Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

On Dangerous Ground (1951)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

On Dangerous Ground (1951)

In Nicholas Ray's classic, black and white, noirish rogue-cop drama, with a memorable, bold and moody Bernard Herrmann score:

  • the portrayal of embittered, repressed, sadistic, violently-brutal and relentless veteran, urban NYC cop Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan), a lonely, hardened workaholic bachelor living by himself in a tenement apartment; in one of his first encounters during a night patrol, a flirtatious underaged teen prostitute propositioned him: "Hello, junior. How's about buying me a drink? I'm all dry" - but he was disgusted by her
  • Wilson's partner Bill "Pop" Daly (Charles Kemper) noted how Wilson was becoming more difficult to work with: "He's sore, all right. All we ever see is crooks, murderers, winos, stoolies, dames. All with an angle. You get so you think everybody's like that. Till you find out different, it's kind of a lonely life... Jim just takes it harder than the rest of us"
  • in a frightening scene, after bursting into a grungy Harbor Hotel waterfront room and threatening a low-life thug Bernie Tucker (Richard Irving), sado-masochistic cop Wilson insisted that he be left alone to viciously beat him up to force him to betray his criminal partners Mushy Castro and Gordy Miller, two cop-killers; Wilson shouted with a hint of self-arousal and compulsiveness: "You're gonna make me crack you, aren't you?...Why do you make me do it? You know you're gonna talk! I'm gonna make you talk! I always make you punks talk! Why do you do it? Why? Why?"; his partner "Pop" questioned his meanness: "What's the matter with you, Jim?"
  • Police Captain Brawley (Ed Begley) chided and reprimanded Wilson for his brutality and violent vigilante tendencies toward Bernie Tucker who had suffered a ruptured bladder (and subsequently his lawyer threatened a civil suit): "You let yourself get out of hand...Another deal like this, and you know what it means...Take it easy"; Wilson was threatened with being removed from the force
  • after the warning, shortly later, Wilson pursued and beat up another 'goon' who was caught murdering female informer in an alleyway, gangster moll Myrna Bowers (Cleo Moore) - Wilson's partner "Pop" reminded him of his jeopardized position: "You know what Brawley told you when he put you back on the job. What are you trying to do? Get thrown off the force?"; Wilson portrayed his frustration with his job: "Okay, so I get thrown off the force. What kind of a job is this anyway? Garbage - that's all we handle, garbage"
  • Wilson asked how "Pop" coped with the lonely profession: "How do you do it? How do you live with yourself?"; "Pop" replied: "I don't. I live with other people"; "Pop" chided Wilson for his personal brutality: "When I go home, I don't take this stuff with me. I leave it outside. But you, the way you carry it around inside, you must like it. Maybe you think that makes you a good cop. The way you're goin', you won't be good to anybody. Not even yourself! Somebody had to tell ya. To get anything out of life, you gotta put something in it. From the heart"
Thug Bernie Tucker
(Richard Irving)
To Bernie Before Beating Him Up: "Why do you make me do it?"
Wilson: "Garbage - that's all we handle, garbage"
"What are you trying to do? Get thrown off the force?"
  • for being unruly, acting as "judge, jury and executioner," and for 11 years on the job as a "gangster with a badge," Brawly reassigned (or banished) Wilson to an upstate NY investigation in the wintry, rural northern community and mountain town of Westham: the sexually-induced murder (after a rape and knifing) of Sally Brent, a teenaged girl whose body was left on the side of the road; Wilson was paired with the victim's vengeful, vigilante father Walter Brent (Ward Bond) who wielded a shotgun [Note: Brent was Wilson's own raging mirror-image]
  • upon meeting Wilson who was asking lots of questions, Brent threatened to kill the murderer by himself without any judicial process: "You ain't gonna ask no questions. We've asked them all and we know the answers. It was my kid. And it's gonna be my gun that takes care of him when we get him...I'll get him, don't you worry. And when I do, there won't be any of your city stuff. No fancy trials. No sob sisters. I'm just gonna empty this shotgun in his belly. Anybody tries to stop me will get the same thing"
  • the manhunt by Brent and Wilson through deep snow led them to the remote cabin of kind, tolerant, self-sacrificing, loving, extremely evasive and blind Mary Malden (Ida Lupino) - she later revealed that she was protective of her mentally-ill and unstable, immature brother Danny (Sumner Williams) - the prime murder suspect, and he was hiding in a storm cellar; she feared he would either be killed by Brent or captured and incarcerated in an institution
