Review by Josh Bell
Posted on 16 April 2012
Source 35mm print
Categories TCM Classic Film Festival 2012
Thanks to the efforts of the Film Noir Foundation, a fantastic-looking print of the little-seen 1951 thriller Cry Danger played as part of TCM Fest’s Noir Style section, but the movie is a lot more sunlit than your stereotypical noir. Much of the action takes place in the bright, omnipresent Los Angeles sunlight, where petty criminal Rocky Mulloy is trying to nab the real culprits behind a stick-up for which he unjustly spent five years in prison. Thanks to the efforts of a shady, opportunistic ex-Marine who provided him with a fabricated alibi, Rocky has been sprung from prison, but he still wants to see the real men responsible get their due—oh, and find the $100,000 from the robbery that’s gone missing.
To that aim, he and that ex-Marine, Delong, shack up in a seedy trailer park that also happens to house Nancy Morgan, the wife of Rocky’s former partner, who’s still doing time for the robbery. Naturally, Rocky and Nancy have a romantic past, but she’s not your typical femme fatale: Rhonda Fleming plays her as sexy but wholesome, and even when her nasty secret is revealed, she still comes off as remarkably naïve and aw-shucks friendly. It’s a disarming performance that provides some handy misdirection, especially when there’s a much more obvious shady lady in Delong’s new girlfriend Darlene, an admitted pickpocket and shameless sexpot.
Even Darlene is sort of good-natured, though, and that’s one of the most entertaining things about the film: Screenwriter William Bowers and director Robert Parrish (both working closely with Dick Powell, who was the driving force behind the independent production) make even their most despicable characters disarmingly likeable, so that while Rocky is working to shake down a local crime boss or fend off accusations from a nosy detective, you still kind of feel for those guys. The crime boss can barely keep things together, and the detective turns out to be one of Rocky’s best assets.
Bowers also does an excellent job of weaving a twisty but comprehensible plot, so that certain betrayals and double-crosses are both surprising and inevitable. Along the way, he writes some wonderfully expressive and funny dialogue, with a bone-dry wit that never disappears even in the most serious scenes. It’s not just comic relief, either; Delong seems like a comical drunk at first (and he remains comical throughout the film), but there’s also a persistent undercurrent of sadness to his behavior that reveals the drinking, joking and petty crime as different facets of the way people abandoned by society cope with poverty. Delong was a Marine who lost a leg in battle, and now he resorts to tagging along with Rocky in hopes of picking up a few scraps.
The movie’s use of seedy Los Angeles locations may have mainly been a function of its low budget and brief shooting schedule, but it provides a vivid snapshot of the low-rent establishments frequented by questionable characters. The trailer park is a wonderfully trashy setting, both unexpected and completely appropriate to the fabricated domesticity the characters enact. The actors bring wit and life to that manufactured family dynamic and every other aspect of Bowers’ sharp screenplay, with Powell playing Rocky as steady and cool whether he’s putting the moves on a woman (and basically every dame in the movie throws herself at him) or plotting his revenge. Richard Erdman and Jean Porter bring extra dimensions to their comic moments, and Fleming provides the movie’s emotional heart. Sure, it’s noir, but it’s also a clever character study just below the hard-boiled exterior.
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