On Dangerous Ground Lupino

February 4, 1918Ida Lupino:

Audience Reviews for On Dangerous Ground Jun 30, 2019 There are a few wrong notes in this film noir (some awkward camera moves, Ida Lupino's interpretation of being sightless), but this is a. Editorial Reviews Obsession, despair, and hatred permeate the psyches of the leading men in On Dangerous Ground, creating a gritty, powerful, and unsettling film. That one of those leading men finds salvation - convincingly and persuasively - through the power of hope and love is a testament to director Nicholas Ray's special skills.

“My agent had told me that he was going to make me the Janet Gaynor of England. I was going to play all the sweet roles. Whereupon, at the tender age of thirteen, I set upon the path of playing nothing but hookers.”

Director, producer, screenwriter, actor… anyone one of these avocations in showbiz requires innate talent, knowledge and skill. Occasionally an artist can fill all four of these roles successfully.

She was stubborn, sullen, small (5ft 3in) and strong. With a mink stole over her shoulder-pads and an orchid in her hair, Lupino made it clear, in her silky, querulous voice, that she resented living in a man’s world. Like Joan Crawford, she was glamorous in different ways at different times in her career. Like Crawford, she was mesmerizing, but with a wider range. She was the archetypal Hollywood star, always surging back after a setback.

Lupino was born in London to performer parents. From an early age, she was encouraged to explore her creativity, and she began writing scripts when she was a kid.

She was only 15-years-old when she made her first film, Her First Affaire (1933), cast as a teenage vamp. Paramount Pictures spotted her in Money For Speed (1933), playing a good girl/bad girl dual role, so there was some surprise when Paramount signed her to play Alice in Alice In Wonderland.

When she arrived in Hollywood, Paramount did not know what to do with her, but she still got a five-year contract. She was shuttled between roles of her own age, ingenues and glamourpuss parts for which she was much too young. After that, she moved to Warner Bros. She convinced director William Wellman that only she could play the cockney whore who inspires Ronald Colman in The Light That Failed (1939), based on RudyardKipling’s first novel.

Her smart performance in a difficult role convinced Warner Bros that they had found someone to fill Bette Davis’s old shoes, perfect for their remake of Bordertown (1935) titled They Drive By Night (1940). It is a showy role, lasciviously pursuing truck driver George Raft while showing only contempt for her fond, much older husband, Alan Hale, who is, of course, Raft’s boss and best friend. At the climax of the film, she was required to go spectacularly mad on the witness stand. Jack Warner was so impressed by the first few days’ rushes that he signed Lupino to a seven-year contract. He even gave her billing over Humphrey Bogart in her next film, Raoul Walsh’sHigh Sierra (1941), even though she has a much smaller role as Bogart’s moll.

Warner had trouble with Davis, whose temperament, in the cause of better material, was equaled only by her talent and her popularity. Lupino had special value because she was a threat to Davis. Warner suggested replacing Davis, his leading female star, with Lupino in the many properties purchased for Davis to star.

In 1942, she refused to work opposite Ronald Reagan in Kings Row and was put on suspension at the studio. She spent a lot of time under suspension. My sort of girl.

She moved to Columbia Pictures and staked her claim to be the first of the many wicked women at Columbia in Ladies In Retirement (1942), as the housekeeper who conspires with her “nephew” to murder the blowsy babe who is her boss. In Walsh’s noir-ish The Man I Love (1946), she proves how effortlessly she inhabits those tough, world-weary dames, in this case a nightclub singer. Even more splendid is her work as a singer in Road House (1948), with Lupino greedily suggesting the small-time ambition and essential seediness of a girl who has spent too many nights on stage with stale cigarette smoke and booze, plus she gets to do the torch song, Again(It Mustn’t Happen Again).Celeste Holm as the club cashier quips: “She does more without a voice than anyone I’ve ever heard…”.

The Man I Love (1947) Columbia Pictures, via YouTube

By the end of the 1940s, Lupino had appeared in over 30 Hollywood films. Her frustration with the studio system led her to seek work without a contract. Lupino founded her own independent film production company that focused on creating low-budget/high-quality films, The Filmmakers. She was able to produce, direct, and work in front of the camera. Her first directorial gig was uncredited. She took over the direction of 1949’s Not Wanted (1949), a controversial film about out-of-wedlock pregnancy, when the original director had a heart attack in the middle of production. She starred in On Dangerous Ground (1951), taking on some of the directing work when director Nicholas Ray was sick.



