Saturday, April 28, 2018

Stubs - Cry Danger

Cry Danger (1951) Starring: Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Erdman, William Conrad, Regis Toomey, Jean Porter, Joan Banks, Jay Adler, Renny McEvoy, Lou Lubin Directed by Robert Parrish. Screenplay by William Bowers. Based on a Story by Jerome Cady. Produced by Sam Wiesenthal and W.R. Frank. Runtime: 79 minutes. USA. Black and White. Film Noir, Drama

If you’ve never heard of Olympic Productions, it may have a lot to do with the fact that the production company, owned by Sam Wiesenthal and W.R. Frank only made one film, Cry Danger. Like many independent productions, Cry Danger was made quickly on a low budget. The initial shoot lasted about 22 days beginning on June 9, 1950, with additional shooting in late July to early August. Much of the shooting took place in and around downtown Los Angeles, CA, including Union Station and Bunker Hill.

Jerome Cady’s story was originally purchased by Santana Pictures, a company owned by Humphrey Bogart and his producing partner Robert Lord with Columbia Pictures originally set to distribute. No word how the story went from Santana to Olympic, but that is what happened. No telling what the resulting film would have been like with Bogart in the lead.

Dick Powell and Humphrey Bogart in a publicity still from the film Johnny O'Clock
(1947) with technical adviser John Jake Barrett in between.

Dick Powell, however, was no slouch when it came to film noir. A one-time song and dance man in films like 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade, all from 1933, Powell made the transition to film noirs with Murder, My Sweet (1944) playing a character Bogart had also played, Phillip Marlowe. He would go on to make several film noirs including Cornered (1945), Johnny O’Clock (1947), To The Ends of The Earth (1948) and Pitfall (1948). Well-versed in the genre, Powell would turn out to be a good choice for the lead here.

Newspaper headlines welcome Rocky Mulloy home.

Powell plays Rocky Mulloy, fresh from prison having served five years of a life sentence for robbery and murder. When the film opens, Rocky is just getting off the train at Los Angeles’ Union Station where he is greeted by a newsboy hawking the paper with a headline about Rocky’s release. Outside, Lt. Gus Cobb (Regis Toomey), the detective who helped put him behind bars, is waiting for him. With Gus is Delong (Richard Erdman), a decorated, disabled ex-Marine and alcoholic, who provided Rocky with an alibi that got him released.

Rocky (Dick Powell) is greeted off the train by Lt. Gus Cobb (Regis Toomey),
the detective who helped put him behind bars, and Delong (Richard Erdman), the man who freed him with an alibi.

Gus doesn’t necessarily buy the alibi but invites the two men out for a drink. At the bar, Delong explains that he shipped out the day after the holdup, saying he was unaware that Rocky was in trouble. Delong’s story is that Rocky and he had been out together drinking with other Marines the night the robbery was committed. Gus isn’t convinced and informs Rocky that he’s putting a tail on him 24/7, hoping he’ll lead authorities to the money from the holdup which was never recovered.

First stop is a bar, where we learn Delong likes to drink.

Once Gus leaves, Delong comes clean with Rocky, telling him that he had made up the alibi, thinking that he might be entitled to a share of the loot. Rocky repeats his claim that he wasn’t part of the robbery but knows who was involved and who has the money and that he intends to find it.
Delong takes Rocky to the Clover Trailer park, where Nancy Morgan (Rhonda Fleming) lives. Nancy is not only Rocky’s ex- but she is also the wife of his best friend, Danny, who was also found guilty of the robbery and is still in prison.

The trailer park where Nancy lives and where Rocky and Delong rent a trailer.

The first person they meet is a cute blonde, Darlene (Jean Porter), part-time model and part-time pickpocket, to whom Delong is drawn. The two men rent a trailer from the manager of the park, Williams (Jay Adler), who warns them that he doesn’t want any trouble. Nancy is thrilled to see Rocky again.

The first person they meet at the trailer park is Darlene (Jean Porter).

That night, Rocky goes to see Louie Castro (William Conrad), a racketeer who had engineered the holdup. Rocky accuses him of a frame-up and demands Castro pay him $50,000, the amount he had been offered to participate in the robbery. Castro refuses. He claims not to have the money. Rocky will settle for $5000 as a down payment. Instead, Castro gives Rocky $500 with which to place a bet the next day on a fixed horse race. The horse will pay 8 to 1 which will get Rocky some money for now.

Louis Castro (William Conrad) gives Rocky a racing tip rather than a payout.

Later that night, Rocky is shot at by an unseen assailant at the trailer park. Nancy begs Rocky to drop the matter, but Rocky instead goes the next morning to see Arthur Fletcher, a witness that provided damning evidence against Rocky at his trial. However, he finds out from Alice (Joan Banks), Arthur’s wife, that he’s dead. Alice tells him that Arthur received $5000 soon after the trial, which Rocky assumes was a bribe from Castro.

Arthur Fletcher's widow, Alice (Joan Banks), seems to fancy Rocky.

Alice makes a play for Rocky, but instead he calls Castro to find out how to place his bet. He’s instructed to go to a hotel's cigarette stand to place the bet and is instructed to see the bookie (Hy Averback) downstairs in the delicatessen for the payout. The bookie, who comes out of the backroom, complains about the payment saying no one considers that he’s got a wife and kid at home.

While Rocky, Nancy, Delong, and Darlene are out celebrating Rocky’s good fortune, Gus shows up to let him know that the money is part of a heist. Trying to prove his innocence, Rocky takes Gus back to the delicatessen, but the proprietor acts like he’s never seen him before and informs them there is no backroom, which Gus and Rocky find is true. Upstairs, there is a different woman working the concession and has no idea what he’s talking about. When they fail to find the other woman who took the bet, Gus takes Rocky downtown to police headquarters.

