You don’t often find noir that is just plain bad. Noir has a formula and conventions, and not every testing of that formula yields gold but it’s hard to get coal outright. Where Danger Lives contains a polished pedigree with Robert Mitchum and Claude Rains, even B-list actress Faith Domergue isn’t awful, but Charles Bennett’s script doesn’t give us any danger and contains a bizarre series of ironic, comical jokes and a laughable series of escalating complications.
Jeff Cameron (Mitchum) is a doctor who saves the life of Margo (Domergue), a woman who’s attempted suicide. The two start a romance, only for Jeff to realize Margo is married to controlling millionaire Mr. Lannington (Rains). When Lannington ends up dead, Jeff and Margo go on the run. But Margo isn’t who she seems and Jeff is suffering a deadly concussion.
Where Danger Lives desperately wants to be a cool kid in the noir game, a la Out of the Past (1947) or Notorious (1946). Both influences are keenly felt, with Mitchum playing another Jeff seduced by a dame pretending to be an innocent. Said dame is even married to an older man, played by Rains. Unfortunately, the rushed courtship doesn’t exactly bond us to their plight. A scant, 82-minute runtime keeps everything moving as quickly as can be at the expense of character development. Margo arrives after attempting suicide and in their first meeting the two agree on a date. Who’d have thunk trying to kill yourself was better than going to a bar? Almost immediately, Jeff and Margo are ready to run off together. There’s no history of their relationship, short of them mentioning how they talked on “other nights,” so I guess they realized their love off-screen.
But where the danger lives (and dies) is its generic feel, forcing the script to tack on increasingly ridiculous odds to beat such as Jeff’s concussion. I’m no doctor, but was there a time where concussions were deemed an immediate, albeit time delayed, death sentence leading to paralysis, fogged memory and poor decision making? Is this guy a doctor or Judith Traherne? You could say much of this washes away the plot’s problems, forcing us to see Jeff’s poor decisions as proof of his concussion, but it’s all so funny with modern knowledge about head injuries. Furthermore, his head injury isn’t an issue by story’s end because he ends up in a hospital. The way Jeff talked, no doctor could save him!
The script plays around with convention a bit, having Margo and Jeff stay on the run of their own accord. Every time they believe the police want to talk to them or the roads are blocked it’s later found out to have nothing to do with them, showing the selfishness of noir characters who believe everything revolves around them. If Jeff and Margo stopped to be rational and own up to their responsibility, they probably wouldn’t be in the predicament they’re in. However, because Jeff and Margo are so underwritten, their actions aren’t ironic, just stupid.
Mitchum has this role down to a T, but his performance is so passive it comes off like he’s sleeping. It’s easy to believe a woman would throw her life away for him, but he doesn’t have any “Baby, I don’t care” moment and it leaves him rather muted. Claude Rains made easy money as Mr. Lannington with less than five minutes of screentime. He inhabites the same character he played in Notorious, right down to admiring Margo for “her youth.” It’s easy to see how Margo and his relationship would have been no different than with Ingrid Bergman – other than that movie being better. Faith Domergue, a Skid Row Hedy Lamarr, lacks the power of manipulation Jane Greer had. You don’t buy her innocence nor do you believe Domergue could keep a man like Mitchum under her thumb without the concussion. You’re also surprised to hear Maureen O’Sullivan is in this – though considering she was director John Farrow’s wife, it isn’t – because she spends her 20 minutes on-screen auditioning for the Twilight Zone’s “Eye of the Beholder” episode, talking constantly with a surgical mask over her mouth and nose.
Danger definitely doesn’t live here anymore, if it ever did. This is a B-level programmer without any discernible danger or suspense. If you enjoy Mitchum, Rains, or Domergue it’s a quick time waster but terrible noir.
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