Dick Powell, the youthful tenor who played the juvenile in many a 1930s Warner Brothers backstage musical, made what has to be one of the most remarkable career shifts for an actor so typecast in certain roles. Tired of playing the same role over and over (and believe me, it is the same role time and time again), Powell wanted the chance to prove himself as a dramatic actor. He apparently wanted to play Walter Neff in Double Indemnity, a part that went to Fred MacMurray, who had also never really played a role like that. Though many probably couldn’t even picture Powell pulling off the tough guy role, he finally got his opportunity in 1944’s Murder, My Sweet, stepping into the shoes of Raymond Chandler’s famous Philip Marlowe character. It was success for Powell, and launched a second leg of his career.
Cry Danger is also a noir. Powell plays Rocky Mulloy, a man who was sentenced to a life term in prison after a holdup and murder over $100,000. Malloy believes he and his partner, Danny Morgan, were framed by someone, because they didn’t commit the crime.
Rocky is let out after serving five years when a Marine named Delong (Richard Erdman) steps forward with an alibi that proves Rocky’s innocence. However, it turns out that Delong really isn’t the witness he says he is, and only freed Rocky in the hopes of being paid in return. Rocky vows that now he is out he will find the people who set him up so that Danny will be let out too. Delong decides that he will tag along with Rocky just in case the missing hot money shows up.
The local police lieutenant, Gus Cobb (Regis Toomey), still questions Rocky’s innocence and sticks a tail on him. Rocky and Delong head out to trailer park to meet with Danny’s wife, Nancy (Rhonda Fleming), who was an old flame of Rocky’s. She asks him to not meddle in affairs, as Danny will be up for parole in six months, and Rocky’s actions could jeopardize his chances. Rocky brushes this off and starts following his leads. One of these is a man named Castro (William Conrad). Rocky meets Castro at demands the money be turned over. Castro refuses, but loans Rocky $500 to bet on a fixed horse race.
Rocky meets Cobb outside of Castro’s office, and gets a warning about his actions. Rocky heads home and the next day follows Castro’s directions to the bookie that will place his bet. The horse comes in, and Rocky uses the money to buy gifts for Nancy and take Delong and his date out to dinner. They are met in the restaurant by Cobb, who knows about the purchases, and has traced the money back to the hot cash that was part of the holdup.
Cobb, thinking he’s got Rocky in the guilty place he wants him, checks the chain of events Rocky gives him on how he got the money. When they return to the site that the bookie was operating out of, neither he nor the girl Rocky contacted to meet the bookie are there anymore. The last hope is Castro, and he tells Cobb that he never met Rocky the day before. At this point, Cobb knows that part of Rocky’s story is true, as he saw Rocky coming out of Castro’s office the night before.
Now suspecting who framed him the first time around, Rocky confronts Castro and demands the money in full. Castro puts his own men on Rocky, resulting in the death of a woman Delong was dating, and serious injury to Delong after a shooting meant for Rocky and Nancy. This is the final proof Rocky needs, and he goes to Castro’s office once more to get the money and prove his innocence…
Cry Danger is a solid film. To me it’s not on the level as the noir greats, but it’s well put together and the performances are good. It’s fun to find those good films that just don’t get talked about as much anymore, because unfortunately a lot of movies were mediocre and that’s why we don’t talk about them today. Really the only reason I checked out this film in the first place was because of Dick Powell. Murder, My Sweet is really considered one of his best noirs, and I have yet to see Cornered, but this one holds its own.
Powell would be done with movie acting just a few years after this film. He moved more into television, especially in the behind the camera roles. Sadly, Dick Powell died at the age of 57 from cancer. He, kind of like Dana Andrews, is someone that as an actor was immensely popular during his time, and is not talked about nearly as much today. I’m glad he was given the chance to work in noir and other projects besides the musicals, because it gave him an opportunity to show what a good actor he was.
Noir also matched Dick Powell as he grew older. Always a handsome guy in my opinion, by the early 1940s he had lost that babyfaced look, and noir allowed for him looking more mature and world-weary. But don’t get me wrong, I do love musicals, and Powell was a familiar face in many of them. He was the boy in “boy-meets-girl”- eager, optimistic and sweet. Dick Powell also had a beautiful tenor voice (Ok, this is kind of an understatement for me because I have tons of Powell recordings that I listen to all the time, but I won’t elaborate).
So whether it is singing or tough guy Dick Powell that interests you, it is really worth checking out both sides of him. I think he was pretty swell.
I’ve Got To Sing a Torch Song-Gold Diggers of 1933