Gus shows up to ruin Rocky's celebration, which includes Nancy (Rhonda Fleming) at left.

Gus calls Castro, who claims he’s never seen Rocky, which Gus knows is a lie, having followed Rocky since his release. Still, he’s reluctant to believe Rocky’s story, though he does let him go.

Soon after he gets back to the trailer park, Delong and Darlene leave to get a drink. They are, however, mistaken for Rocky and Nancy by Castro's thugs. In a hail of bullets, Delong crashes the car and Darlene is killed instantly.

After the shooting, Gus brings in all of the suspects, including Castro.

Gus brings Rocky, Nancy, and Castro in for questioning, but can’t get any answers from any of them. He lets them go, though he holds on to Castro. When he returns to his car, Castro finds Rocky waiting for him.

Rocky is waiting for Castro to come out of police headquarters.

Incensed, Rocky takes Castro to his office and forces him at gunpoint to lie down on the desk. He then plays Russian roulette with Castro until he admits where his half of the loot is hidden, in a safe under his desk. Castro also reveals that Nancy has the other half, as Danny, unlike Rocky, agreed to participate in the holdup and committed the murder.

Castro eventually confesses to Rocky about his half of the money.

Rocky instructs Castro to call Gus to arrange for a confession, Gus instead calls his thugs, who leave to come to his office. Afterward, Rocky calls the real Gus. When the police arrive, the thugs engage them in a shootout on the sidewalk out front.

When the police get to Castro’s office, Rocky informs Gus where half of the money is, but claims not to know where the other half is.

Nancy wants to run away with Rocky and confesses that she has her husband's share of the loot.

Back at the trailer park, Nancy wants to run away with Rocky. He tells her that they'll need money and she admits that she has Danny’s share of the money. When Rocky asks how she could have remained silent when he was sent away to prison, she admits that she was afraid of Castro. She also confesses to shooting at Rocky to stop his snooping. Still, she claims she still loves him and begs him to run away with her. Rocky agrees and they split up to pack. But once he’s outside her trailer, Gus is there. Rocky tells him about Nancy's deception and while Gus goes inside to arrest her, Rocky walks quietly away.

Released by RKO on February 3, 1951, the film received positive reviews, though there is no information on its box office. Variety noted that "All the ingredients for a suspenseful melodrama are contained in Cry Danger…”

There is a lot to like about the film, starting with the cast. Dick Powell seems to be in his element as Rocky. He’s just tough enough and snarky enough to carry off the part. Not a forbidding figure, Rocky is driven by his anger over having been wronged. He doesn’t let much stand in his way, even Castro, played by William Conrad.

No stranger to crime dramas, Conrad appeared in The Killers (1946) as one of the assassins sent at the beginning to kill Burt Lancaster’s Swede character. He had also appeared in such films as Body and Soul (1947), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), Tension (1949), and Dial 1119 (1950). Conrad would become a radio actor, playing Marshal Dillon on the long-running radio production of Gunsmoke (1952-1961), and eventually have his own TV show, Cannon (1971-1976). Conrad is used to playing the heavy, no intended joke about his weight, and he’s good here as Rocky’s foil.

Nicknamed the “Queen of Technicolor”, Rhonda Fleming was known for her pale complexion and flaming red hair. She acted in films beginning with In Old Oklahoma (1943), but her big break came in Spellbound (1945) directed by Alfred Hitchcock followed by The Spiral Staircase (1945). She would also appear in Out of The Past (1947). Her first starring role came in Adventure Island (1947), a low-budget action film shot in color. She would then star opposite Bing Crosby in her first Technicolor film, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949).

Even in black and white, Fleming is still a beautiful woman and a fine actress. Nancy is a little one-dimensional, though Fleming does her best to make the most out of her. The twist at the end seems a little anticlimactic, but that’s not her fault.

Richard Erdman made a career as a supporting actor, appearing in 160 film and television productions over the years. His first appearance was in Mr. Skeffington (1944) and his most recent appearance was in the sit-com Community (2009–2015), as one of the elder students. Here he makes a good sometime partner for Rocky. He’s a good actor but he doesn’t steal focus from the star. Erdman does, however, get to deliver one of the better lines in the film.

Darlene LaVonne: You drinkin' that stuff so early?
Delong: Listen, doll girl, when you drink as much as I do, you gotta start early.

Jean Porter came to Hollywood at the age of 12 in 1934 from Cisco, Texas. While she would never achieve stardom, she did appear in such films as The Youngest Profession (1943), Bathing Beauty (1944), Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945), Till the End of Time (1946), and in The Left Hand of God (1956). She did attract the attention of director Edward Dmytryk, who ended up as one of the Hollywood Ten during the McCarthy Era. They would stay married from 1948 until his death in 1999. Porter is more eye-candy in this film and except for minor characters, she is pretty one-dimensional.

The film is good but not great. While Rocky’s journey is interesting it is somewhat short and to the point. There are a couple of diversions along the way to keep it from being too straightforward but there really is nothing all that unique about the story. Wrongly accused man gets out of prison and seeks revenge on those that put him there. In this case, it’s Castro, who is 60% legit (sort of like being a little pregnant) and doesn’t want to give Rocky his due.

The twist, and you pretty much have to have one for film noir, is that the woman he loves and who claims to love him back is also responsible for putting him away. It’s a good one but not as shocking, perhaps, as it could be.

If you’re a fan of film noir, then you should like Cry Danger. While it doesn’t hold up as one of the greats of the genre, it is still good and fun to watch. I would recommend it if you have not seen it.

Be sure to check out our Film Noir Review Hub for reviews of other films in this genre.

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