Lupino’s most noted directorial efforts are The Bigamist (1953), the story of a man who secretly has a second wife and family, with Lupino and Joan Fontaine, and the top-notch TheHitchhiker (1953) about an escaped convict. Both were produced by The Filmmakers. And, like all the films she directed, they have a common theme of exploring controversial topics with a sensitive, but honest, unflinching perspective.

This past October on TCM, I caught her powerful black and white film Outrage (1950), which she wrote, directed and produced. If you ever get a chance to see it, you will be knocked-out. It is crazy good.

Lupino called herself a “bulldozer”, but the back of her director’s chair was labeled “Mother Of Us All”. She credited her move away from the studio system by claiming:

“I had decided that nothing lay ahead of me but the life of the neurotic star with no family and no home”.

She also made a point to seem nonthreatening in a male-dominated business, stating:

On Dangerous Ground Ida Lupino

“That’s where being a man makes a great deal of difference. I don’t suppose the men particularly care about leaving their wives and children. During the vacation period, the wife can always fly over and be with him. It’s difficult for a wife to say to her husband, come sit on the set and watch.”

Although directing became Lupino’s passion, she took acting gigs to make money for her own productions. She became a wily low-budget filmmaker, reusing sets from other studio productions and talking her doctor into appearing in the delivery scene of Not Wanted. She was one of the first producers to use product placement, putting Coke, Cadillac, and other brands in her films in return for funds. She shot in public places to avoid set rental costs and planned scenes in preproduction to avoid technical mistakes and retakes. She joked that if she was “A poor man’s Bette Davis” as an actor, she had become “The poor man’s Don Siegel” as a director.

The Filmmakers ended in 1955 and Lupino’s last director’s credit on a feature film was the fun nun flick, The Trouble With Angels (1966) starring Hayley Mills and Rosalind Russell.

Lupino formed Four-Star Productions, a television production company, along with fellow actors Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, and David Niven. She served as the host of the company’s first program, Four StarPlayhouse (1952-56). She directed hundreds of television series episodes.

On Dangerous Ground Ida Lupino

Lupino was the second woman ever to be admitted to the Director’s Guild. She wrote magazine articles, short stories and children’s books, and composed music.

She became an American citizen in 1948, and she was a tough old libtard, but no snowflake. A staunch Democrat, she actively campaigned for John F. Kennedy.

Lupino married and divorced three time. Her final credits rolled in 1995, taken by that damn cancer at 77-years-old.

Of the 200 films currently slated for release in next three years, only 24 have female directors attached to them.

On Dangerous Ground
Directed byNicholas Ray
Ida Lupino (uncredited)
Produced byJohn Houseman
Screenplay byA. I. Bezzerides
Nicholas Ray
Based onthe novel Mad with Much Heart
by Gerald Butler
StarringIda Lupino
Robert Ryan
Ward Bond
Music byBernard Herrmann
CinematographyGeorge E. Diskant
Edited byRoland Gross
Distributed byRKO Pictures
Release date
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States

On Dangerous Ground is a 1951 film noir directed by Nicholas Ray and produced by John Houseman. The screenplay was written by A. I. Bezzerides based on the novel Mad with Much Heart, by Gerald Butler. The drama features Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, Ward Bond, and others.


Bitter, cynical police detective, Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan), is known for beating information out of suspects and witnesses. His violent tendencies are noticed by both his partners and the police chief. After Wilson ignores the chief's warnings, he is relegated to a case up-state so that he might cool off. He joins a manhunt for the murderer of a young girl—teaming up with the father of the victim, Walter Brent (Ward Bond), who is determined to exact deadly vengeance. During a chase, after the murderer is spotted, Wilson and Brent are separated from the others and eventually track the killer to a remote house.

Initially, they do not locate the murderer but find Mary Malden (Ida Lupino), a blind woman, by herself in the house. They learn that she lives with her brother, Danny (Sumner Williams). Wilson is drawn to the selfless Mary and, when he learns that the murderer is her brother and that he is mentally ill, he agrees to her request that he protect the young man.

Mary knows that Danny is hiding in the storm cellar; she tries to make him understand that there is a man, Wilson, who is a friend to them and that he will take Danny away to be helped. On her way back to the house, Wilson confronts her and, as she is explaining to him that her brother is too frightened right then to be dealt with, Danny flees the cellar.

Wilson trails him to a secluded shack and, though Danny is brandishing a knife, manages to engage him in a conversation which seems to be calming and may be leading to a surrender. Then, Brent bursts in. A fight ensues between the two men; Brent's gun goes off and Danny escapes. The two men chase him up a rugged mountainside where Danny loses his footing and falls to his death. Brent is shocked by Danny's youth. He carries him to the home of a neighbor of Mary's. Mary arrives, having walked from her home after hearing the gunshot. Later, she and Wilson walk back to her house where they have an intimate conversation. He indicates he would like to stay with her but she insists he leave, not wanting anyone around her merely for sympathy. Wilson drives to the city, but he's a changed man. In the end, he returns to Mary.


