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Old Embers

Old Embers for New Torches: Dangerous
By Fritz Spencer
Apr 2, 2009 - 11:18:13 AM

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Hollywood has a perverse genius for subverting moral values, and this genius is nowhere more apparent than in its miscasting of characters. Just as Hollywood fails to understand certain moral values, it has a lack of understanding of that which drives and illuminates any movie role - the human personality.

Humphrey Bogart, usually cast as a gangster or hardboiled detective, was never better than when he played the upright Governor Thomas E. Dewey at war with arch-criminal Lucky Luciano in the movie "Marked Woman." Bette Davis, at the start of her career, played the ideal young Yankee woman in movies such as "Way Back Home," a movie set in Jonesport, Maine. The most miscast of all was Isabell Jewell, the delicate, waif-like creature who faced execution at the hand of French revolutionaries in "A Tale of Two Cities" Throughout her career Jewell was typecast as a gangster moll. So much for the perverseness of Hollywood.

Human nature is complex, and if a dramatist draws a faithful picture of his subject, the result will contain more than he intends. The movie "Dangerous," which is about the consequences of falling in love with a very bad woman, has been called soap opera-ish and melodramatic. Yet the portrait of the characters and the plot are so faithful to life, that the movie is breathtakingly profound at many levels.

On the surface, "Dangerous" is the story of a prominent young architect played by Franchot Tone, whose own life is nearly ruined as he takes up with an alcoholic actress played by Bette Davis. The rest of the world has abandoned Davis as a jinx, who in her brief career has bankrupted a string of theater producers. The young architect is on the same road to ruin, as his involvement with Davis ends his engagement to a socially-prominent fiancée and nearly wrecks his career.

But this is where the story transcends the commonplace. Davis, on one level, is really the right woman for the young architect. The hold she exerts over him is not merely physical, it is the attraction of like to like. Tone owes his path in life to Davis, having chosen the career of architect after seeing Davis perform in the theatre. Just as Davis raises Tone to a higher spiritual level, Tone is fated to raise Davis up out of the gutter.

Here the actor and actress are perfectly matched to the roles they play, since what is played out onscreen is a recapitulation of real life. Davis was smitten by Tone, and Davis reciprocated. Davis won her first Academy Award for her performance.

The circumstances in which Davis and Tone find themselves make for a tragedy, and there is a brooding sense of fatality in many of the scenes. The movie seems to move to a dark, tragic conclusion with irresistible logic. But we Americans have a sunny disposition, and the movie is resolved happily. Davis and Tone are set back on the right path, adding the element of redemption.

"Dangerous" is not a movie for everyone. It is a bit too high-toned for some viewers, with many difficult allusions, which draw the mind back to an earlier time. A warning against sexual immorality, the movie is classical in its appeal to reason and high principles. Each character is shown to have worth, thus fulfilling the first requirement of a good movie - to preserve and elevate a sense of human dignity.

Each character surmounts obstacles and strives for something beyond himself, whether art, honor, or love. "Dangerous" is very different from the spirit of modern day Hollywood, and is absolutely mesmerizing in its power to lift the viewer to a higher level.

"Dangerous" is available in VHS from

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