Cry Danger (1951): About as noir as white coffee

Cry Danger (1951)

Cry Danger, a Dick Powell vehicle from RKO, is a flaccid affair with no tension and labored humor. Powell plays ‘Rocky’ Malloy, a guy with a past just released from a life stretch after 5 years in the can, thanks to the better-late-than-never testimony of a vet with a wooden leg and a drink problem. Back in LA he shacks up in a trailer park to shake down the hood that framed him. A novel twist at the end can’t save the show.

Rookie director Robert Parrish is to blame: the pacing is sluggish and you keep waiting for something to happen. There is no atmosphere and it all plays out like a too long second-rate 50s TV police drama. A sorry example of how not to make a noir. Powell and Rhonda Fleming, as the love interest, are wasted, as is DP Joe Biroc, who never really gets a chance to insinuate some LA darkness into the mix. The promise of the opening scene when we see Powell arriving by train is never realised after being immediately negated by the absurd use of rear-screen projection shots for scenes outside the railway station. There is a noirish shot of Powell entering a bar at night, but it is all technique and no soul.

Overrated and dull.

21 thoughts on “Cry Danger (1951): About as noir as white coffee”

  1. Hi! Tony,
    I guess that I’am going to have to rewatch this film and even “re-evaluate” it after reading your hold-no-bar… very honest and straightforward review or look at the 1951 film…Cry Danger.
    Thanks, for sharing,
    DeeDee 😉


  2. I agree with you on this one. Has a better reputation than it deserves. It seems with the popularity of noir increasing every year that people are trying to propel substandard works into a more elevated position. This film kept popping up on my radar the last few years. I heard and read many noir enthusiasts praising Cry Danger. I found the overall worth of the film to be lacking.


  3. The problem with this review is that the author evalutes the film on how it didn’t meet a genre that wasn’t widely defined at the time the film was made. The categorization of films considered to be “film noir” has largely been done in retrospect. Is there any evidence that director Parrish ever intended to make “Cry Danger” as anything other than as one of the crime dramas that were so popular at the time? Today some classify it as noir and some don’t. Hey, if one doesn’t like it they just don’t like it and that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. I find it a lot of fun to watch–the dialogue cracks me up. For me it’s a great example of an enjoyable low budget movie of the time.


  4. Thanks LB for your comment. I am arguing with the view (expressed by others such as Eddie Muller and Foster Hirsch) that it is a film noir. My critique is not based so much on a lack of ‘noirness’ but on the movie’s cinematic weaknesses.


  5. …On a personal note…I don’t think it’s a matter of what both authors Eddie [Muller] and [Foster] Hirsch, think…(Well, it do, but not as much…)
    Well, as much as it seems a “consensus” have been reached that the 1951 film Cry Danger is considered a film noir.

    (Which of course mean that you don’t have to agree with this consensus neither…I’am just pointing out that several film noir aficionados and novices alike think that this film fit into the category of a film noir.)

    I have also reached the conclusion that Cry Danger is or should be considered a film noir. Because it appears to have some Of the “key” elements.

    For instance, a person over there on yahoo used the following word to describe the elements of film noir…

    “Film noir emerged from a time of political instability and war (WWII and The Cold War) and so very much the underlying themes portrayed in film noir are those that reflected the mood of that time: repressed insecurity; paranoia and suspicion.The setting is usually a rainy, poorly lit, crime infested city filled with tension, constant danger, dread, anxiety and mysterious goings on…”

    Once again, on a personal note, I feel that some of these elements are presence in the 1951 film Cry Danger starring Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming.

    However, I have to disagree with the commenter and say that I think film noir emerged long before WWII and The Cold War.



  6. By the way, how very apropos…that my first post would be under your review of the film Cry Danger
    Because I plan to donate a lobby card that feature actors Dick Powell, William Conrad, Regis Toomey and actress Rhonda Fleming, to the FNF later this week.

    I can’t hardly, wait for the film to be released on DVD with authors Eddie Muller and/or Foster Hirsch’s commentary.

    Tony, nice new Diggs! After I recovered from my initial shock! of your dark background being replaced with a white background…I reached the conclusion that you, want to “shine a light” on the dark world of…film noir.
    Thanks, or as the French would say…Merci Beaucoup!
    DeeDee 😉 🙂


  7. Tony, here goes a Pdf version with larger print…
    Film noir consensus 2010

    It appears that…
    Panorama of American Film Noir 1941-1953 (Translated by Hammond, ’02)…is the only author/book that agree that the [Powell/Fleming] vehicle isn’t a film noir.


  8. Welcome back DeeDee. Long-time no see. Thanks for your comment. Thanks also for your feedback on the new theme.

    Firstly, I didn’t say it wasn’t noir. The subheading was “about as noir as white coffee” – diluted noir – elements of noir in the script but the gestalt is lacking – no punch.


  9. Interesting discussion. I myself am in an unusual position with regard to this film: I actually love CRY DANGER, find it fascinating and deep, have seen it several times… BUT… I too would not classify it as “true noir.”

    For one thing, Powell’s film has something you’ll never find in a true film noir: an amazingly convinced moral center.

