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Edge of Doom

Edge of Doom(1950)

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teaser Edge of Doom (1950)

For a film relatively forgotten today, Edge of Doom (1950) certainly has an impressive set of credentials. The film was directed by Mark Robson who, before he moved on to blockbuster hits such as Peyton Place (1957) and Valley of the Dolls (1967), was an editor and later a director of some of the eerie, stylish films in Val Lewton's acclaimed horror unit at RKO. The script was written by Philip Yordan, who in his long career worked with Nicholas Ray, Anthony Mann, William Wyler and other noted directors in a range of genres. Uncredited work on the screenplay was done by Academy Award winners Charles Brackett (Sunset Blvd., 1950) and Ben Hecht (Notorious, 1946). The evocative cinematography was the work of Harry Stradling Sr., one of the top craftsmen in his field. He is best known for a number of lavish, big-budget musicals (Guys and Dolls [1955], Gypsy [1962]) but also as the man who created the distinctive look of A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Johnny Guitar (1954).

So why has Edge of Doom been so overlooked, and why was it such a big failure in its day? Perhaps the answer can be found in one of those priceless anecdotes about the verbally colorful Samuel Goldwyn, who produced the movie. According to A. Scott Berg in his biography of Goldwyn, the producer "was chewing out his staff one day for not creating a successful advertising campaign for the film: 'I don't know what's the matter with you. This is a simple story about a boy who wants a fine funeral for his mother, so he kills a priest.' Upon hearing this own words, he suddenly grasped the fundamental problem with the movie. With his next breath he said, 'Let's not spend another dime.'

The story is certainly bleak enough, even for a film noir. Reportedly, Goldwyn's wife Frances purchased Leo Brady's book for the independent studio's young contract actor, Farley Granger, in yet another effort to transform him into a major star. Granger was cast as a poor young man who bludgeons to death the priest who refuses to give his mother a decent burial. In the tradition of tough but compassionate men of the cloth, such as those often played by Spencer Tracy or Pat O'Brien, Dana Andrews plays Father Thomas Roth, who manipulates Granger's character into confessing his crime. Despite what it called "a grim, relentless story, considerably offbeat," Variety noted that "It is played to the hilt by a good cast and directed with impact."

In his autobiography, Granger wrote that his initial excitement about the project soon turned sour as it became apparent in his eyes that the filmmakers had no idea how to handle the material. At sneak previews, the audience responded as negatively as the star. In an effort to salvage Edge of Doom, Robson went into a lengthy re-editing process, and Goldwyn brought in Ben Hecht and Charles Brackett to write framing scenes that would change the focus from the murderous young man to the good priest. In the opinion of many, this not only did little to save the picture but softened the original book's critique of organized religion and examination of the negative effects of poverty. Granger recalled that "Goldwyn expected me to go on a nationwide PR tour for the film. I'll never understand why he flogged that dead horse for as long as he did, but I wanted nothing more to do with it. I refused to do any more promotional appearances. After yet another tirade on what an ingrate I was, back on suspension I went...and back to Europe to join my friends, who were now in Rome."

Granger fared much better in his next project on loan out to Warner Brothers - Strangers on a Train (1951) for Alfred Hitchcock. Ironically, the master of suspense followed that picture with I Confess (1953), a story about a young priest falsely accused of murder who is unable to reveal the true criminal because of the sanctity of the confessional. It also bombed at the box office.

Director: Mark Robson
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay: Philip Yordan, Charles Brackett and Ben Hecht (both uncredited), from the novel by Leo Brady
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Richard Day
Original Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Dana Andrews (Father Thomas Roth), Farley Granger (Martin Lynn), Joan Evans (Rita Conroy), Robert Keith (Det. Mandel), Mala Powers (Julie)BW-99m.

by Rob Nixon

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