  • after becoming acquainted with Wilson and feeling his face to get to know him ("You can tell a lot of things about a person from his name. And his voice too. If only I could really see you. If I could be sure. You can't make me tell you. I don't have to (tell you)... where he is"), she entreated him to protect her brother: "My brother's name is Danny. I know he has to be caught. But if Brent catches him, he'll kill him. With you, he'd be safe. Please, promise me he'll be safe. Danny isn't like other people. Sometimes he's all right, other times he's...I knew something terrible had happened. I want to do what's best for him. Anything I can to help him. He's my brother. But I don't want Brent and the others hunting him down like some animal. You'll see that they take care of him, won't you? You will, won't you? Please promise me"; all that Wilson could do was say: "As long as he's with me, nobody will hurt him. That's all I can promise...I can't promise things that aren't in my power, but I won't let him be hurt"
Touching Wilson's Face to Get to Know Him
Pleading with Wilson to Not Hurt Her Brother Danny
"As long as he's with me, nobody will hurt him. That's all I can promise"
  • the confrontation scene when Wilson came face-to-face with Danny threatening him with a knife; Wilson attempted to calm him: "I don't wanna kill you, Danny. Why would I wanna kill you?" - and he tried to persuade him that Mary wanted him to be taken away peacefully; Danny explained how Mary had denied herself an operation to restore her sight in order to stay with him and protect him ("She wouldn't go because of me"); he also admitted to the crime: "She had a blue dress. She was laughing. When she saw me, she stopped laughing. There were two of them. The other ran away. She wouldn't smile. I wanted her to smile, but she wouldn't. I tried to make her smile"; their conversation was interrupted when Brent burst in and fired his shotgun
  • the concluding scene of a chase after fugitive Danny up an icy rocky cliff and his sudden fall to his death - as Brent and Wilson looked down at the boy's body in the snow, Brent was aghast: "He's just a kid, that's all he is. Just a kid"
  • after Wilson told Mary about Danny's accidental death, she offered a tearful prayer for her dead brother: "Father, hear my prayer. Forgive him as you have forgiven all your children who have sinned. Don't turn your face from him. He didn't know what he was doing. Bring him at last to rest in your peace which he could never have found here"
  • the sentimental concluding scenes showed Wilson's growing, semi-compromising infatuation with his romantic savior Mary; although he wanted to help her now that she was alone, she stressed her independence to him and told him: ("Leave me alone! You don't have to worry about me....You're feeling sorry for me. I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me. Why don't you go? The way you are, I don't see how you can help anybody") - she bumped into items in her living room and fell to the floor, but he acquiesed to her demands and left when she insisted that he go
  • while driving back to the city, Wilson had a change of heart; he recollected Mary's voice-over: "Sometimes, people who are never alone are the loneliest. Most lonely people try to figure it out, about loneliness"; he also heard "Pop's" earlier warning: "Somebody had to tell ya. The way you're goin', you won't be good to anybody. Not even yourself! Somebody had to tell ya. To get anything out of this life, you gotta put somethin' in it. From the heart!" - he was ultimately redeemed with an awakened humanity by her when he decided to leave his self-destructive job, and drive back north to be with her
  • the final image - the two of them joined outstretched hands on the stairs in her home, in the tacked-on, upbeat ending

NYC Cop Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan) Propositioned by a Teenaged Prostitute in a Bar

Chasing the Suspect Through Deep Snow to Remote Cabin in Upper State NY

Wilson with Vigilante Father Walter Brent - Speaking to Mary: "We're lookin' for a - killer!"

Blind Mary Malden
(Ida Lupino)

Fugitive Danny, Mary's Brother, Threatening Wilson with a Knife

Danny's Fall to His Death - Brent's Reaction: "Just a kid!"

Wilson Revealing News of Danny's Death to Mary

Mary's Prayer Over Her Brother's Body

Driving Back to the City - Change of Heart

Ending: Mary's and Wilson's Outstretched Hands Joined


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