One of my favourite things about #Noirvember is that it gives me the occasion to discover many new-to-me films during November. I indeed take to occasion to watch some noirs that I have never seen before and, therefore, expand my horizons. Of course, I’m free to watch films noirs all year, but, somehow, it feels more special to focus on these during #Noirvember.
Consequently, when Tiffany from the blog Pure Entertainment Preservation Society invited me to participate in the 3rd Annual Claude Rains Blogathon honouring the actor who was born on November 10, 1889, I thought it would be a good occasion to explore one of the films noirs in which the British character actor appeared. Moreover, unless I’m mistaken, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t think I have participated in a PEPS Blogathon before. As they have participated in several of mines in the past, I thought I should finally do the same. With that being said, my final choice to celebrate Rains was Where Danger Lives, a 1950’s John Farrow film (yes, Mia’s father) starring Robert “Dreamy” Mitchum and Faith Domergue, and featuring Claude Rains and Maureen O’Sullivan (who was then married to John Farrow – yeah, Mia’s mom!).
Where Danger Lives begins in a hospital where Dr Jeff Cameron (Mitchum) works. A new patient, a young woman (Domergue), is taken to the emergency after a failed suicide attempt. After the team of doctors manage to save her life, the young woman checks out of the hospital, and she leaves a telegram to Dr.Cameron, revealing her name, Margo, and her address. After cancelling for the Xth time a date with his girlfriend, nurse Julie Dorn, (O’Sullivan), Jeff goes to Margo’s place, afraid she might attempt suicide again.
Later, it is revealed (with a kiss at the restaurant) that the two have spent some time together and have fallen in love with each other. Only, there is a problem: Margo reveals to Jeff that she must fly to Nassau with her father the following day. Jeff, who won’t accept the fact that his lover is going away, decides to go to the Lannington’s to reason her father and tell him that he loves his daughter. But a bad surprise awaits him: Frederick Lannington (Claude Rains) is not her father, but her husband! Feeling betrayed, Jeff goes await until he hears Margo screaming. He goes back to discover that the (crazy) husband has torn an earing out of Margo’s ear and she is bleeding. Frederick then manages to grab a fireplace poker and starts beating Jeff with it. Out of self-defence, Jeff strikes’ Frederick’s head, and this one collapses on the floor, unconscious. Jeff, who now feels dizzy, goes to the bathroom to put some water on his injured head. When he comes back to the living room where the struggle took place, he realizes that Frederick is dead.
As Jeff wants to call the police to explain what happened and that it was done in self-defence, Margo stops him and insists for them to run away as she belives his self-defence motive won’t be taken seriously. Jeff, suffering from a concussion, has difficulty to reason, so he decides to leave with Margo, leaving Mr Lannington’s body lying next to the fireplace. The two lovers are now on a runaway escapade, trying on many occasions to avoid the authorities.
The main reason why I chose this particular noir is that it was directed by John Farrow, who also directed The Big Clock (1948), which is a noir that I immensely enjoyed. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. I might not have liked Where Danger Lives as much, but it turned out to be a great, highly entertaining, and thrilling film. Moreover, as I began watching the movie, more intriguing surprises were revealed to me in the opening credits. First of all, I thought it was immensely interesting that Irwin Allen was an associate producer on that film. You know, Irwin Allen, the Master of Disaster, the guy who produced famous 70s disaster movies like The Poseidon Adventure (1971) and The Towering Inferno (1974). Well, needless to say, the budget for Danger was probable a tad inferior!
Another agreeable surprise was that the screenplay was written by no other than Charles Bennett! As I saw his name appear on the screen, I thought “this is going to be good”. For those who are not familiar with Bennett, he often collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock and wrote the screenplays for Blackmail (1929), The 39 Steps (1935), Sabotage (1936), Secret Agent (1936), Young and Innocent (1937), Foreign Correspondent (1940), and Saboteur (1942). He also wrote the original story for The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934/1956). Bennett also collaborated with Irwin Allen on a few occasions and directed some films, including the Margaret Lockwood-Paul Dupuis vehicle Madness of the Heart (1949), which is one of the very first films I reviewed on my blog back in 2014! Bennett had a great ability to write films with a certain sense of adventure and thrill, pictures where you constantly wonder what will happen next and, overall, screenplays with a lot of surprises. Here, with Where Danger Lives, he once again managed to play this role brilliantly.
