MILES TO LITTLE RIDGE, by Heath Lowrance
It’s been a while since I read a Western (I like to read them on airplanes, for some reason, but haven’t flown since 2011). Miles to Little Ridge is a quick, very entertaining read. Characters that are multi-dimensional and real from the moment they appear. Gripping action. Sharp dialogue. A lot of heart. If you’re in the mood for a kickass short story, this one is thirty-three pages long and only 99¢.
Heath Lowrance is the author of City of Heretics, The Bastard Hand and the short story collection Dig Ten Graves. You can visit his blog at http://www.psychonoir.blogspot.com
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Near to the Knuckle Presents: GLOVES OFF.
My contribution, “Highway Star,” grew from a roadtrip I made from Virginia to Wyoming. It wasn’t a trip I enjoyed. Two days of hard driving—a good portion of that in tornado-spawning thunderstorms—bad coffee, gas station tacquitos, Cherokee filters, lots of heavy silence. The wheels on the rental truck weren’t the only ones turning.
From the editors:
Gloves Off is a collection of dark stories from the cream of the literary crop. These stories have one thing in common: they will come at you, all guns blazing. There’s a story lurking down every dark alley. Just when your back is turned a plot-twist is ready to attack.
The stories in this anthology are mainly crime, but there is also grim humour and the supernatural; dark tales for an adult audience featuring hit men, mobsters, bikers and stalkers. Are you prepared for the bloody scenes within?
ON DANGEROUS GROUND
What kind of movie is On Dangerous Ground? A man tries to slap a blind woman to make her talk. That’s what kind of movie it is.
On Dangerous Ground is a thriller released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1952. It was produced by John Houseman and directed by Nicolas Ray (with help from Ida Lupino). Ray and A.I. Bezzerides, screenwriter, adapted the story from Gerard Butler’s novel, Mad with Much Heart.
Ostensibly about the hunt for a psychotic murderer, the true focus of this picture is the unraveling of its protagonist. Jim Wilson is a cop on the verge of a breakdown. Cops see people at their worst on a daily basis. Most are able to shrug this off or at least find a way to deal with it. Wilson is unable to do so. It eats at him until he can’t stand it anymore. He is disgusted not only by the criminals he pursues, but by the job and by himself, as well. He has reached a point where he can no longer control his rage. After beating one too many suspects, Wilson is sent to work on the murder of a girl in a remote part of the state, to get him out of the city and give him a chance to cool off.
The best aspect of this film is the acting. Nicolas Ray elicits first-rate performances out of everyone, including bit parts like that of a teenage floozy in a bar (uncredited, but I believe it was played by Nita Talbot).
Walter Brent is Ward Bond, father of the victim. He is hell-bent on avenging her death. Bond doesn’t want the killer apprehended. He wants to blow the kid’s head off with a shotgun. When the blind sister of the alleged murderer refuses to divulge his whereabouts, it is Bond who tries to slap her across the face—only Jim’s intervention stops him. There is a bit of black comedy in which the ham-handed Bond accidentally sets Malden’s living room carpet on fire and Jim puts it out before she notices.
The blind woman in question, Mary Malden, is played by Ida Lupino. Lupino gives a nuanced, emotionally rich performance. She brings this character to life, imbuing it with such depth that you could dive into that liquid gaze and never hit bottom. (Cut me some slack. I have a thing for Ida Lupino.)
Sumner Williams is great as Danny Malden. Danny is clearly unbalanced, but it’s not the cartoonish, over-the-top nonsense we usually get from Hollywood. Williams plays it so you’re not sure just how fucked-up he is. You want to console him and back away from him at the same time. I wish more actors would rely on acting rather than gimmicks in such roles.
Outshining them all, however, is Robert Ryan as tortured policeman Jim Wilson. I can’t think of a more menacing performance, though Mitchum came close a few times. Even in scenes that don’t have Wilson smacking the shit out of people, wanting to smack the shit out of people, or talking about smacking the shit out of people, he is roiling inside. His stare is so intense it crackles. During the first half of the film, all he has to do appear in a scene and you flinch. But there’s more to Jim Wilson than that. In the last section, once he arrives upstate, his character evolves. Confronted with Bond’s rage, his own diminishes. He becomes sympathetic to both Mary and Danny Malden and even, eventually, to Ward Bond. The blind Mary then peers into Jim’s soul. Their conversation about loneliness, like Sumner Williams’ turn as Danny, is remarkably insightful and sophisticated for that era without being overblown, and holds up well.
Also of note are the score by Bernard Herrman and stark, occasionally gorgeous—pay attention to the Colorado exteriors—cinematography of George E. Diskant.
On Dangerous Ground doesn’t have a happy ending. It does have sort of a happy epilogue, but one that doesn’t feel cheap or tacked on. It feels right, given what has transpired between Jim and Mary.
Buy this. Rent it. Stream it. Catch it on late-night TV. Just don’t pass it up.