Tag Archives: Robert Mitchum

Investigating Film Noir: Where Danger Lives (1950)

Now that the TCM/Ball State University Investigating Film Noir course is over (even if my DVR is still full!), I figured it was time to start going through the great noirs I’ve discovered thanks to TCM’s Summer of Darkness programming. I’ve always been a big fan of noir, so I’d seen a good many of the more famous ones before, but I’ve already checked off fifteen more in the past couple of months, and my DVR tells me I have another thirty or so to go. Since noirs are generally crime thrillers to one degree or another, it’s difficult to discuss them in detail without spoilers, but I also recognize that many of the films I’ve been watching are relatively obscure outside of noir aficionados. My compromise: The first section will be relatively spoiler-free, with just enough plot outline to establish the premise. Then there will be a spoiler section after the jump where anything goes.

A hallmark of noir is men being led astray by a femme fatale, and Where Danger Lives has become one of my new go-to examples of that trope. Dr. Jeff Cameron (Robert Mitchum) is a gentle and good-hearted doctor who we first meet telling a story to a little girl in the hospital, and then staying late to treat an attempted suicide. He even breaks a date with his nurse girlfriend (Maureen O’Sullivan) to stay with the suicidal Margo (Faith Domergue) and make sure she doesn’t try again. That turns out to be a mistake…soon he and Margo are having an affair, despite her belief that her well-to-do father Frederick Lannington (Claude Rains) wouldn’t approve. Next comes a not-quite-Chinatown-level twist that sets Margo and Jeff on the run – but Jeff doesn’t know what he’s in for.

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It’s a twisted version of the “lovers on the run” trope that’s also pretty common in noir (They Live by Night, etc.), but Jeff suffers a concussion and can’t go to sleep, which only serves to make the rest of their journey more surreal – especially a detour through a small town that refuses to let them leave because it’s “Wild West Whiskers Week” and Jeff doesn’t have a beard. Yeah, I know. There are a lot of “wait, what now?” moments in Where Danger Lives, and that’s all part of the fun. Mitchum is such a watchable actor, and he goes through all the plot complications with his usual half-bemused, half-bored, half-paranoid laconic style, which just makes it all the more alternately tense and humorous.

This was Faith Domergue’s first major role, and she femme fatales with the best of them. She’d go on to make mostly B westerns and sci-fi, including 1955’s This Island Earth. Meanwhile, it was funny seeing Maureen O’Sullivan, known for the role of Jane in the 1930s Tarzan series, in such a very small supporting role. The film was directed by her husband John Farrow, so maybe that explains it.

Where Danger Lives has double-crossing dames, red herrings, paranoia, murder, and a few bizarre plot points – I can’t ask for much more than that in a noir.

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[SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT]

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Film on TV: March 26-April 1

There seems to be a crime/thriller theme going on in my picks to highlight this week – I didn’t initially do that on purpose, but I guess I do kind of like that sort of thing. Also, TCM is still doing their film noir thing, I think, which means a lot of good crime-related stuff to choose from. A lot more good stuff is playing this week, though, including a higher-than-usual number of things I’m featuring for the first time, so head on over to Row Three to see the rest.

The Night of the Hunter

Tuesday, March 27 at 12:00M on TCM
If there’s ever a film that defined “Southern gothic,” it’s this one. Underhanded “preacher” Robert Mitchum weasels his way into a young widowed family to try to gain the money the late father hid before he died. But what starts off as a well-done but fairly standard crime thriller turns into a surreal fable somewhere in the middle, and at that moment, jumps from “good film” to “film you will be able to get out of your head NEVER.” In a good way.
1955 USA. Director: Charles Laughton. Starring: Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish.
Must See

Love Crime

Friday, March 30 (late Thursday) at 12:05am on Sundance
Alain Corneau’s final film is a Hitchcockian thriller of business intrigue heightened by personal emotions, with icy blondes facing off against each other trying to gain the upper hand both at their company and in their personal lives. It’s got a lot of twisty turns, and ends up being quite satisfying by the end. My only complaint is that the stylistics don’t match up to the plotting or the acting, but I guess in the grand scheme of things, that’s a quibble.
2010 France. Director: Alain Corneau. Starring: Ludivine Sagnier, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patrick Mille.

The Others

Friday, March 30 at 8:00pm on IFC
More than ten years later, this film remains one of my favorite horror films, because it perfectly captures that ghostly, creepy atmosphere I love so much. Nicole Kidman does her best Grace Kelly homage as a mother sequestered on a remote British island (awaiting her husband’s return from WWII) along with her children, who have a unique skin condition that means they cannot be exposed to sunlight. Swapping the safety factor of lightness and darkness is a brilliant move, and the ultimate twist is pretty good, too. But this film lives and dies by its atmosphere – menacing housekeepers, dust-covered furniture, creepy photographs, it’s all here.
2001 USA. Director: Alejandro Amenabar. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Saturday, March 31 at 8:00pm on TCM
I credit this film with my real interest in silent film. Silent comedy was a big entry point, but Sunrise, with its simple but lovely story of marital infidelity, potential murder, and reconciliation, convinced me that silent films wasn’t just about being funny, but that they could really and truly be art in and of themselves. Murnau does so much with so little here, filling every frame with such visual beauty and storytelling that he barely needs any title cards, that I was immediately sold and I’ve never turned back.
1927 USA. Director: F.W. Murnau. Starring: George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston.
Must See

Born to Kill

Saturday, March 31 at 12:00M on TCM
A film noir that had slipped past me until last year, but I certainly am glad I caught up with it. The always reliable Claire Trevor leads the film as a woman who leaves town instead of dealing with the aftermath of finding her friend murdered; unfortunately, the murderer has unwittingly left on the same train and the two end up inextricably entwined in a love-hate relationship. It’s got some obvious film noir tropes, but also plays along the edges of others (Laurence Tierney is basically an homme fatale, instead of Trevor being a femme fatale). Definitely a film worth your time if you’re into noir or classic crime dramas.
1947 USA. Director: Robert Wise. Starring: Claire Trevor, Lawrence Tierney, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook Jr., Isabel Jewell.