Friday, December 30, 2011

Guest Review: Double Danger Stories

By Philip Schweier

Cry Danger (1951) is film noir at its finest, starring Dick Powell in a role not unlike his groundbreaking turn as Phillip Marlowe. He plays Rocky Mulloy, who five years ago was fingered in a robbery he had no part of. His alibi hinged on a bunch of Marines he was drinking with at the time, and now one of them, DeLong (Richard Erdman) has become aware of the case and stepped forward to clear his name.

Only DeLong isn’t quite the selfless patriot you might expect. Turns out he wasn’t one of the Marines, but he could’ve been. His hope is Mulloy will be grateful enough that he might share some of the $50,000 that’s been stashed away all this time. Could come in handy, as DeLong drinks most of his money away.

Powell is reunited with Nancy (Rhonda Fleming), who is married to the guy who was Mulloy’s alleged partner in the robbery. He’s also reunited with Castro (William Conrad), a local criminal who’s moved up in the world, bragging to Mulloy he’s 60 percent legit. Mulloy doesn’t care; he just wants half the robbery money. After all, he’s spent the last five years earning it.

On Mulloy’s tail is Cobb (Regis Toomey), a police detective who’s still looking for the robbery money, which after all this time has never surfaced, leading most of the players to believe Mulloy’s got his stashed some place, despite his cries of innocence.

This movie has everything: an anti-hero, a dame who loves him, an injured pal, a sympathetic cop, a manipulative fat man. I could go on, but too many similarities to The Maltese Falcon would give too much away. The only thing wrong with the film is that too much of it takes place in broad daylight. I like my film noir like I like my coffee – dark and bitter.

(Ivan’s ad-lib: “I dated a woman like that once.”)

Five Steps to Danger (1957) is a Hitchcockian thriller wannabe that capitalizes on Cold War era tropes. Ann Nicholson (Ruth Roman) is in a hurry to reach New Mexico, so much so that she picks up John Emmet (Sterling Hayden) along the way. His car broke down and she offers him a strictly business proposition of driving through the night with her. Along the way, Emmet is approached by Helen Bethke (Jeanne Cooper) a nurse who claims that the widow Nicholson is very ill, and so as not to alarm the patient, she would like Emmet to deliver his “fellow traveler” to her hotel in New Mexico.

The next morning, Emmet and Mrs. Nicholson are stopped by a couple of deputies who claim she’s wanted in connection with the murder of a CIA agent in Los Angeles. Despite being handcuffed together, they manage to dodge the law long enough for Mrs. Nicholson to explain things. Her family emigrated from Germany when she was a small child, but returned to dispose of some business interests. War broke out and they were trapped there, and she is the only one to survive. Then she learned her brother Kurt was alive, trapped inside East Berlin. He tries to escape but is captured, never to be seen again. His companion finds her, and gives to her a steel mirror, which under the proper magnification is actually a transcript of German missile research. It is now her job to return to the United States and see it safely into the hands of Dr. Reinhart Kissel (Karl Lindt).

Kissel, and old family friend, is apparently teaching at a university in New Mexico, but when Emmet and Nicholson pay a call on college dean William Brant (Richard Gaines), he denies having ever heard of Kissler. This strengthens the assertion that Mrs. Nicholson is unwell, and Emmet hands her over to Nurse Bethke and her boss, Dr. Frederick Simmons (Werner Klemperer), then heads off to go fishing.

But their adventure together has prompted Emmet to fall in love with Mrs. Nicholson, and when he is approached by CIA operative Edward Kirkpatrick (Charles Davis), he decides Mrs. Nicholson hasn’t seen the last of him. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game of who’s a red-blooded American and who’s a pinko Commie.

Like many of Hitchcock’s movies, it a tale of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. But 50 years later, it is unfortunately dated, and it lacks the star power to make it truly entertaining. As to what the five steps to danger are, that’s never explained. The ending is tidy and efficient, allowing for a happy ending for every one (well, almost).

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