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Ray, Nicholas (1911-1979)  
 
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As Terry L. Moore has explained in her perceptive analysis, other elements of the film also reference same-sex relationships. Through his editing of the nightclub scene, Ray creates the impression that Grey and a beautiful singer are looking directly at one another. Although Steele often seems uncomfortable in the presence of women, he fully relaxes when he is alone with Mel, his close friend and agent. After Steele explains to Mel that he has proposed to Grey, Mel proclaims to her that the three of them will make a happy family.

While making In a Lonely Place, Ray was in the process of separating from Grahame, although they were not divorced until August 15, 1952. (In 1960, Grahame married Ray's twenty-three-year-old son from his first marriage, Anthony, an act that provoked an intense public scandal that ended her movie career. She had children by both father and son.)

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On Dangerous Ground

While filming In a Lonely Place, Ray asked Houseman (still at RKO) if he would produce a film based on Gerald Butler's novel Mad with Much Heart about an urban cop, assigned to deal with a murder in a rural area. Ultimately entitled On Dangerous Ground, this movie is one of Ray's most important works.

Predisposed to violence, the protagonist, Jim Wilson (played by Robert Ryan), has much in common with Dixon Steele. Although Butler's narrative began after Wilson was transferred to the country, Ray and co-writer A. I. Bezzerides added several scenes revealing Wilson's aggressive behavior in the city. With Ray's claustrophobic architectural settings, the opening scenes recall German Expressionist films.

Viewed through the windows of Wilson's automobile as he travels to his new assignment, the panoramic mountain scenery provides psychological relief. Determined to achieve a sense of authenticity, Ray filmed most of the rural scenes on location in Colorado, often under difficult conditions in the winter. Although Ray emphasizes the splendor of the natural setting, he also reveals the harshness of rural life.

Upon his arrival in the rural community, Wilson confronts a man who is at least as aggressive as he is--Walter Brent (played by Ward Bond), father of a recently murdered girl. Although Wilson planned to direct the hunt for the killer, he is compelled to work with Brent, who has already assembled a posse. Wilson's encounter with Brent makes him re-evaluate his own behavior.

Several elements contribute to the effectiveness of On Dangerous Ground as a film noir. The identity of the murderer is only gradually discovered, and the chase sequences are thrilling. Ray's dynamic camera movements and editing and Bernard Herrmann's harshly modernistic, often dissonant score also contribute to the excitement of the film.

Ultimately identified as the killer, Danny Walden (Summer Williams) is depicted as a sweet boy, who tenderly cares for his blind older sister, as well as for birds and animals. By associating murder with such a gentle figure, Ray reveals how complex and unexpected the origins of human violence are. Although Wilson tries to protect Danny, the youth falls to his death from a cliff as he attempts to flee.

Ironically, Wilson ultimately achieves redemption through his evolving relationship with Danny's sister, Mary (Ida Lupino). Although the character of Mary Walden could easily have become sentimental or pathetic, Lupino infuses her with great dignity. Wilson's involvement with Mary makes On Dangerous Ground as much romance as film noir.

The Lusty Men

Following completion of On Dangerous Ground, Hughes compelled Ray to direct Flying Leathernecks (1951), a story of pilots during World War II, often considered his most conventional and anonymous film. However, in 1952, Ray was given the chance to direct The Lusty Men, a film about modern cowboys that was ideally suited to his interests and talents.

As preparation for the film, Ray undertook extensive study of the lives and speech patterns of cowboys. After screenwriter Horace McCoy lost interest in the project, Ray decided to work in an improvisational way--focusing on the expression of character and mood, rather than plot. Lusty Men combines elements of romance, psychological drama, and poetic reverie. Moreover, some parts--especially the rodeo segments--have the feel of a documentary film.

In Lusty Men, Ray suggests that the American Dream, as exemplified in the rodeo, is built on false values. The film opens with a prolonged shot of a billboard celebrating the heroism involved in the sport. However, Ray emphasizes the repetitive character of the events and the personal and economic hardships of the riders.

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