Saturday, October 31, 2009

WHERE DANGER LIVES/TENSION (RKO 1950/ MGM 1949) Warner Home Video

Warner Home Video unleashes two more noir thrillers, one made at RKO, the other at MGM with their Classic Film Noir Collection Double Feature Series. Director John Farrow’s Where Danger Lives (1950) is a bit of brooding nonsense that pits one of noir’s iconic leading men, Robert Mitchum against a heap of trouble attractively embodied in the form of Faith Domergue.

The screenplay by Charles Bennett is desperately plying the conventional wisdom of the suspense thriller, though arguably without the intense scrutiny to know when to use more restraint than pulp to get each plot point across. The story opens with noble doctor Jeff Cameron (Mitchum) saving the life of attempted suicide victim, Margo Lannington (Domergue).

Cameron is sweet on nurse, Julie Dorn (Maureen O’Sullivan) for about thirty seconds; until Margo’s poisonous venom seeps into his consciousness and thereafter takes over entirely his every thought. Through a series of nightclub liaisons Margo and Jeff become intimate. She confesses – or rather, lies – to Jeff about the maniacal tendencies of her rich but controlling husband, Frederick (Claude Rains).

Tragically, Jeff believes Margo’s every word, leading to a confrontation between him and Frederick at Margo’s stately home. Jeff accidentally murders Frederick in a brawl but not before Frederick manages to give Jeff a concussion that will most likely lead to his slipping into a deadly coma. Margo packs Jeff in to her car and together the two make a break for the Mexican border, along the way running into all sorts of blockades that threaten to send both of them to prison. Where Danger Lives isn’t particularly engaging entertainment.

Mitchum is doing his best drowsy-eyed, devil-may-care and to hell with the world take on life that made him so right for noir suspense thrillers. But he’s hampered by an ineffectual and wildly inconsistent performance from Faith Domergue; part Audrey Totter/part Jane Greer – neither wholly convincing. The inimitable Claude Rains is wasted in the thankless part of the bitter hubby. Still, there is Nicholas Musuracas’cinematography to revel in, as well as Eda Warren’s swift editing of the chase sequences that ad a spark of brilliance to the proceedings.

Much more satisfying on every level is director John Berry’s B-movie, Tension (1949); an acidic and capable minor noir that stars the now largely forgotten Richard Basehart as Warren Quimby. Warren is a milquetoast pharmacist doing his best to live up to the impossible expectations of his sexually ruthless and utterly emasculating wife, Claire (Audrey Totter).


It seems Claire wants it all; danger, sex and money – none of which Warren is able to provide. Hooking up with tough guy, Barney Deager (Lloyd Gough), Claire leaves Warren for Barney’s beach house only to be tailed by Warren. In the resulting confrontation, Barney beats Warren to a pulp, leaving Warren with just one option: to plot Barney’s murder.

Adopting the name Paul Sothern, Warren moves into a nearby seaside apartment where he meets aspiring photographer, Mary Chandler (Cyd Charisse). After breaking into Barney’s beach house, Warren has second thoughts about killing him. Instead, he holds a sharp poker to Barney’s throat until Barney wakes up – then, confronts Barney with a two fold revelation: first, that Claire is probably out on the prowl for her next love interest and second, that all of Barney’s brute strength is for not against Warren’s own cunning that has led to this moment where he could so easily stab Barney to death if he so chooses.

Leaving Barney to contemplate his own insignificance, Warren returns to Mary to pursue a romantic relationship. But Claire has other ideas – especially since she has just murdered Barney herself and plans to pin the crime on Warren to escape prosecution. But neither Warren nor Claire plan on the estate powers of deduction of Police Ltn. Collier Bonnabel (Barry Sullivan). Pitting Claire and Warren against one another and revealing to Mary Warren’s true identity, Collier pulls no punches in coaxing an inevitable confession from the guilty party.

Tension is nail-biting good fun; its cast all working at top speed to ensure finely wrought performances throughout. Basehart is a natural at this sort of characterization; as proven by his other outstanding turns in such noir classics as 14 Hours and The House on Telegraph Hill. In Tension, he successfully balances his performance between the Egbert chemist and suave traveling salesman – the henpecked hubby eventually giving way to a manlier mate for the voluptuous Mary. Totter is perfection too; the very embodiment of sinful repulsiveness. Barry Sullivan makes a winning detective. It’s a wonder he never did more sleuthing in other movies or on television. In the final analysis, Tension generates plenty of it with a fitting conclusion to boot.

Warner Home Video has housed both films on a single sided disc. Nevertheless, image quality does not seem to have been compromised. Both films exhibit similar tonality, sharpness and clarity with Tension marginally crisper than Where Danger Lives. The gray scale on both films is well balanced. Fine details are generally evident. Age related artifacts appear more prominently on Where Danger Lives than Tension. Both films exhibit several lapses in overall sharpness with more than an acceptable amount of film grain evident in several scenes. Minor edge enhancement and shimmering of fine details is also evident throughout both features.

The audio is mono as original recorded and quite adequate for both presentations. In addition to providing two separate and comprehensive audio commentaries (one for each film) Warner Home Video also provides us with two featurettes on the films in which various noir and film historians briefly wax about the finer points of the genre in general and each film in particular. Theatrical trailers are also included. Recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
Where Danger Lives 3
Tension 4

VIDEO/AUDIO
3.5

EXTRAS
1.5

No comments: