|Where Danger Lives (1950)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Dir. John Farrow
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Faith Domergue, Claude Rains, Maureen O’Sullivan
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Thriller
Screening Time: Monday, July 10th at 9:00 p.m.
This perverse lovers-on-the-run yarn has upstanding young doctor Mitchum falling for manipulative femme fatale Domergue, and they head for the border. No good will come of this. Great atmosphere.
WHERE DANGER LIVES is another of the great classic Hollywood film noirs! Produced by Irving Cummings Jr.and Irwin Allen for RKO in 1950 it had a sturdy screenplay by Charles Bennet and splendid tight direction by John Farrow. It is one of the studio's better and most memorable noirs!
RKO head Howard Hughes' favourite star was Robert Mitchum and little wonder since all of his films were, by and large, very successful."Where Danger Lives" was no exception and alongside "Out of the Past" (aka. "Build My Gallows High" and containing Mitchum's finest performance) remains the best of the genre! Here in "Where Danger Lives" Mitchum heads a fine cast as a young doctor who unwittingly falls for one of his patients unaware she is somewhat psychotic ("I didn't fall for a woman – I fell for a patient"). In her first film appearance (taking over from Jane Greer ) Faith Domergue is excellent – if a little quirky and creepy – as the Femme Fatale. During their fleeting affair she lands Mitchum in a dangerous criminal predicament when she has him believe he has killed someone with a knockout punch (when he leaves the room to get some water it is she who suffocates the hapless victim with a cushion). On his return she persuades Mitchum that now the police will be after them for murder and they must flee. Believing her they go on the run and head for Mexico. The picture ends tragically in a shootout at the border.
A terrific little thriller with the stars in splendid form and in a movie that has lost none of its impact over the years. And watch out for a scene near the end of the picture where Mitchum falls down a staircase without the use of a stunt double. Mitchum clearly does the fall but ouch! It must have hurt! Others in the cast are the directors's wife Maureen O'Sullivan, Charles Kemper and there's a wonderfully realised cameo by the great Claude Rains ("I wish you'd stop calling her my daughter, she happens to be my wife!"). Sharply photographed in black & white by Nicholas Musuraca the film also had an atmospheric score by Roy Webb. Webb was an interesting composer! He wrote in the style of Max Steiner without attaining that composer's hyperbole. Like Steiner he had a voluminous output, he composed over 200 scores mostly for RKO and Warner Bros. but he is best remembered for his noir scores at RKO in the 40's. His finest work in this regard is for "Out OF The Past" (1947) with its dark and melodic undertones and an attractive and lingering main theme. In the early sixties a house fire destroyed all his scores and unpublished works. After that he never composed again. He died in 1982 at the age of 94.
"Where Danger Lives" is a great movie and is one of the finest examples of the noir style of picture making. It also displays the long gone but not forgotten craftsmanship that was Hollywood's Golden Age!
‘A few hours ago I felt on top of the world. Look at me now’
John Farrow’s film is one of a small number of interesting noir thrillers the director helmed during the late 40’s and early 50’s. Included amongst these productions are the bizarre comedy of His Kind of Woman’ (1951) also with Mitchum, and the magnificently baroque The Big Clock’ (1948), with Ray Milland. Where Danger Lives’, a powerful, dream-like piece, has some claim to being the best of these, being respectively less diffuse and grandiose than the other two films. Its strengths lay elsewhere, still founded upon the characteristic insecurities of film noir, but dwelling explicitly on the processes of mental aberration. This successfully induces an unusually strong atmosphere of hallucination – in effect replacing paranoia with psychosis.
Only at the end of the film does the dazed hero realise that he has really been dating the patient’ the deranged Margo. Thematically this respect it is similar to Otto Preminger’s Angel Face’ (1953) and Brahm’s intricate The Locket’ (1947), again both starring Mitchum. In all three films the actor confronts femmes fatales with hidden psychological disorders, illnesses of the mind which serve to internalise and, to a certain extent, symbolise the confusions of the noir universe. In this film however, his character is himself mentally confused through concussion, adding a perspective of further disorientation. I may be seem to be talking logically’ says Dr. Jeff Cameron (Mitchum) at one point. But what I say won’t make any sense’.
At the beginning of Where Danger Lives’, Cameron is a man clearly in control of himself, his career, and his love life. Given the concern of the film with health and well-being, it is eminently logical that he should be a doctor (although not a psychiatrist, as Margo’s first husband makes a point of establishing). His presence in the hospital is commanding, authoritative even, his future clear. The ebbing away of these keystones to his life – in effect an emasculation after encountering the suicidal Margo – is drastic and troubling. At first he is merely slowed by his own inebriation, then confused by her deceit. This is followed shortly afterwards by the head blow by her outraged husband (played by Claude Rains in his most typically urbane, menacing style), which creates a more profound effect on his mental capabilities.
This is a film dominated by Margo and Jeff on the road, and their crazed relationship to each other. Jeff’s concussion and resulting moral confusion, and Margo’s hidden psychosis, make them ideal partners in the bewildering and uncertain world through which they travel. Jeff’s mental distraction makes him passive, vulnerable, while Margo’s compulsions make her determined, wiley and strong. Ultimately it is this distortion in their relationship, in some respect a reversal of the usual sex roles, which gives the film so much of its intrigue. Once Margo and Jeff have found each other, in fact, they play on the same mad’ circuit, hurtling towards a crash, like the racers which stunned Jeff visualises buzzing up and down’ in his head.
