‘Cry Danger’ (1951)

Aside from its tight, fast construction, William Bowers' script is all snappy dialogue.

Former crooner Dick Powell, now working the tough-guy beat, plays Rocky Mulloy. He was sent up for a robbery/murder he didn’t commit, and he’s just been sprung from a life sentence after five years. The ex-Marine who provided his alibi is on the make for some of that stolen cash, so he’s disappointed that Rocky’s innocent. Rocky looks up Nancy (Rhonda Fleming), an old flame married to a buddy still imprisoned for the same robbery. Rocky and Nancy are still stuck on each other, even though she’s “out of bounds”. Most of all, Rocky hounds Castro (William Conrad, in several wonderful scenes of humiliation), a scuzzball responsible for his woes. Rocky’s driven, angry, sledge-hammer approach is indirectly responsible for getting a quasi-innocent party killed.

Such is Cry Danger, an independent B-film from the middle of the film noir years. Aside from its tight, fast construction, William Bowers’ script is all snappy dialogue. Everyone is wounded, hard-bitten, world-weary, all working their own angle and ready for sex and booze. Richard Erdman gets a lot of the best lines as an alcoholic veteran with a wooden leg, evidently hollow. On drinking early in the day: “When you drink as much as I do, you’ve got to start early.” When he says that only the blind can truly see, Rocky says he’s only half-blind and he replies, “I’ll fix that.” Later he wants to sue the police department for a new leg, “in piney wood to match my den”.

Director Robert Parrish seems motivated by the budget to stage everything simply and precisely in low-rent milieus, as shot by Joseph F. Biroc at real Los Angeles locations, especially the Bunker Hill neighborhood. (At a shoot-out, police cars say Angels Flight, referring to the hillside train and environs.) The black and white photography is in sharp deep focus, giving us a few ravishing vistas behind people’s heads; I wanted to zoom in and start looking through store windows. The opening credits mention a title song with lyrics, but I never heard anyone sing it.

The print says the film was “preserved” by the UCLA Film & TV Archive and Film Noir Foundation; the package says “restored”. Whatever happened, it looks good on the Blu-Ray from Olive Films. From its paranoid opening to its sad little wrap-up, this picture is possibly a routine example of classic noir, but it’s a swell routine.

RATING 7 / 10