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Produced by Irwin Allen, Dangerous Mission (1954) was a low-budget programmer for RKO Radio Pictures, but in a hint of what was to come from the future "Master of Disaster," it squeezed in several well executed scenes of avalanches, forest fires, steep glacier cliffs, and sparking electrical live wires. The movie opens with the after-hours gangland shooting of a man playing "One for My Baby" on the piano in an empty New York nightclub. Unfortunately for the killer, a woman has witnessed the shooting she screams and flees the scene. Following this opening, we are introduced to Matt Hallett (Victor Mature), who drives into Glacier National Park in Montana. He checks into a large resort hotel in the Park and meets a variety of hotel workers and other guests. Among them are photographer Paul Adams (Vincent Price), Mary Tiller (Betta St. John), a Native American woman working in the gift shop, and cashier Louise Graham (Piper Laurie). Park Ranger Joe Parker (William Bendix) keeps watch as the main characters - and the viewer - sort out each other's true motives and identities. Ultimately the assassin sent to silence the witness-in-hiding sparks a chase which leads to treacherous cliffs in the glaciers of the Park.
Dangerous Mission was filmed in 3-D, and many of the effects shots lose something when viewed "flat." In one scene, Mature brazenly subdues a live wire that has been severed during an avalanche. The wire wriggles about shooting sparks, as Mature (or his stuntman) vaults over it and climbs a pole to disable it; while the scene plays well, it was probably doubly exciting to those seeing it on the big screen while wearing Polaroid glasses. The film also features several wonderful Technicolor location shots, especially towards the final act as the principal characters are approaching the glacier setting. Shot in the bright outdoors with an eye toward layered compositions, these sequences must have been knockouts when viewed in stereo.
In an interview with Herb Fagen, supporting player Walter Reed discussed working on location at Glacier National Park, and having "a whole lot of fun doing it." The company stayed in cabins at the Park; Reed shared a room with Dennis Weaver, who also played a Park Ranger. Reed said "Victor [Mature] was in the next room, but he didn't have a shower or bath tub. I told him I'd leave the door unlocked from our side, and when he wanted to take a shower he could go in there. Well, soon he was not only showering, he was using my razor and other things. I said, 'Victor, when you get to my toothbrush I'm going to close the door and lock it!'"
Time Magazine wrote that "Dangerous Mission is a misguided tour of Glacier National Park in which the public inspects such unnatural phenomena as a studio glacier, a special-effects forest fire, an avalanche in miniature and Victor Mature." The review emphasizes a blooper, saying "...Laurie takes a bad fall off a cliff. Bouncy little Piper bounces back, only to take another tumble into a crevasse where Price lies dying interminably in shaved ice. As she shivers on a frigid shelf above the killer, the audience shivers in sympathy. But Piper, as the camera reveals when Victor hauls her out on a hawser, needs no sympathy to keep her warm. She is wearing snuggies."
Dangerous Mission was the eighth film for young actress Piper Laurie, and the first that she made away from her home studio, Universal. Laurie had been under contract with Universal since the age of 17; her film debut was Louisa (1950), starring Ronald Reagan. Dangerous Mission at RKO was an early dramatic role for the actress Universal seemed to waste her talents in lightweight parts in comedies such as Francis Goes to the Races (1951) and costume pictures (Son of Ali Baba, 1952). Laurie would eventually be properly utilized in such powerful dramatic supporting roles as Paul Newman's crippled girlfriend in The Hustler (1961) and Sissy Spacek's crazed mother in the thriller Carrie (1976).
Irwin Allen's only film prior to Dangerous Mission was the Groucho Marx/William Bendix comedy A Girl in Every Port (1952). His next film would be The Animal World (1956), which collected stock footage along with a newly-produced dinosaur sequence created by effects legends Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen. In 1957, the producer finally created the first of what we think of as an "Irwin Allen movie" - The Story of Mankind (1957), featuring an amazing array of guest stars including Peter Lorre as Nero, Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc, Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton, Dennis Hopper as Napoleon, and Vincent Price as The Devil to list only a few. Allen went on to specialize in all-star Event movies, often with a science-fiction or fantasy slant, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961). Allen moved his brand of juvenile science fiction to television, and produced hit shows for 20th Century Fox such as Lost in Space (1965-1968), The Time Tunnel (1966-1967), and Land of the Giants (1968-1970). He returned to feature films in a big way with The Poseidon Adventure (1972), continuing his penchant for putting a variety of familiar faces in constant peril.
Producer: Irwin Allen
Director: Louis King
Screenplay: Charles Bennett, W.R. Burnett, Horace McCoy (also story), James Edmiston (story)
Music: Roy Webb
Cinematography: William E. Snyder
Editing: Frederic Knudtson, Gene Palmer
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Walter E. Keller
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera, John Sturtevant
Visual Effects: Harold E. Wellman
Cast: Victor Mature (Matt Hallett), Piper Laurie (Louise Graham), William Bendix (Ranger Joe Parker), Vincent Price (Paul Adams), Betta St. John (Mary Tiller), Harry Cheshire (Mr. Elster), Steve Darrell (Katoonai Tiller), Walter Reed (Ranger Dobson), Dennis Weaver (clerk).
by John M. Miller