Monday, September 25, 2006

Where Danger Lives (1950)

Posted by Steve-O

This weeks NOTW is the RKO/Robert Mitchum noir Where Danger Lives. The film’s 100% noir story line will remind fans of Detour, DOA, and a lot of other Mitchum RKO flicks. WDL was written by veteran scripwriter Charles Bennett who knew how to write a noir. The whiplash lines in the film are delivered fast and crackle.

For those that haven’t seen it, here’s what happens. (There are some spoilers here)

Young and sexy Margo (Faith Domergue) is the wife of Frederick Lannington (Claude Rains), an apparently sadistic much older millionaire. Jeff Cameron (Mitchum) is a surgeon who falls in love with Margo (who would become exposed as the femme fatale) when she was brought into a hospital after attempting suicide. He becomes romantically involved with her without knowing that she's married.

During a drunken confrontation with the jealous husband Frederick, the young doctor knocks the older man out with a cast-iron poker and stumbles out of the room. When Jeff returns, woozy from a hit in the head he himself got, he discovers that old man Lannington is dead. Margo had smothered her husband during Cameron's absence, but she instead tells Jeff that he is the killer. The lovers flee barreling down the highway to Mexico, where Jeff finally figures out that his crazy female companion is the real murder. Along the way to Mexico the couple meet a number of odd-ball characters that makes the trip even stranger.

WDL was directed by John Farrow and photographed by Nick Musuraca. The duo do a great job with the nightmarish look of the film when Mitchum goes on the run but isn’t really sure what’s happening.

This time the femme fatale is played by Faith Domergue (pronounced "Dah-mure") is known more for her relationship with Howard Hughes as much as for being in his RKO films. This was Domergue’s film lead debut. Editor's note: it wasn't her first film. See comments below. She went on to appear in a number of movies and television series. Remember her in This Island Earth and the horror/noir Cult of the Cobra? Prior to WDL, she had small parts in a few films including the proto-noir Blues in the Night.

As far as the supporting cast go could you ask for better than Claude Rains or Maureen O'Sullivan? Rains oozes his usual charm and sophistication in his one scene while O’Sullivan (who I admit I have a huge crush on since watching the Tarzan films last summer) is always beautiful but is stuck with a small part. Does anyone have a better laugh in films than O’Sullivan? She’s underused in this film but I’m just happy to see her on screen. (I can’t remember if she giggles in WDL like she did in The Thin Man but I’ll have to check).

Of course, Mitchum is the real reason to see this film again. He’s great as usual. At first he seems miscast (since he usually didn’t get “doctor” parts). What I think separates this noir from others is the fact that the audience has a pretty good idea that Bob is being taken for a ride (literally) but he’s totally clueless until the end. He is suffering from a concussion throughout almost the whole film and because he’s a doctor he’s totally aware of what’s wrong with him (shades of D.O.A.) but struggles to put all the pieces together.

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  1. Posted by charles c. on 9/25/2006, 2:01 pm, in reply to "NOTW: Where Danger Lives"

    I thought Vendetta was Faith's first lead role, not Where Danger Lives. Vendetta took several years to film. Where Danger Lives may have come out first, but Vendetta was the first lead role she worked on.

    Looks like Charles is correct. Vendetta was filmed before WDL. But this film was released in the summer of '50, while Vendetta was released in the winter of that year.
  2. I used to know a gal named Rita where I once worked. All my male co-workers agreed that this chick radiated DANGER. Just something about her... Faith Domergue in this makes me think of that. You can tell right away that there's something not right about her. Sure, she's attractive - so was Rita - but a little voice in your head says, "Stay away." She's very well cast. - Wes Clark
  3. This film is as perfect an example of noir as you will find. That is not to say it is a great one, only that it exemplifies the genre so well.