Where Danger Lives (1950): It’s a long road…

Where Danger Lives (1950)

A compelling RKO noir melodrama from John Farrow (The Big Clock, Night Has a Thousand Eyes, Alias Nick Beal, His Kind of Woman), with great camera work from Nicholas Musuraca, and top-line art direction from Ralph Berger and  Albert S. D’Agostino.

Where Danger Lives (1950)

A naive young doctor falls for a stunningly beautiful but unstable young woman, and ends up the target at a shoot-out on the Mexican border after a frantic road trip to escape a murder rap. Robert Mitchum is the doctor and little-known b-actress Faith Domergue is the dame. Domergue steals the picture from Mitchum.  Her nuanced performance as a ravishingly sublime femme-fatale is enthralling and she dominates every scene. There are many close-ups of her manic eyes full of menacing allure.  If she is crazy, she is the sanest psychopath to inhabit a film noir. Her guile and determination are almost heroic.

Where Danger Lives (1950)

Low angle available-light interior shots exposing ceilings early on are deftly used to frame scenes of tension and violence.The noir motif of entrapment is strongly focused by close-framed shots, particularly on the road, where the fleeing protagonists are shown within the car or from outside the car in close-up, and rarely in open spaces.  The climactic finale on a neon-lit street in a border own at night is beautifully lit and the action superbly edited. If not for Domergue’s manic turn and Musuraca’s camera, Farrow’s less than taught direction would have doomed the picture to mediocrity. The establishing scenes drag, and the middle section with Mitchum and Domergue on the lam is slow, with two aimless interludes: when they have a car accident, and in a small town where they are forced to ‘wed’.  There is an unnecessary and soppy final scene that undermines the riveting penultimate scene where the camera stares up at Mitchum’s tortured face against an industrial wire fence as the cops surround the fugitives after the shoot-out.

A uneven film made memorable by Domergue’s portrayal and the stunning climax.

10 thoughts on “Where Danger Lives (1950): It’s a long road…”

  1. Excellent, appraisal here, as I hung with every word. This s a film I know well and admire, as I have high regard for John Farrow (of ALIAS NICK BEAL fame) and Mssrs. Musuraca,Berger and D’Agostino.
    I like the line where you suggest that Faith Domergue is “the sanest psychopath you’ll ever see.” Of course Ms. Domergue I well-known for her RKO stints in films by Howard Hughes, and even more famously for her relationship with him. I remember her in the science-fiction B movie THIS ISLAND EARTH.
    It’s significant to note also that Claude Rains appears in this film (any film that Rains appears in is significant in a sense) and teh cast also includes Maureen O’Sullivan, who would grace any film with her presence as she does here.
    But surely it is Mitchum’s film, as he gets a rare chance to play a “doctor” who knows the dire situation he is in. The film reminds me a lot like D.O.A., another semi-classic noir, and a bit like Ulmer’s DETOUR as well.

    It’s a very good noir, but I do agree that the final scene is one of it’s rare mis-steps.

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  2. Thanks for your comments Sam.

    I obviously haven’t seen enough b’s, as I can’t recall having seen Domergue before, and in a way I am glad of it, as her freshness for me added to her impact. I did read that Hughes ‘discovered’ her at the age of 15…

    The Rains and O’Sullivan roles are small and neither impressed me very much: Rains looked like a walk-on, and O’Sullivan was way too old for her part (nepotism on Farrow’s part?). Mitchum’s normal persona is almost somnambulist, so his turn as a guy on the verge of lapsing into a coma while competent was not arresting, and he is too much of a hunk to pull off a surgeon.

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  3. Hi! Tony,
    I own this film an in my opinion…like a soldier, with unimportant news “This film is nothing to write home about”…In other words…I only watched this film “once” Translation: I may never watch this film again!
    But, I must admit that the 2 very noirish pictures and the poster from the film Where Danger Lives accompanying your review are very nice touches!
    Btw, This film along with 9 other classic film noir are featured on Volume 4 of the Warner Bros. Film Noir Collection.
    Tks,
    Dcd 😉

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  4. Hi! Tony,and
    Hi! Sam Juliano, Sam, among “some” “Noiraholic” the two film noirs that you, mentioned are just considered…“Classic(s)”
    D.O.A…Because the protagonist is “dead” as soon as the first reel start to roll…Fatalistic to the “core.” (See author Spencer Selby’s book Dark City:The Film Noir…Ahh! The 1945 film “Detour”…just one word…”Vera” 😯 (Testing) …need I say more!…at the ACFNF 2009 (next month) her(Vera’s creator) actress Ann Savage, will be acknowledged…)

    Typo Correction:
    Btw, This film along with 9 other classic film noir(s) are featured in [not on] Volume 4 of the Warner Bros. Film Noir Collection.

    Tks,
    Dcd 😉

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  5. Terrific review, Tony. I very much agree. (And my platonic love for Robert Mitchum is probably well-established by now.)

    I like this humorous but accurate comment by you in this thread, though, Tony: “Mitchum’s normal persona is almost somnambulist, so his turn as a guy on the verge of lapsing into a coma while competent was not arresting, and he is too much of a hunk to pull off a surgeon.” Quite true!

    And, yet, I like Mitchum in the picture. Nevertheless, I agree that Domergue is exquisite in this film, giving an unusually nuanced portrayal of a femme fatale. Farrow’s direction *is* mostly lackluster, but the finale is strong. Great look at this fairly obscure film, Tony.

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  6. Alexander, I liked that line myself 😉 I have a soft spot for Mitchum too, but he just didn’t have to make an effort in this one.

    Apropos Mitchum. He is in a Western on late-nite TV I am taping tonight with William Holden and Loretta Young – Rachel and the Stranger (1948).

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  7. http://movies.nytimes.com/person/19550/Faith-Domergue/biography

    Actor
    Gender: Female
    Born: June 16, 1924
    Died: April 4, 1999
    Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana
    Nationality: American

    Full Biography
    From All Movie Guide: Seductive brunette leading lady Faith Domergue never quite made it to the front ranks of Hollywood stardom. Discovered by billionaire Howard Hughes, Faith was given the standard big buildup, achieving above-the-title billing in 1950’s Vendetta and Where Danger Lives. Moviegoer response was not favorable, and thereafter Hughes and Domergue parted company. She married director Hugo Fregonese and continued to accept leading roles in adventure and science fiction films; in the latter category, she offered memorably energetic performances in This Island Earth (1955) and The Atomic Man (1956). Still acting into the 1970s, Faith Domergue published a memoir of her early career, 1972’s My Life With Howard Hughes. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

    She has been billed as a little known B actress stealing the film from the tedium under Farrow’s direction. Amazingly,she was discovered by Howard Hughes and starred in Vendetta and this noir classic.
    Note her published memoir above referenced. She ventured into sci fi films in 1955 and 56 as “memorable and energetic”. Movie response was not favorable on “Where Danger Lives” and Hughes and she parted ways. She married Hugo Fregonese. I would like to see these 50’s sci fi’s . She played in mltiple gfilm genres showing her adaptable talents even if apparently short lived. In this noir, she saved the film from mediocrity by an equisite performance and outshone Mitchum. How then could her stature have been diminished in the succeding yeras, I would muse.

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  8. Great research there Edward! I totally agree with your assessment and wonder whether it was Hughes who peddled the story about moviegoer response not being favorable to cover-up something less sanguine. He was not above such manipulation – he practically destroyed Jane Greer’s career when he bought RKO – she had rejected his advances some years earlier when she was very young.

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