Before Dirty Harry or Travis Bickle there was Jim Wilson, the fierce protagonist of film noir On Dangerous Ground, starring rural Colorado.
Jim Wilson (Robert Ryan) is a loner whose sadistic streak is about to get him tossed off the city police force. “Why do you make me do it!” he screams at a hoodlum, whose gut he’s just kicked in.
In Nicholas Ray’s film noir On Dangerous Ground (1952) the big city is teeming with vice, and Wilson, with nothing but his nightly detective work and a one room apartment, is about to shatter.
He’s sent away to cool off and to help a county sheriff investigate a girl’s murder out in the wintry rangeland. There he meets a stoic family, a vengeful father with a shotgun, and one strong (and blind) farm woman. Watch it on a January night with a cup of strong tea.
The second half of the movie is shot in black and white around Grand Lake, Granby and Tabernash in rural Colorado. Cinematographer George E. Diskant captures hulking Chryslers rolling along snow covered roads, yards fenced with wire and cedar, human silhouettes, and huge vistas with white clouds squatting on the horizon. Jim Wilson finds even his own hatred is dwarfed by the immensity of land, sky and character he meets here.
In loads of movies, rural America is seen as malicious, sickly and bizarre. Not this time. It’s the landscape – and the woman who lives so independently within it – that turn Jim Wilson’s fury and his big city sedan around.
(Thanks to writer and film critic David N. Meyer for the recommendation. Meyer informs us that director Nicholas Ray was himself a Yonderite. He was born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle, Jr. August 7, 1911 in Galesville, Wisconsin.)