Appointment With Danger (Blu-ray Review)22 Dec, 2014 By: Mike Clark
Stars Alan Ladd, Phyllis Calvert, Jack Webb, Paul Stewart, Harry Morgan, Jan Sterling.
Though Alan Ladd must have needed an entire closet of trench coats in the 1940s, his final film noir outing at home studio Paramount came surprisingly early in his career — though I’m speculating that 1956’s Warner Color Hell on Frisco Bay possibly had noir-ish elements (I’ve never seen it), as did Ladd’s very late-in-the-game 13 West Street, which is predominantly from the teenage-hood genre. But this next thing to a noir swan song is much closer to the real deal, even if the female lead is as soft-boiled as you can get and Ladd is cast as a U.S. Postal Inspector, which isn’t exactly Raymond Chandler stuff.
Much underrated (or at least under-seen) purely on the “fun” level, Danger joins a new slew of other past Olive releases previously available only on DVD and on two Blu-ray boxed sets respectively devoted to noir and late Otto Preminger (in other words, fret not: Skidoo has just gotten fresh life). In Olive fashion, no one has given these prints much of a fresh wax job, and the final product is mostly a product of how good the printing material was in the first place. There are some scratches here, and I’m not crazy about some of the contrast levels — but yeah, this improves some on the DVD, and I’ve always been tickled by the movie itself.
This is because Jack Webb is the heavy, and it’s a honey of a turn in one of the handful of oddball roles the actor/future director had some fun with before “Dragnet” established his public persona forever. In fact, his partner in crime here is played by none other than Harry Morgan, who would take on the sidekick role on “Dragnet” when it was revived on NBC in the late 1960s (at which point the psychedelic industry was never too safe). Morgan’s a sidekick here as well but not for long, given that he’s diabetic and a weak link in a coterie of Indiana hoods whose plot to stick up a train for cash leads to another government inspector’s death as the movie opens. The outfit’s brains (Paul Stewart, in the kind of role where he always excelled) isn’t happy that hothead Webb, with a less enthused Morgan, killed the guy and dumped his body in an alley one rainy night. The act occurred just in time to be witnessed by, of all possibilities, a nun (Phyllis Calvert). And a good-looking nun at that, though in 1951, this plot element will go nowhere.
She does, however, have a slight softening effect on tough-guy Ladd, who’s almost as dyspeptic and tense as Webb was on “Dragnet” (or here, for that matter). This is not a guy who has any time for romance in his life (or even friendship), though Ladd does seem fitfully amused when Calvert displays some of the curiosity or even mild gusto that movie nuns always do when asked to look at mug shots. She elicits little beyond malevolence, however, when it comes to Webb, who also instinctively distrusts Ladd when he infiltrates the gang, working undercover. Ladd and Webb have a couple punch-outs (one on a handball court) that are delightful to see — though much of the time, we see Webb walking that cautionary trademark walk he always had in the early days when he looked like someone who had seriously mis-read the instructions on a laxative box.
Cast as a “friend of the gang” is Jan Sterling, seen here after Caged and about seven weeks before her career role in Ace in the Hole hit theaters. There’s a very strange scene here where she invites Ladd up to her apartment to listen to her jazz 78s by Joe Lilley — an odd choice at the time over say, Dizzy or Miles, but you have to remember that Lilley was a longtime composer, orchestrator and musical director at (aha!) Paramount. In this period, he was heavily involved on Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Martin & Lewis pictures and would much later graduate to being the conductor of Hal Wallis Elvis pictures, which means he was the man with the baton on Queenie Wahine’s Papaya From Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Crazy, man, crazy.