Saturday 23 June 2007

Where Danger Lives (1950) John Farrow

The surgeon's face mask can't hide the unmistakable voice of Robert Mitchum, even back in 1950. He's a doctor called Jeff Cameron and a dedicated one too, working long hours at a general hospital but soon to head off into the world of private practice. In comes Margo Lannington, who has attempted suicide and he helps her back from the brink. Next morning she skips out leaving a false name and address, but also leaves a note for Jeff containing the real ones, promising an explanation but soon drawing him into her world.

Given that this is a film noir called Where Danger Lives, that's not quite the world he expects. He falls for and her for him, but when he confronts her father, Frederick Lannington, who is apparently going to whisk her away from him, that father turns out to be her husband. He freely admits that she married him for his money and he married her for her youth, and he admits it as well as you'd expect him to, given that he's played by Claude Rains, who is as great in a film noir as you would imagine: all charm and pleasantness but with plenty hiding behind the surface.

These are gripping scenes, written well and performed superbly, where we dance with the dynamics of it all. All in about ten minutes, Jeff finds out Margo's been lying to her, leaves, comes back to save her when she screams, finds that Frederick will let her go to be with him but wants to warn him about what he'd be taking on, when it all turns violent. Before we know it, Jeff's been hit around the head with a poker, Frederick is dead, and Margo has got a literally stunned and concussed Jeff into all sorts of trouble running away. While Frederick and Jeff both seem to be used to being in control, it's Margo who is running the show here and we don't know what she's really up to.

I didn't know Faith Domergue before this film and she's not the sort of actress I'd usually appreciate, being far more Joan Crawford than Bette Davis, but she's exactly what the part calls for, almost the definition of femme fatale. We suspect from the outset, but we're kept waiting for the tidbits of truth. The rest of the cast are fine, including Maureen O'Sullivan, Philip Van Zandt and Tol Avery.

It's a Robert Mitchum picture though and the more I see them, the more I appreciate him. He was especially good in film noir and while I may have seen the best ones, I'm rating them very highly thus far. He started out in a bit part in Hitchcock's Saboteur, which is hardly a bad place to start, and after few very busy years in mostly uncredited roles, he found his way into film noir. I tend to really dislike Vincente Minnelli's movies but Undercurrent is a peach and I obviously wasn't the first person to see that, because they keep on coming: Crossfire, Out of the Past, this one, and on to The Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear. I'd never even heard of this one before but that's a good hint that there may be other hidden gems in there too.

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