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Cry Danger (Blu-ray Review)

7 Apr, 2014 By: Mike Clark

Street 4/8/14
$24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Not rated.
Stars Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Erdman.

Rhonda Fleming living next door in your trailer park suggests that some piper has to be paid, and the day-to-day life of Dick Powell (here in his final film noir release after becoming one of its kings via not too many outings) does get more complicated because she’s his neighbor. This said, the two do dig each other’s company in a chaste, if edgy, kind of way, though this, too, has its problems. Fleming’s character’s husband is still in the pokey for having allegedly helped out in a long ago big-bucks heist — the same one where essentially straight-arrow Powell also served time before being recently exonerated and pardoned via some surprise stranger’s revisionist testimony (with a suspicious smell to it).

Distributed by RKO via some kind of pickup deal during the studio’s what-me-worry Howard Hughes era, Danger was no longer in the standard RKO library when it came time to sell those holdings to TV not a whole lot of years later in the mid-to-late 1950s. I first caught it at age 12 during a Rhonda phase (my dad liked her, too) on a 1959 Saturday afternoon local station airing. Much later, back in the VHS era, Republic Home Video distributed a copy that was the filmic equivalent of a real estate fixer-upper — a mere blip on this print, which has been restored with apparent vigor by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Seeing Fleming in black-and-white from the early ’50s seems as unusual to me now than it did originally. This is because either she or co-redhead Maureen O’Hara seemed to alternate in the day as “Queen of Technicolor,” probably depending on the person writing the ad copy.

Powell’s character is bent on sharing good fortune by trying to spring Fleming’s hubby from prison, and it helps that he’s fairly certain who pulled off the job. And so are we once one of the parties he goes to see turns out to be played by William Conrad, an actor whose presence usually signaled corpulently evil menace, the way, say, a Jack Elam show-up typified the skinnier kind. His real-life genesis as a Warner Bros. tenor notwithstanding, Powell had few peers when it came to delivering mildly insulting noir dialogue, and here he crosses the path of bookies, clerks, parking lot attendants, bartenders, on-the-make widows and a trailer park manager worthy of ribbing. The script patter isn’t all-out crackling, but it definitely has enough pop to engender snickers and snort.

A lot of William Bowers’ script is given over to making the one-legged Marine belated witness who speaks in Powell’s behalf a vivid characterization, kind of a generational forbearer of the sad case John Heard plays in Cutter’s Way. This is one of the career performances turned in by Stalag 17’s Richard Erdman — a onetime wise-guy specialist who, at not quite 89, is said to be a lucid powerhouse at big-screen revivals. Powell’s character takes this alcoholic Erdman on as a buddy/roomie in a trailer that no amount of Lysol could improve (whereas Fleming’s adjacent is kind of a House Beautiful affair). Yet this said, Powell is one of those ’50s types dapper enough to wear a hat or a shirt-and-tie just to sit out back in the park overlooking the Los Angeles below. Like a lot of noirs from the era, this one affords some welcome location work, which often times did turn out to be of L.A. — sometimes one that no longer exists.

Making his directorial debut here was onetime kid actor and then Oscar-winning editor Robert Parrish (for Body and Soul) — and he seems to know his way around the territory in his handling of actors and framing action, though his later career turned out to be spotty. Powell himself would soon leave acting to make a mint by getting into early TV production — and to make a more than respectable big-screen directorial debut with the 1953 sleeper Split Second. Then, he had to go and get involved with Howard Hughes’ notoriously campy The Conqueror, which merely put John Wayne in Mongolian makeup to play Genghis Khan. Compared to this, Fleming in a trailer park doesn’t seem so strange after all.

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