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Lupino + Ryan = Noir

It’s November which means for film fans it’s #Noirvember, the month in which we celebrate the genre that audiences love to yell at improv performers, Film Noir. With perfect timing Warner Archive has released the 1952 RKO Noir “On Dangerous Ground” on blu-ray for the first time. Directed by Nicholas Ray, whose most famous for “Rebel Without a Cause,” with a score by the great Bernard Herrmann, “On Dangerous Ground” stars Noir giants Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino--who in addition to acting was a pioneering producer and director during a time when that was unheard of.  

Ryan plays New York cop Jim Wilson, a man who has become so hardened and cynical by his job he says to a thug “Why do you make me do it?” before he smashes him to a pulp. Wilson’s soul is gone. He’s seen too many criminals, too much of the dirt of humanity to have any glimmer of hope left inside of him. Jim Wilson wakes up, does his job, eats, goes to bed. However, it’s all become part of an autopilot mode where he’s essentially a shell that is going through the motions. Wilson hates himself, and he doesn’t know how to stop it, and to some degree--he embraces it. 

His superior officers, his partners all ask him “What’s gotten into you, Jim?” As a result of his recent actions of pure rage towards suspects and known petty thieves, the chief sends Jim on special assignment upstate in a rural area. A look into a brutal murder, but in a beautiful, snowy, area with hills and small Country roads. There, while in search of the killer, Jim meets a beautiful blind woman (Lupino), who might just bring him the redemption he doesn’t realize needs or wants. 

“On Dangerous Ground” is an intense and visually arresting film. At times it features the then uncommon use of handheld cameras to bring more realism to the picture. The film has a rich black and white image on blu-ray with an almost indetectable grain pattern. Warner Archive must be commended for creating a brand new 4K master for the blu-ray, scanned directly from the original nitrate camera negative--a costly task that is not simple. A DTS-HD 2.0 Mono soundtrack is presented, restored as well from the optical elements of the the same camera negative. The theatrical trailer and an audio commentary track by film historian Glenn Erickson is also included as bonus features. 

Towards the end of 2015, Warner Archive said they were going to step up their already aggressive blu-ray campaign more in 2016. They’ve lived up to that, and then some. Their efforts are to be applauded and celebrated, they are spoiling film fans left and right, with titles some thought would never see the HD treatment. “On Dangerous Ground” comes highly recommended--if you’ve never seen how stunning black and white can look on blu-ray, this film is a great place to start. Very much worth your time.


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