Dick Powell had an interesting career. He went from being a crooner and a radio personality to a straight-ahead actor, best-known for playing hard-boiled types. While he had a lot of successful films to his credit, he did produce a turkey now and then, or something close to it. 1951’s Cry Danger is one of those, but it’s not without its charms.
Rocky Malloy is a guy whose life sentence for robbery is commuted when he’s found to be innocent, and it’s up to him to make a fresh start. He’s ticked at being sent to prison in the first place and wants to set everything straight. Right away, things look suspicious, because no sooner is Rocky off the train than two guys start following him. They turn out to be Cobb, the private eye who worked on the case, and Delong, a former Marine and surprise alibi who helped prove Rocky’s innocence. Far from simply being a reunion, Cobb warns Rocky that the money from the robbery is still missing, and that Rocky could land back in the slammer if he tries to get at it. What a homecoming.
Naturally, Rocky has to get back on his feet, and that means securing new digs and a source of income. Conveniently, Delong has a Nash Rambler and a free schedule, so he agrees to help Rocky out. Like the gentleman he is, Rocky decides to call on Nancy Morgan, the wife of his friend, Danny, who is also doing time for the robbery and up for parole in six months. She lives in a trailer park in the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles, and of course, she’s overjoyed that Rocky’s back. A little too overjoyed, come to think of it. She and Rocky have a long history, as they used to be an item before Danny stole Nancy and they got married.
It just so happens that Nancy’s trailer park has a vacant trailer for ten dollars a week. It’s the dumpiest one in the place, but Rocky and Delong snatch it up. Delong is reluctant, though, even if the park is also home to Darlene, a part-time model with just a touch of kleptomania. Still, he goes along with it.
Now that Rocky’s got a place to hang his hat and made contact with Nancy, it’s time to get the money rolling in. Rocky goes to see his old friend, Castro, who runs a bar called Los Amigos. Castro is also a “sixty-percent legitimate” bookie and gives him a sure tip on a horse. Rocky has to place the bet with a pretty girl at a convenience store in the Crosley Hotel. While he’s waiting, he starts to dig around for the missing loot from the robbery, even though Cobb warned him not to.
Well, he doesn’t exactly look for it. More precisely, Rocky tells Castro he wants $10,000 dollars a year from him because of what he went through. Then he goes to see Alice Fletcher, whose husband identified he and Danny in connection with the robbery. Only problems are, Mr. Fletcher died of a heart attack two years previously, and Alice would rather she and Rocky talk about her than about clearing Rocky and Danny. Then there’s the pesky matter of two guys who fire a few rounds at Rocky now and then, but we never find out why they want to kill him. They’re just faceless thugs who pop up and let loose. Rocky seems unperturbed by it, especially when the bet he made pays off handsomely. He has to go to a delicatessen to collect his winnings from a gentleman in a back room behind a curtain, which isn’t at all suspicious. After that, Rocky goes to town buying things for Nancy and going on a double date with she, Delong and Delores.
Except for the tiny annoyance of being shot at, everything seems too easy, and it is. The money Rocky won turns out to be counterfeit, and all the people who helped him place the bets are mysteriously missing. The back room in the delicatessen is now covered in plywood, though the curtain is still there. Oops. Fortunately for Rocky, Castro slips up when he tries to lie about Rocky coming to visit him, and the fact that Cobb once saw Rocky leave Castro’s office doesn’t hurt either. I won’t give too many spoilers, except that no one except Rocky, Cobb and Darlene are who they say they are.
Cry Danger is a mishmash. It’s a film noir sans many of the traditional film noir elements. It’s not really a mystery, or a suspense story, or a crime drama. Except for some snappy dialogue, it’s just bland. Rocky’s efforts to find the money, clear his and Danny’s names, or whatever he’s really after are pretty half-hearted. Nancy is more a designing woman than a femme fatale, which is okay in terms of story, but not very noir. Even Delong is a kind of hapless tagalong. It’s a mystery by itself why he suddenly becomes Rocky’s roommate after they’ve just met. Maybe Delong’s Nash Rambler had something to do with it. It’s also odd that Rocky takes up with Castro after getting out of prison–you’d think a guy with possibly more prison time hanging over him would want to keep his nose clean. Betting on horses through someone who’s “sixty percent legitimate” is a pretty risky way of walking the straight and narrow. As for the film’s pacing, nothing really picks up until almost three-quarters of the way through, and the conclusion is anti-climactic.
On the plus side, I did like seeing what Los Angeles was like in the early fifties. Since many of the locations have changed drastically since 1951, Cry Danger does have a measure of historical significance. Too bad the total package is lackluster. One of the first and last things we see in the movie is Rocky walking toward the Lindbergh Beacon, as if he’s looking for direction. Maybe the filmmakers should have taken their own advice.