Friday, July 25, 2008

Where Danger Lives

Being in a Robert Mitchum kind of mood the other night, I went through the piles of unwatched DVDs and pulled out “Where Danger Lives” (1950), a film noir from his RKO days. It’s generally considered one of his lesser efforts from that period, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Robert Mitchum plays Jeff, a doctor who treats a beautiful young woman named Margo (Faith Domergue) for a recent suicide attempt. He falls in love with her, and she encourages him, but tells him not to see her, as her father is very strict with her.

Not taking no for an answer, Mitchum goes to her house and is greeted by Margo and her father (Claude Rains). Rains tells Mitchum he’s not her father, but her husband! Rains is only in the movie for about five minutes, but what a delicious five minutes it is.

He’s not angry at Margo, and finds the whole situation rather amusing in that dry, sardonic way that only Claude Rains could bring to the role. He warns Jeff that his wife is nothing but trouble and he’s in for a world of misery with her. A fight ensues and Rains is accidentally killed. Or was it an accident?

The couple flee, hoping to get to Mexico. Of course, the police are on the look out for them, and during the fight Mitchum sustained a concussion. It’s affecting his sight and he’s also experiencing feelings of paralysis in his body.

Solid citizen/doctor Jeff has no idea what he’s in for once he hooks up with Margo. I loved all the different characters and vignettes they encounter as they make their way to Mexico. Small town America is not painted very nicely.

Director John Farrow (Mia’s father) moves things along at a steady pace. The film only runs 80 minutes long (take that Christopher Nolan), but packs plenty of incident and narrative drive in that time frame.

Faith Domergue was a Howard Hughes protégé, and she’s not very good, but gives it her best. The trailer says “Introducing Faith Domergue” which surprised me since I thought “Vendetta” was her film debut. Hughes was known for spending so much time tinkering with his films that it’s possible “Where Danger Lives” was filmed second but released first.

Mitchum of course is one of the great screen actors. How underrated he was, doing so much with seemingly so little. It’s always a pleasure to watch him. I wish Rains was in the movie more, but then there wouldn’t have been the story that followed, would there?

Dripping with atmosphere, sleaze ball characters, and a true femme fatale, “Where Danger Lives” is quintessential noir. I look forward to seeing it again.

Rating for “Where Danger Lives”: Three stars.

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