Concerning the man of the moment, Claude Rains, it goes without saying that this was maybe not the optimal choice of film for a blogathon celebrating him. Indeed, since the death of his character is the trigger of the story, his role is pretty small, and he’s there pretty much for a scene only. But how was I to know? HOWEVER, Claude Rains, just like in Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962), was able to prove how great of an actor he was with only very little screen time. I love his mannerisms and the sort of charm and charisma that emanates from him although his character is, let’s admit it, super nasty. Also, have I ever tell you that I LOVE his voice. It sorts of make you melt. I would have liked him, Peter O’Toole and James Mason, to narrate my life. Maureen O’Sullivan also has a pretty small role, but the few scenes that involve her show beautiful chemistry between her and Robert Mitchum.
Now, about the two stars, Mitchum and Domergue, these make a great pair as the “dangerous” runaway couple. This film was my introduction to Faith Domergue, who I had heard of before, mostly via Howard Hughes. That was her second film and the first one in a leading role. Domergue, although she never really managed to reach the status of superstar, proves with this film that she was a capable actress and sort of perfect for the film noir genre. Robert Mitchum, on his side, well, is Robert Mitchum, an actor that I have always admire and probably always will. I liked the fact that, although he often plays the rough and tough guys, here, he shows a certain form of vulnerability. His character is also quite likeable, and maybe for the common viewer, it is easier to identify with him than with Domergue’s character. We never really name his name when discussing versatile actors, but watch this film and then The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955), and you’ll see that he was. Oh, and he’s another actor who’s voice is quite irresistible, that is if you have a thing for deep voices.
Where Danger Lives mainly respects the film noir elements in his narrative line, the role of Faith Domergue, who is sort of a femme fatale (trigger of the story can remind us of the one in Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window (1944), the inclusion of film noir actor Robert Mitchum, some on-location shooting, and the overall fact that this is not a feel-good movie. It is not one of those films noirs that take place in a big West Coast city like Los Angeles or San Francisco, but rather one that involves different locations and could sort of be labelled as a noir road movie. There is also, of course, black and white cinematography, but this one is perhaps not as marked with shadows and contrasts than it is with other key noirs. However, it is interesting to mention that cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca contributed to define the style of film noir and the look of 40’s RKO pictures with his work on Stranger on the Third Floor (Boris Ingster) (1), a film that is often considered to be the first Noir (2). With that being said, I might not have paid enough attention to the cinematography of Where Danger Lives and probably overlooked a bit the film noir subtleties. I guess I was more focused on the plot!
Despite the fact that Where Danger Lives fits into the film noir movement, I thought there were occasionally a few comic elements to it. For example, Margo and Jeff always manage to escape the police without much effort and, sometimes, for reasons that are a bit ridiculous. And they are as surprised as we are.
On its release, Where Danger Lives received mixed reviews. Although it holds a not very high score of 49% on Rotten Tomatoes and is not really considered the best noir ever made, I would recommend you to see it and form your own opinion. As I previously said, I really enjoyed it. Yes, it’s not perfect, but it’s far from being completely bad either.
Of course, if you’re planning a Claude Rains movie night, this might not be the best choice due to his very small role. However, when you think about it, the whole story lies in the faith of his character, which gives him certain importance.
I want to thank Tiffany and Rebekah for hosting this blogathon honouring the great Claude Rains! I invite you to read the other contributions here.
(1) “Where Danger Lives,” Wikipedia, accessed Nov 9, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Where_Danger_Lives.
(2) Spencer Selby, Dark City: The Film Noir (Jefferson, N.C. & London: McFarland Publishing, 1984), 183.