Appointment With Danger (DVD Review)2 Aug, 2010 By: Mike Clark
Stars Alan Ladd, Phyllis Calvert, Jack Webb, Harry Morgan.
Alan Ladd became an overnight in the stoic mode (his dialogue readings always reminded me a lot of Ricky Nelson’s deadpan balladeering) playing the cold but oddly sympathetic contract killer in 1942’s This Gun for Hire. Throughout the 1940s he remained identified with film noir: The Glass Key, The Blue Dahlia and even via geographically exotic but frequently nocturnal entertainments like Calcutta and Saigon. Released well after it was actually shot, this 1951 movie is one of the Ladd’s better vehicles, though he isn’t the main reason the movie tickles so much today.
Where do we begin? Well, in the all-things-come-to-those-who-wait department, there’s the singular sight of Jack Webb in boxer shorts. Then, there’s Ladd and Webb taking an instant dislike to each other and filling the soundtrack with mutually malevolent remarks. There’s also Ladd sucker-punching Webb on a handball court (back when the former was still in outstanding physical shape) after Webb has thrown one gratuitous elbow too many. And then there’s Webb turning against cohort Harry Morgan after the postal cops implicate Morgan in a murder of a colleague that can further implicate Webb. Picking up a pair of bronzed baby shoes that once belonged to a long-lost child whose absence Morgan tearfully laments, Webb fatally pounds his future ’60s “Dragnet” partner on the head with them. It’s the kind of act that goes a long way to define a person’s character.
Webb compounds the mischief by regularly threatening the life of a nun (Phyllis Calvert) who witnessed the murder’s aftermath and got a close look at Morgan. Not that Ladd, as the investigating postal sleuth, cleans up his own act too much. A hard case, he cares little about whether the murdered colleague had children or not (after the nun inquires) and is markedly up-front brazen about his inclination to frame suspects if it’ll get scum off the streets of, in this case, Gary and Fort Wayne, IN.
The movie opens with a familiar-sounding announcer voice-overing standard boilerplate about how great the post office is — but quickly gets down to business with the welcome noir array of third-rate hotels; a foiled robbery; seedy gang hideout; and a resident blonde chippie played by Jan Sterling, who’s a little softer and certainly a lot friendlier than she is in Billy Wilder’s classic Ace in the Hole, which Paramount released seven weeks later. The black-and-white photography is by John F. Seitz, who shot four Wilder films from The Major and the Minor through Sunset Blvd. — but also one who, interestingly, left Paramount (where he at least halfway ruled the roost) to become Ladd’s personal cinematographer on a lot of movies for other studios in the later 1950s. Ladd obviously liked something about what Seitz did.
By the time Danger came out, Webb was only months away from transferring “Dragnet” from radio to TV and on a permanent “enforcement” perch; as a result, audiences never got too many opportunities to see him on the wrong side of the law. (But in a juicy footnote, he is, again, in Charlton Heston’s 1950 debut vehicle Dark City — another of the five “launch” titles, along with this release, in Olive Films’ new distribution deal with Paramount to release several of the latter’s catalog titles.) In a way, it’s too bad. I wouldn’t give up “Dragnet” for anything, but Webb was really magnificent playing creeps.