Cry Danger (1951) Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)

Cry Danger (1951)
March 14, 2011 - 7:30 pm
In-person: 
Screenwriter Richard Erdman; Alan K. Rode, writer, film historian.

Preservation funded by the Film Noir Foundation

Cry Danger (1951)

Directed by Robert Parrish

Olympic Productions, Inc./A Wiesenthal-Frank Production/RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. Producer: Sam Wiesenthal. Screenwriter: William Bowers, from a story by Jerome Cady. Cinematographer: Joseph F. Biroc. Editor: Bernard W. Burton. With: Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Erdman, William Conrad, Regis Toomey. 35mm, b/w, 79 min.

In his directorial debut, former editor Robert Parrish skillfully illuminates screenwriter Bill Bowers’ equally acerbic and droll Cry Danger into an underappreciated noir gem.

Even though this Jerome Cady story was originally purchased by Humphrey Bogart’s Santana Pictures, the film ended up being the only release by Olympic Productions. The tersely pitch-perfect Dick Powell portrays protagonist ex-convict Rocky Mulloy who returns to Los Angeles to find the gang that framed him for a crime he did not commit. Aided by a hard-drinking, crippled ex-marine (brilliantly realized by Richard Erdman), Mulloy sets up home-base at a Bunker Hill trailer camp that is home to his ex-girlfriend Nancy, played by the graceful Rhonda Fleming. Fleming, who was on loan from David O. Selznick’s company for this project, underwent an emergency appendectomy that initially held up the film’s very tight twenty-two day shooting schedule.

Dick Powell had already transitioned comfortably to crime dramas with the likes of Murder, My Sweet and Pitfall to name a few. The stand out performance here belongs to his cohort Erdman. The New York Times noted that the film had “sardonic lines that are tossed off most effectively by a young actor named Richard Erdman, who has been around Hollywood since 1943—just waiting for the right chance, no doubt. Cry Danger gives it to Mr. Erdman and he makes the most of it…” Jean Porter, wife of frequent noir director Edward Dmytryk, is also a standout delight as one of the several downtown Los Angeles denizens adding the equally amusing and seedy local color.

The film premiered and opened in San Francisco with Fleming scheduled to attend; unfortunately the actress’ father died and it wasn’t until years later that she finally saw the film and now considers it one of her favorites. Preservation partner and Film Noir Foundation President Eddie Muller calls it a “crackerjack crime film—short, smart, sassy, and full of surprises.”

Todd Wiener

Preserved in cooperation with Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. from two 35mm acetate composite master positives. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Film Technology Company, Inc. Special thanks to: Hal Jones, Eddie Muller, Ned Price.

Preservation funded by The Packard Humanities Institute

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950)

Directed by Gordon Douglas

Cagney Productions, Inc./Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. Producer: William Cagney. Screenwriter: Harry Brown. Cinematographer: Peverell Marley. Editors: Truman K. Wood, Walter Henneman. With: James Cagney, Barbara Payton, Helena Carter, Ward Bond, Luther Adler. 35mm, b/w, 103 min.

After his brilliantly ruthless performance in the highly successful White Heat (1949, Raoul Walsh), James Cagney and brother William were contractually free from Warner Bros. to go off on their own to produce Cagney’s next project. The perfect follow-up vehicle for Cagney seemed to be screenwriter Harry Brown’s adaptation of the sordid 1948 crime novel Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye by Horace McCoy (best known for his 1935 novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They).

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye tells the story of wild hoodlum Ralph Cotter (played by Cagney), who after a daring prison jailbreak, careens out of control via a repugnant mess of twisted associations, heists, and blackmail schemes. Ward Bond, Barbara Payton, and the particularly effective Luther Adler deliver solid performances that virtually slip into the background as Cagney snarls, struts, and chews up the scenery in his final time playing a gangster. The performance almost becomes a cartoonish characterization of his past roles (particularly in one scene when the famous grapefruit found in The Public Enemy is now replaced by a creamer). Fittingly, the film was banned in Ohio once state lawmakers deemed it “a sordid, sadistic presentation of crime with explicit steps in commission.”

Primarily remembered for his successful work on the Our Gang comedy shorts at Hal Roach Studios before his many respected projects at Warner Bros., Gordon Douglas’ efficient direction suits the sadistic low-budget independent production. Even though some critics felt that this film lacked the visceral one-two punch that worked so well for Cagney in the 1930s and 1940s, it is still regarded as one of the better post-war gangster films. British critic Raymond Dugnat later called the film “quiet and astonishing” and compared it to A Place In the Sun (also written by Brown and released the very next year).

In an interesting trivia side note, Cagney’s producer brother William makes a minor appearance as the lead character’s brother at the end of the film during a crucial courtroom scene.

Todd Wiener

Preserved in cooperation with Paramount Pictures from the original 35mm nitrate picture and track negatives and a 35mm safety print. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Film Technology Company, Inc. Special thanks to: Barry Allen and Andrea Kalas.