There are times that I think I’d like to live in Sea Cliff, the ultra expensive San Francisco oceanside community where you’ll find luminaries like Robin Williams. I do live in the city, and actually have an ocean view, but not one from a multi-million dollar house.
Then I remember noirs like Where Danger Lives (1950) and The Man Who Cheated Himself (also 1950) and figure “exclusive” is just another word for “nut case.” In Noir City, Sea Cliff is a synonym for too much money, too much power, and too much in-breeding.
Case in point: Where Danger Lives. My subtitle for WDL is “Never Date a Suicide.” Even if she looks like Faith Domergue, or maybe especially when she looks like Faith Domergue. But hey — if you can picture Mitchum as a doctor (and not for the first time — he played one in My Forbidden Past (1951) and She Couldn’t Say No (1954) — maybe you will also believe that Domergue’s character tried to kill herself because she was gorgeous and rich and lonely. Me, I think one of the things money can buy is company.
So the doctor gets suckered, but good, and there’s a terrific little scene that looks like it was filmed at one of the Trader Vics or the Tonga Room at the Fairmont. OK, I admit it, I’ve got a weakness for tiki noir. The dame’s “father” just won’t let her enjoy her freedom. Still Mitchum doesn’t get it. His eyes are dazzled by Domergue’s assets and whatever he’s sipping in that coconut shell.
Disillusionment follows and it looks like Claude Rains. I wish disillusionment always looked like Claude Rains; I love the guy. He gives a bravura (and all too brief) performance, absolutely pitch perfect (and I mean it–the movie is worth watching for his scene alone), as Domergue’s husband. The only daddy giving her trouble uses a first name of Sugar.
The rest of the film is a suspenseful trip into low and lower life, the kind of predators that take advantage of you when you’re on the run with a beautiful dame who tells you you murdered her husband. There’s a race against time before Mitchum, the good young doctor who took a hard fall for Domergue, knows he’s going to literally fall down from a concussion. He’s better off with the headache, trust me.
Like any really good noir, the supporting cast is terrific. Phillip Van Zandt, who plays the smooth club owner in His Kind of Woman the next year (part-noir, part Vincent Price comedy) is a sleazy circus owner, Ralph Dumke is a crooked pawn shop dealer (are there other kinds?), and Tol Avery turns in a memorable bit as Honest Hal, Used Cars. If you want to know whether you’re watching a noir, look for Honest Hal. He’s a noir barometer, and only shows up when it’s truly dark.
Ably assisting Mitchum is Maureen O’Sullivan as a sympathetic nurse/love interest. She wears a mask for much of the movie, and unfortunately looks old enough to be Mitchum’s mother. But watch what she does with just her eyes (when a mask is covering the rest of her) for a lesson in good acting. The film, incidentally, was well directed by her husband John Farrow (yes, father of Mia).
Where Danger Lives is available on DVD, so queue it up for Netflix — it’s a keeper, even if Domergue isn’t. He shoulda known not to fall for a jumper.
On another note, Charlton Heston passed away last night at the age of 84. Unfortunately, he may be remembered more for his politics than his performance in Touch of Evil, which is how I like to remember him. Sure, he played Moses and Michaelangelo and Ben-Hur and maybe even thought of himself as the Almighty. But Welles elicited a powerful performance from Heston as a Mexican cop in Touch of Evil, and the film — as baroque and stylized as Welles himself — is an absolute triumph (on my top ten list, no less).
Watch this film carefully for the bull-fighting imagery … Orson plays the bovine to Heston’s matador. And like another great director, Hitchcock, he cast Heston precisely because of that upright, stiff quality that ’50s epic used with such felicity.
Touch of Evil is so great that I can forgive Heston the extremism of his later years. Whether or not I can forgive him for The Omega Man is another story. But hey–maybe he made up for that one with Soylent Green.