  • Ida Lupino as Mary Malden
  • Robert Ryan as Jim Wilson
  • Ward Bond as Walter Brent
  • Charles Kemper as Pop Daly
  • Anthony Ross as Pete Santos
  • Ed Begley as Capt. Brawley
  • Ian Wolfe as Sheriff Carrey
  • Sumner Williams as Danny Malden
  • Gus Schilling as Lucky
  • Frank Ferguson as Willows
  • Cleo Moore as Myrna Bowers
  • Olive Carey as Mrs. Brent


Critical response[edit]

On Dangerous Ground Ida Lupino

New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther found the screenplay a failure that produced poor performances. He wrote, 'the story is a shallow, uneven affair, as written by A. I. Bezzerides from Gerald Butler's Mad With Much Heart. The cause of the cop's sadism is only superficially explained, and certainly his happy redemption is easily and romantically achieved. And while a most galling performance of the farmer is given by Ward Bond, Ida Lupino is mawkishly stagey as the blind girl who melts the cop's heart. For all the sincere and shrewd direction and the striking outdoor photography, this R. K. O. melodrama fails to traverse its chosen ground.'[3]

Fernando F. Croce, film critic for Slant magazine, liked the film and wrote, 'Perched between late-'40s noir and mid-'50s crime drama, this is one of the great, forgotten works of the genre.. Easily mushy, the material achieves a nearly transcendental beauty in the hands of Ray, a poet of anguished expression: The urban harshness of the city is contrasted with the austere snowy countryside for some of the most disconcertingly moving effects in all film noir. Despite the violence and the steady intensity, a remarkably pure film.'[4]

Critic Dennis Schwartz liked the film and acting in the drama and wrote, 'A schematic film noir by Nicholas Ray (They Live by Night) that overcomes its artificial contrivances to become a touching psychological drama about despair and loneliness--one of the best of this sort in the history of film noir.. Robert Ryan's fierce performance is superb, as he's able to convincingly assure us he has a real spiritual awakening; while Lupino's gentle character acts to humanize the crime fighter, who has walked on the 'dangerous ground' of the city and has never realized before that there could be any other kind of turf until meeting someone as profound and tolerant as Mary.'[5]


The film score was composed by Bernard Herrmann (1911–1975). Instrumentation: piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, an English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 8 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bass drum, tam-tam, bell plate, piano, solo viola d'amore and strings.

Herrmann wanted to use an obscure baroque instrument, the viola d'amore, to symbolize Mary Malden's isolation and loneliness. The sound of the instrument can be heard much of the time she is on-screen. Herrmann was so impressed with viola d'amorist Virginia Majewski's performance that he wanted her credited in the film. Nicholas Ray told him 'There aren't enough cards,' so Herrmann replied, 'Put her on mine.' In the film's opening credits, Bernard Herrmann's credit reads, 'Music by Bernard Herrmann — Viola d'Amour played by Virginia Majewski.' [6]

At the 35:25 mark, listeners can hear a sequence that Herrmann reused in 1957 as the well-known opening theme to the television series Have Gun Will Travel starring Richard Boone. The scoring in the film version is only slightly different from that in the better-known TV theme; the sequence in which this theme appears also contains other fragments of incidental music later adapted for use in the TV show.


  1. ^'Symphony and Concert -- Records: '. The Boston Globe. December 16, 1951. Last accessed: November 7, 2013.
  2. ^'Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan In Star Roles'. The Christian Science Monitor. December 18, 1951. Last accessed: November 7, 2013.
  3. ^Crowther, Bosley (February 13, 1952). ''On Dangerous Ground,' Story of Detective Turned Sadist, Opens at the Criterion'. New York Times. Retrieved January 30, 2008.
  4. ^Croce, Fernando F. Slant magazine, film review, 2006. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.
  5. ^Schwartz, DennisArchived 2008-06-09 at the Wayback Machine. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, January 30, 2005. Last accessed: January 30, 2008.
  6. ^Roland Kato, Interview with Virginia Majewski, Newsletter of the Viola d'amore Society of America, Volume 19, Number 2, 1995.

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to On Dangerous Ground.
  • On Dangerous Ground on IMDb
  • On Dangerous Ground at AllMovie
  • On Dangerous Ground at the TCM Movie Database
  • On Dangerous Ground at DVD Beaver (includes images)
  • On Dangerous Ground film clip on YouTube (Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan)
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