Friday, November 23, 2012

From the Rental Vault: Triple Bob

The first two Bobs are Mitchum and Ryan, who face off in 1951's The Racket, the second movie version of a play from the 1920s. Mitchum is Tom McQuigg, an incorruptible police captain looking to fight a mob takeover of his city. Corruption is rampant in his department and the prosecutor's office, meaning that a citizen's commission also wanting to clean up the city is always at least two or three steps behind. Robert Ryan is Nick Scanlon, a local heavy whose violent methods don't fit well with the newer, slicker crime organization taking over his business.

Scanlon is paranoid and jittery, with foes on both sides of the law and troubles with his brother that make him suspect everyone -- which may be the reason he opens up with McQuigg once. The captain is his enemy, but at least Scanlon knows where he stands.

Eventually, a reporter (Robert Hutton), a new beat cop (William Talman) and -- of course -- a dame (Lizabeth Scott) become mixed up in the conflict as McQuigg and Scanlon move towards a final confrontation. Everyone plays their assigned roles smoothly, with Mitchum and Ryan standing out most of all.
The third Bob is Ryan again, in On Dangerous Ground the very next year as NYC detective Jim Wilson, whose over-immersion in his job has dangerously frayed his control. Even in the pre-Miranda Warning era, his level of violence is getting the department in trouble and is close to getting him fired. Opening scenes show other officers readying for work among their families, but Wilson has no one.

Eventually his boss sends him upstate to help in the hunt for a murderer. He joins a group of vigilantes led by the victim's father, Walter Brent (Ward Bond), and is taken aback by Brent's bloodthirstiness. When the pair are stranded overnight at the home of blind Mary Malden (Ida Lupino), Wilson begins to see how far over the line his own brutality has taken him when it becomes clear Mary knows more about the murderer than it seems at first.

Again, Ryan does a fine job as a man barely clinging to the edge of civilization and his sanity. He sees the people he pursues as garbage and that allows him to do anything to them to get what he wants, covering himself with the badge that's all he has left, even if it doesn't mean anything to him anymore. Lupino adds some depth to a role heavily laden with retread dialogue and mawkish scenes. Ward Bond is also a surprise, moving aside from his usual genial nature to display hatred and rage better than you might think he could. Ground is not anything that would win awards and it lost money at the box office, but the fine performances of the three leads make it worth the effort of wading through some of the excess cheese of the second act.

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