Farrow’s direction follows the trajectory of events perfectly. At the start of the film, he shoots Mitchum’s tall frame framed within the cold certainties of hospital hallways, uncluttered and unshadowed. By the end of the film he is slumped, hidden and confused within shadowy hotel rooms, or stumbling along dark sidewalks. In between times, Farrow is able to enjoy himself with the surreal episode of the beards festival, (a peculiarly bizarre moment even in the extreme experiences of noir) which works well in the context of the runaway’s own mental disorientation.
The most powerful scene in the film is the penultimate confrontation of Jeff and Margo in the border hotel. Shot in one continuous take, Farrow effortlessly manages a number of complicated set ups within the frame as the two protagonists confront each other, and their reduced options, while moving around the set. Margo’s final attack on Jeff, her attempted smothering of him (as she had done to her first husband much earlier) is so frightening because Mitchum’s big frame is now so handicapped and reduced. Close to the Mexican border, Cameron is also close to unconsciousness, coma, and possibly death as well. The cheap hotel room, the broad, the flashing window sign, the rising tide of panic with a departing prospect of escape’ – these are all of course entirely typical of the genre. But by the time we reach this scene it is obvious too that, here at least, real danger lives as much in the head as in the world of police and shady border deals.
Robert Mitchum is such a sensible, caring and well-adjusted doctor in the beginning of WHERE DANGER LIVES that it seems incomprehensible that he would stumble into the trap that Faith Domergue sets for him. After getting involved romantically and telling him that she’s afraid of her domineering father, he finds out that her "father" (Claude Rains) is really her husband–just the first of a web of lies and deception waiting for him. And this, despite the husband’s strong warning.
As improbable as the story is, it has a certain fascination due to the film noir quality of the story-telling with Mitchum and Domergue on the run after the husband’s death. Much of the flavor comes from Mitchum’s strong performance. He manages to make his character fully believable despite the script shortcomings. Faith Domergue is photogenic but sullen and frozen-faced in her role of the psychotic heroine. Her performance has all the real-life dimension of a mannequin without the little nuances that would have made her a believably disturbed woman. As it is, Domergue offers nothing more than a superficial portrait.
Claude Rains has one scene of menace that he plays magnificently but has no more than a brief cameo role. Maureen O’Sullivan could have phoned in her role. She graces the brief role of a nurse in love with Mitchum, but the role has absolutely no significance in the plot and merely allows her to appear in one of her husband’s films. (Hubby is John Farrow, father of Mia).
If you like film noir, this will do nicely although it’s hardly one of the best of the genre. The real drawback is Miss Domergue who is unable to give more than a blank stare to most of her more emotional moments. Without Mitchum, there would be no conviction to any of the proceedings. For Mitchum fans, this is a good one.
This is in the top rank of noir films. John Farrow's direction is absolutely brilliant, and raises this film to its high level of excellence. Faith Domergue, aged 26, is at her most succulent, petulant, and at the very highest end of the fatale spectrum. Her luscious lips are lingered over by the camera, her misty eyes, her welcoming and lingering look, how could Robert Mitchum resist? And he doesn't. But in noir, the bigger-eyed and more soulful the dame is, the deeper are her problems. Faith turns out to be seriously psychologically disturbed, indeed psychotic, whingeing that 'nobody pities me' after smothering her much older husband to death. Claude Rains is perfect as the husband. He is not on screen for long (Faith sees to that), but he sets the tone for the whole ensuing saga of desperate, paranoid fear and flight. It is true that this film, while appearing to show reality in a brutally frank and straightforward manner, becomes increasingly surreal. There is a brilliant cameo by Tol Avery as 'Honest Hal the used car salesman', which is terrifying in its contrast of bonhomie and jollity with sinister and unscrupulous manipulation. As Mitchum and Domergue run and run, trying to reach the Mexican border, they seem to be taking parallel journeys inside their own minds, which is truly 'where danger lives'. Mitchum has much more opportunity to do some real acting in this film than usual, and does it very well indeed. He spends much of the film concussed after a blow on the head with a fire poker, and he is particularly convincing at being confused, which helps the reality distortion grow and proliferate with such effect. This is very much an edge-of-the psychiatrist's couch thriller, and is harrowing in the extreme. The two characters are not only running from the police, they are running from something archetypal, from the bear, from the wolf, from whatever the monster is in the dream, the one that pursues us all and has done since we lived in caves and it tried to get in and eat us. The power of a woman to reduce a hulking hunk to a heap of jelly, to pulverise the intelligence of a sensible doctor and make him into an idiot, are well shown here. In the end, it works because Domergue is so utterly convincing as the character Margo Lannington. As my wife said to me while watching this film: 'I'm not ever going to let you meet any women called Margo.' Everyone can agree that, faced with Faith Domergue as she was in 1950, any man would be powerless to help himself. And by the way, Faith Domergue was her real name. She didn't even have to invent it, any more than she needed to invent her siren qualities. Just think how many of us are safe now that she's gone!