BluRay/DVD Reviews

CRY DANGER (Olive Films)

By • Apr 23rd, 2014 •

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Rocky Mulloy (Dick Powell) is out of prison after serving five years of what should have been a longer sentence, thanks to a disabled marine who has appeared with an alibi. Rocky claims not only innocence, but insists that he was framed (though the police don’t think so), and he is determined to get to the bottom of everything – even at the risk of endangering his own hide. That’s his goal, but nothing out there awaiting him is what it seems to be on the surface.

I was prepared to run out of patience with Richard Erdman as the soldier who provides the alibi and has his own motives for glomming onto Powell, but it turns out, due to good direction and sharp one liners, that I ended up liking him a lot before the first act was even over. Regis Toomey as the unconvinced, relentless cop, makes a flesh-and-blood character out of a part that could easily have amounted to less. And Rhonda Fleming (‘The Queen of Technicolor,’ but this is in B&W, so no auburn hair on display) is rightly worried about Rocky’s obsessive quest, which very shortly turns him into a walking target.

William Conrad (CANNON TV series, THE NAKED JUNGLE) plays Castro, the burly villain of the piece, and in a long career, it’s the best I’ve ever seen him. And the sleaziest. I guess he’s meant to be a Raymond Burr noir-clone here, but it’s a stand-alone performance. He’s perfectly made-up, wardrobed, and shot. If the film were remade today, or even if it weren’t but they were looking for a modern counterpart of Conrad in this kind of role, I kept thinking of Jack Black. Black would be terrific as a slimy noir villain.

The lesser roles are also well cast and acquitted. Jean Porter, appearing in only one scene, comes on hard and defensive when Powell interrogates her, then softens up when she senses there might be something amorous in it for her, then turns to sheer ice when that doesn’t pan out, all in one brief, evolving encounter. It’s a good piece to use as an exercise in a film production class.

In the book “Film Noir – An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style,’ published in ’79, it says “(Robert) Parrish’s pacing in CRY DANGER is fast compared to the languorous tempos of his other films [THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY, THE BOBO, DUFFY] and much less distinctive for that very reason, although consistent with the overall realization of the film.” However, time has revealed that Powell was the primary director of the film, but allowed Parrish to take the credit.

Powell cannily navigated the Hollywood waters, from that silly tenor he played in the Busby Berkeley flicks, to the no-nonsense noir protagonist we find him portraying here, and then to the 50s TV entrepreneur and feature director he next became. I don’t know much about him personally, but he certainly had a clear-headed business sense. As the centerpiece in CRY DANGER, he carries the film effortlessly (or so he makes it seem).

It mentions on the disc that this was a restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, funded by Eddie Mueller’s Film Noir Foundation. Bravo on them. It looks great, and it’s a wonderful surprise. Not the story – that’s a bit too familiar, but everything else…the rapid-fire, witty, hard-boiled dialogue, the revved up pacing, the performances, the narrative twists, Joe Biroc’s masterful cinematography…Powell has an essential few moments that are stunningly acted and, thanks to Biroc, perfectly lit and framed.

If I had to point out some weakness about the DVD to make it a more balanced review, it would be the poster on the box cover, which doesn’t seem to be as meticulously restored as the film.

Olive has also released SLEEP MY LOVE, a lavish B&W1948 noir directed by Douglas Sirk! It’s everything you would expect – dripping with props, wardrobe, and shadows – overly produced in that delicious Sirk way. I liked it a lot, and for Sirk fanatics it’s a real find. Robert Cummings (in his DIAL M FOR MURDER, SABOTEUR mode) is very likeable. But I’ve never personally enjoyed Claudette Colbert, so it wasn’t for me. If she’s easy on your eyes and temperament, you should probably investigate it. The transfer is excellent.

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