    Notice how Rocky Mulloy, the main character, is never actually motivated by personal revenge– in spite of the fact that virtually ALL the summaries you see persisit in calling this a “revenge thriller.” A close viewing will bear out that Rocky is first motivated by a desire to clear his own and buddy Danny’s reputations, and even when he finds out he was betrayed he still does not seek “revenge” so much as Justice. Sam Spade would NEVER have taken the turn Rocky does at the end of this film, and he certainly would have taken advantage of Rhonda Fleming’s character even if he did send her up the river. Indeed that is precisely what Spade does in FALCON.

    I actually think CRY DANGER was a twist on the entire film noir genre. It is sunnier and funnier for a reason. The amazing script by Bill Bowers fascinates me more every time I watch it.

    So yeah… great movie. But debatably NOT a film noir.

    Just sayin’.


  10. I think that sometimes what we are all missing is the big picture.

    At the beginning of WWII the New York Times tagged an assortment of comparable themed films that were released by Hollywood as belonging to a “red meat crime cycle” (before French critics coined the term Film Noir), in retrospect it was probably the more realistic catch all term for the films we all love. Let me explain.

    I was just searching the available catalog of streaming films on Netflix and came across an interesting/intriguing title Confidence Girl (1952), never heard of it and gave it a go.

    Here is a brief review:

    Director: Andrew L. Stone, Writers: Andrew L. Stone (screenplay), Andrew L. Stone (story)
    Stars: Tom Conway, Hillary Brooke, and Eddie Marr.

    It starts off as a typical police procedural with a brief introductory spiel by a Los Angeles police official warning against the confidence game, then proceeds to tell the case of Mary Webb (Brooke) and her association with Roger Kingsley (Conway).

    This was one intricately plotted film that starts off with a nice twist following Webb and her associates through various cons, culminating in an elaborate phony mentalist night club act.

    Hillary Brooke looks great and does a convincing turn as Webb, Tom Conway (George Sander’s brother) is her equal. Very similar to The Sting, but in my opinion even better, check it out for yourselves. 8/10

    Its not stylistically Noir at all but its very good and definitely a part of that “Red Meat Crime Cycle” of films that would be part of the Crime Genre.

    So again, I think “Red Meat Crime Cycle” is a good catch all generic name that embraces say The Big Steal (1949), The Sellout (1952), Cry Danger (1951), The Naked City (1948), and other films that are exceptional but not filmed with Noir “stylistics”.

    It would be a shame to neglect them on a technicality.


  11. Thanks Ray. I have been in noir withdrawal for the past few months – until it pulls me back down into the shadows again. This is useful in as far as a break gives a fresh perspective.

    I see what you are saying, and I am not necessarily writing off a segment of crime movies because they don’t fit my (peculiar?) perspective on film noir. That is part of the fascination of noir. Finding yet another forgotten or neglected b-movie that widens the canon.

    Straight-up your write-up makes me want to check out Confidence Girl. So to cut to the chase, I agree with you -:)

    I will give Cry Danger another shot, and see what I can find “inside the frame”.

    Great to have you contribution. Tony


  12. I’m coming around to this view, we have have this:


    With two obvious visual poles


    Films Noir to Soleil, films of the sun, those sun baked, filled with light Noirs, and all the spectrum between, with your typical alienated and obsessive characters, that also run in quality from excellent to poor on a vertical axis, think say on the Noir Pole the difference between The Crooked Way (excellent) and Storm Warning (eh)

    On the Soleil Pole, Detour, Jeopardy, & The Hitch-Hiker (good to excellent) and say the The Scarf (eh).

    In the Middle you have the rest.


  13. …continued

    Something like this graphic:


    \ /
    \ /
    \ /

    The upward ends of the “U” shape story line signifying more noir-ish characteristics. The
    straight line on top dark to light.


  14. I have to admit I only wanted to watch this for Rhonda Fleming (so sue me!) and went through thick and thin to find a quality copy. I was only 10 minutes into the film when I started to ask myself if even the lovely Rhonda was worth me sitting through the whole thing. I couldn’t decide, so let my sleeping habits decide for me. And sure enough, by half way, I was already in Lalaland.


  15. I should add I’m a noir newbie so you won’t get any highly technical cinematic jargon or abstract analogies. I’ll leave that up to you guys, as I don’t think there’s anything wrong in a layman’s opinion once in a while as an audience perspective.
    Having said that, I just wanted to elaborate a bit on my last post and say that the reason I was turned off after 10 minutes was mainly two things:
    Dick Powell didn’t seem into it. And if Dick’s not convinced by the script, how the hall are we expected to be.
    And secondly, it lost it’s noir factor/mystery for me when every dame that entered the screen started swooning over Rocky like a scene from Last Man On Earth, or a bad James Bond remake. I was swearing at Robert Parrish (the director) “Damn dude, was that really necessary after all the trouble I went through to find this.” I still don’t know how it finishes, so maybe need to go back to it, just out of respect.


    1. Hi Rick. Welcome to Your take is as worthy as any other, “expert” or not, and one I can agree with. I found the film underwhelming, and not up to the hype surrounding its restoration by the Film Noir Foundation. Thanks for joining the conversation. Tony


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