a snowy mountain town, to help the local sheriff solve a murder case.


Nicholas Ray, Ida Lupino (uncredited)


A.I. Bezzerides (screen play), A.I. Bezzerides (based on an adaptation of the novel) | 2 more credits »



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Complete credited cast:
Ida Lupino ... Mary Malden
Robert Ryan ... Jim Wilson
Ward Bond ... Walter Brent
Charles Kemper ... Pop Daly
Anthony Ross ... Pete Santos
Ed Begley ... Capt. Brawley
Ian Wolfe ... Sheriff Carrey
Sumner Williams ... Danny Malden
Gus Schilling ... Lucky
Frank Ferguson ... Willows
Cleo Moore ... Myrna Bowers
Olive Carey ... Mrs. Brent
Richard Irving Richard Irving ... Bernie Tucker
Patricia Prest Patricia Prest ... Julie Brent (as Pat Prest)


Hard, withdrawn city cop Jim Wilson roughs up one too many suspects and is sent upstate to help investigate the murder of a young girl in the winter countryside. There he meets Mary Malden, whom he finds attractive and independent. However, Mary's brother is chief suspect in the killing. And Mary herself is blind. Written by Jeremy Perkins <jwp@aber.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


In One Strange Night she met both LOVE ... and MURDER!


Drama | Film-Noir


Approved | See all certifications »






Release Date:

1952 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Dark Highway See more »

Filming Locations:

Granby, Colorado, USA See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Ida Lupino directed the film for several days when Nicholas Ray fell ill. See more »


Wilson & the Sheriff are stopped on the bridge discussing the crime. When the car begins to move, a reflector known as a "Shiny Board" can be seen in the reflection of the side window. It's clear enough to see it's the "Soft Side" of the board being used. See more »


Pop Daly: To get anything out of this life you've got to put something in it - from the heart.
See more »


Referenced in The Best of Film Noir (1999) See more »


Danceland Jive
Music by Roy Webb and Gene Rose
See more »

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User Reviews

"You get so you don't trust anybody"
8 August 2008 | by ackstasisSee all my reviews

Director Nicholas Ray really knew how to give film noir a unique edge. 'In a Lonely Place (1950),' which starred Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, was a brooding study of trust and paranoia, thematically similar in some ways to Billy Wilder's 'Sunset Blvd. (1950),' though more overt in its exploration of Hollywood's failings. Likewise, 'On Dangerous Ground (1952)' presented such an curious interpretation of noir that RKO wasn't sure what to do with it, and the film collected dust on a shelf for two years. Indeed, thematically, the film might even be considered a separate progression from the film noir style, a form of cinematic purification that serves to cleanse a decade of seedy, cynical decadence in the American film industry. The hard-edged squalor of inner-city crime gives way to a liberating expanse of trees and snow, revealing an incidence of crime, certainly, but also, and more importantly, a fresh and cathartic sense of nobility that is not to be found in the urban back-streets.

Robert Ryan is terrific as Jim Wilson, a city cop who's been on the Force for eleven years, after which he has become bitter, lonely and completely disillusioned. Whereas his colleagues, having found stability in their families, are able to leave their work behind at the end of every shift, Jim returns home each night seething with the rottenness of city life. In his futile efforts to scourge the streets of scum, he has become those whom he despises, and has a tendency to unexpectedly explode with violence. Nicholas Ray, who would later give a resounding voice to teenage angst in 'Rebel Without a Cause (1955),' here captures perfectly the pressure and frustration of Jim Wilson's occupation, and the horror when he suddenly realises what he has driven to become: "Why do you make me do it? You know you're gonna talk! I always make you punks talk!" This seedy urban nightmare has the grittiness equal to any film noir of the era, and Bernard Hermann's pounding score lends a fierce intensity.

Then – against all expectations – 'On Dangerous Ground' takes a dramatic narrative turn. Jim, in order to cool off, is assigned to a murder case in the snow-strewn countryside upstate. A young girl has been killed, and her father (Ward Bond) has pledged to murder the man responsible. Almost immediately, the pair strike out in pursuit of the accused perpetrator, and their frantic chase ends at the home of a lonely blind woman, Mary Malden (Ida Lupino, who also directed a few scenes after Ray fell ill). Jim's interactions with Mary inevitably lead him towards some sort of redemption, but I was struck most profoundly by their earlier conversations, particularly when Mary thanks Jim for his compassion in not showing any pity towards her. This moment illustrated so poignantly, I think, how far from humanity Jim has allowed himself to drift: his reaction to Mary's condition was not borne from any compassion or kindness, but rather from his lack of it; he long ago abandoned the ability to feel pity for another person.

Though 82 minutes to perhaps too brief a running time to present such a drastic character turn-around, the mid-film tonal shift is otherwise handled very well. George E. Diskant's claustrophobic camera-work, which made dynamic use of hand-held photography, becomes slower and more contemplative, and Herrmann's score similarly tones down into the mournful melody of Virginia Majewski's viola da gamba. Jim's tentative partnership with the murder victim's mutinous father allows him to acknowledge his duty as a police detective, providing an avenue through which he can evade his violent compulsions. The trust and kindness demonstrated by the blind Mary also permits him to recognise the overwhelming goodness of human beings, and even a certain element of sympathy to be found in the acts of a criminal. Though Nicholas Ray originally wished to end the film on more of a downbeat note, the studio enforced an optimistic ending. Nevertheless, I liked that 'On Dangerous Ground' acts as a counterpoint to the inescapable doom in most film-noirs; that a soul as disillusioned as Jim Wilson can ultimately uncover salvation is a reassuring thought in today's crazy world.

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