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From its opening scene of a doctor (Robert Mitchum) telling a bedtimestory to a little girl in an iron lung, Where Danger Lives (1950) neverquite plays by the established rules of film noir. While it relates theessential drama of wife-coaxes-lover-to-murder-husband, John Farrow's tersethriller freshens the formula with clever flourishes that make it one ofthe more memorable cases of cinematic parricide.
Instead of an ordinary insurance salesman, mechanic or detective, JeffCameron (Mitchum) is a gifted surgeon, and his temptress, Margo Lannington(Faith Domergue), is not merely diabolical but certifiably, medicallyinsane. Unfortunately, the deed is done before Mr. Lannington (ClaudeRains) can share this crucial fact with his wife's would-be lover. Thefugitive couple's turbulent rush to the Mexican border is complicated byoutlandish twists of fate more reminiscent of a playful Hitchcock film thana gritty crime thriller. In one bit of inspired irony, the couple is takeninto custody during their flight not because of the widespreadAPBs, but because Cameron doesn't have enough whiskers on his face(during a small town's "Pioneer Days" celebration). This spirit oforchestrated suspense is no doubt the contribution of screenwriter CharlesBennett, who also penned the scripts for Hitchcock's The Man Who KnewToo Much (1934), The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935) and ForeignCorrespondent (1940).
Mitchum's trademark as an actor was his lazy nonchalance, maintaining aneasy coolness even in the midst of emotional turmoil. In Where DangerLives, this quality is played to a delicious extreme, as Dr. Cameronhas a few too many Polynesian cocktails in one scene, takes a beating witha fireplace poker in another, and spends the remainder of the film growingincreasingly weary. By film's end, Mitchum is audaciously performing hismost dramatic scenes while lying semi-conscious on the floor (and clearlyloving every minute of it).
Domergue did her best to fill the histrionic void as the manipulative,deranged Margo. The actress was the highly touted discovery of RKO headHoward Hughes, who had intended to debut her talents in an extravagantcostume drama, Vendetta (1950). But as that film became plagued withcomplications and creative differences, Hughes wisely opted instead forWhere Danger Lives, a film that was more modest in scale, but farsuperior in delivering the brand of romance and thrills that audiences of1950 hungered for.
Director: John Farrow
Producer: Irwin Allen, Irving Cummings Jr.
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Leo Rosen (story)
Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca
Editor: Eda Warren
Art Direction: Ralph Berger, Albert S. D'Agostino
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Robert Mitchum (Jeff Cameron), Faith Domergue (Margo Lannington), Claude Rains (Frederick Lannington), Maureen O'Sullivan (Julie), Charles Kemper (Police Chief)
BW-81m. Closed Captioning.
by Bret Wood