Cry Danger (1951) is one of my favorite noirs because it’s so much more than the story of a guy trying to find out who framed him. Dick Powell plays that guy, Rocky, just released from incarceration for a robbery murder he didn’t commit. Noir heroes are seldom in control of their own destinies, and Rocky doesn’t even understand how he was cleared. He knows that he didn’t commit the crime, but he also knows that the story of an alibi witness is phony, too.
That alibi witness, Delong, becomes Ricky’s partner in the search. As played by Richard Erdman, Delong lives as one of the most singular and indelible characters in film noir. Cheerful and upbeat, Delong has embraced post-War cynicism. He never would have sprung Rocky if he had thought Rocky to be innocent; instead, he wants to split Rocky’s ill-gotten loot. When he learns of Rocky’s innocence, he figures to get a chance at the money be becoming Ricky’s wing man. Delong knows himself and is content with his own alcoholism – “Occasionally I always drink too much.” Erdman retired with 162 screen credits, none more memorable than Delong.
Although he didn’t commit the robbery pinned on him, it’s clear that Rocky is no virgin. There’s reference to a quick $20,000 that he made before prison; that’s a lot of WWII dollars, and he sure didn’t earn them by investing in US Savings Bonds. Dick Powell was an actor so naturalistic that he could connect with today’s movie audiences. No matter how snappy the hard-boiled patter, he always seems utterly authentic. Powell’s Rocky is a man on a mission, trying to find out what happened to him and why, but absorbing lots of bumps on the way to the answers.
Rocky seeks out an old flame, his partner’s wife Nancy (Rhonda Fleming). Now when you see Gloria Grahame in a noir, you just know that she’s trouble. Here the exquisitely beautiful Fleming is as wholesome as anyone can be with a hubbie in the hoosegow. We know that. if she turns out to be a femme fatale, it’s going to be a major punch in the gut for Rocky.
Noir veterans William Conrad (as the heavy) and Regis Toomey (as the cop), do what they do best.
Cry Danger was shot on location in Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill neighborhood. The neighborhood is one of the stars of the movie, and Bunker Hill looks like film noir Ground Zero. As seedy as are the bars, shops and upstairs offices, nothing can top the shabby trailer park that Ricky and Delong make their home base. It’s a good thing that we have Cry Danger as a time capsule, because the neighborhood depicted in Cry Danger doesn’t exist anymore. Redeveloped beginning in the mid 1950s, Bunker Hill is now home to sleek highrises and the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
A frame, a drunk, a dame, hidden loot and an LA trailer park – Cry Danger is unforgettable noir. Cry Danger plays regularly on Turner Classic Movies. It is available on DVD from Netflix and streaming from Amazon Instant Video (free on Amazon Prime).