Monday, April 11, 2016

High Sierra/On Dangerous Ground

High Sierra
On Dangerous Ground
TCM viewings

So the common denominator in both High Sierra and On Dangerous Ground is actress-director Ida Lupino. (That, and they both end with dudes falling off of mountains.) TCM devoted a day to her last week and I took advantage of it to watch a couple of her films as an actress. Alas, I wasn't able to check out any of her directorial efforts that day. I'd like to at some point.

I'd seen Sierra before. It still holds up - although in watching it again, something new occurred to me. It seemed odd that Bogey's character is pushing Lupino, who's totally devoted to him and wants to be with him, away on the one hand, talking about how dangerous his life is and how he can't take the chance that she might get hurt and all that, while at the same time he's thinking about settling down and playing house with that younger girl with the club foot. (Was she supposed to be younger than Lupino? She seemed that way.) Maybe it was unrealistic for Bogey to even think about marrying someone so young and innocent. I kinda wish that aspect had been played up a little bit more. As it is, I hadn't thought about it before, so it was nice to find something new in this movie.

That dog was certainly loyal to Bogey, wasn't he? Maybe it's because I never had a pet of my own growing up, but I always find it a bit suspect whenever a dog in a movie does all these amazing things out of loyalty to its master. I might be able to buy the dog following Bogey and Lupino driving down the road, but having it climb up the mountain just to be with Bogey before the police get him seemed a bit much (although apparently that was Bogey's real-life dog). To director Raoul Walsh's credit, however, it's not done in a cutesy way, which I appreciate. And I did like the dog otherwise.

And now, a few fun facts about Mount Whitney, the California mountain from the movie. It stands at a height of 14,505 feet, biggest in the continental US. Sequoia National Park lies at its western slope. I have been to Sequoia, when I was little, and it was pretty awesome, though I don't think we went anywhere near Mount Whitney. The Palute Indians, in their language, called the mountain Tumanguya, or "the very old man." The park rangers won't let you hike up there without a permit because so many people hike it on a regular basis. Walsh gets some terrific shots of Whitney and the surrounding Sierra Nevada area. I liked the car chase through the winding roads leading up to the mountain.

Ground was another movie Paddy recommended, but sad to say, I was not that thrilled with this one. For one thing, Lupino doesn't even appear until almost halfway through the movie, despite getting top billing. The real star is Robert Ryan, who plays a cop on the trail of a killer in the north country. Ryan encounters Lupino, who may or may not be harboring the killer. Ryan's really sick and tired of the violence surrounding his profession, the kind inflicted by himself as well as others, even though he's been a cop for over eleven years and you would think if he was that sensitive, he would've chosen a different career. But let's say the job made him this way.

The first half of Ground is a rollicking crime thriller, with Ryan going all Dirty Harry on dudes. I liked the idea of him being uncomfortable with violence even though he has to use it himself, and I would've liked to have seen this angle pushed a lot harder. But then they get to Lupino's house, and the action slows down considerably. Ryan tries to get her to tell him where the killer is and she won't say one way or another and they talk and talk about loneliness and stuff like that and did I mention that Lupino's character is blind? Ground felt like two different movies, and I preferred the first half.

Director Nicholas Ray does have some good cinematography. In addition to the location shots of the snowy terrain, there's some Gun Crazy-type shots from the back seat of a car on actual city streets and country roads, and even a tiny bit of hand-held action for a fleeting moment! Also, there are a few blurry, half-lit images meant to represent Lupino's perspective which don't do anything for the story, but were a nice bit of experimentation nonetheless - for 1951, anyway. According to IMDB, Lupino stepped into the director's chair for a few days when Ray was sick. One wonders which images are hers...


  1. Something about "High Sierra" always kept it from my full admiration and I think you hit the nail on the head in that it has to do with the Marie vs. Velma subplot. I think Walsh handled it better in his remake, "Colorado Territory". The outstanding thing about "High Sierra" for me is the performance of Donald MacBride as the dying criminal mastermind, Big Mac. MacBride usually plays cops of the dumb flatfoot variety and here he gets a chance to show that he is more than an expert at the slow burn.

    Most people I know are divided on "On Dangerous Ground" and where the dividing line is, they don't like where things from the first half ended up. When you need a break from your novel, how about giving us a story about Jim Wilson and where you see him going from here. Inspiration can even be found in an unsatisfying cinematic experience.

  2. See, I think Bogey comes across as a much more tragic figure this way, being blind to true love when it's right in front of him while at the same time pursuing a romance which is improbable at the very least, given his criminal lifestyle, and built on a lie to boot. Perhaps one day I'll check out the remake and see how different it is.

    IMDB says Ryan and Lupino don't get together in Ray's original ending, but he's at peace with himself. I can buy that more than the ending we got. Further speculation on that ending would require some deep thought and a second viewing.


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