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Movie Critique - Danger Signal

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: Can the ending be changed, please? For such a chilling and thrilling tale, it fizzled out with the ending. Otherwise a very good psychological thriller to watch.

Danger Signal is a 1945 film noir starring Fay Emerson, Zachary Scott, Bruce Bennett and Mona Freeman in the lead cast. Adapted from the 1939 novel of the same name by British novelist Phyllis Bottome. Film was directed by Robert Florey and produced by William Jacobs.

Ronnie Marsh (portrayed by Zachary Scott) is on the run from law and lands as a tenant in the Fenchurch's house where three women live - mother Mrs. Fenchurch, older daughter Hilda Fenchurch and younger daughter Anne Fenchurch. Ronnie first sets his sights on Hilda, then changes it to Anne when he learns Anne would inherit money. What follows is a story of jealousy, love, protection, murder and finally realization.

Screenplay for the film was written by C. Graham Baker and Adele Comandini. It sets a tone of certain chillness to the plot sticking to the film noir concepts, giving the darker and depraved shades of human minds. The writers certainly evoked shivers with this psychological thriller specific to male psychopathy.

Zachary Scott's Ronnie Marsh is a very romantic murderer giving off the feel of watching an aristocratic bastard from the Roman or Greek era. He is charming, suave and cunning. Scott performed as Marsh so well that he ended up being type casted in similar handsome, cruel and sleazy cad for the rest of his career.

Fay Emerson's Hilda Fenchurch, appears a very good jilted lover, but fails to be the femme fatale when needed. I suppose that was how the writers pictured her. The screenplay changed the ending from what the book had. Faye Emerson was engaged to the then President Franklin D. Roosevelt's son, Colonel Elliot Roosevelt. To protect her reputation and not to harm the political life in any way, the writers changed the ending. I think that is where the film paled.

In contrast to her, Mona Freeman's Anne Fenchurch came across as one filled with jealousy and constant whining with no brain to listen to anyone, and blinded by stupidity. She irritated the heck out of me and I felt like smacking her head and shaking her to reality.

Bruce Bennett as the absent-minded scientist Dr. Andrew Lang and Rosemary DeCamp as Dr. Jane Silla were the saving grace if I may say so. And the brief car chase sequence towards the end involving both of them, actually sadly became the most thrilling point. Rosemary DeCamp's character Dr. Jane Silla was based on the writer Phyllis Bottome herself. 

It was thrilling, nerve-wrecking, and suspense-filled until we reach the last 10 minutes of the movie. That is when the most unexpected happens and makes you wonder, "That's it! That's the climax?". You are left scratching your head and thinking why such a pale ending for a movie that was running on a high-note.

The film's concept of male psychopathy has several similarities in Scott's earlier films - 1944 The Mask of Dimitrios and 1945 film noir Mildred Pierce. These roles left him to be forever casted as a handsome but sleazy cad all through his career.Fay Emerson and Zachary Scott also star in The Mask of Dimitrios, and they go on to do two more movies after Danger Single - 1946 Her Kind of Man and 1950 Guilty Bystander - both being film noir again. The chemistry between Fay and Zachary's characters is well shown, but failed as a powerful finale.

If you ignore the ending, this is a splendid B-film noir with all elements of a murder mystery; gives us chills and thrills; and some good acting by the actors by themselves, even if some irritated the viewers. If only the ending had been a much better one. Can they redo or rewrite it? Hmm…

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Zachary Scott and Bruce Bennett also acted in the 1945 Mildred Price, released a few months before this film, portraying similar types of roles.

b. Other films resembling this plot are 1943 Shadow of a Doubt by Alfred Hitchcock; 

c. In 1950 Bogart played the part of Dixon Steele in the film version of the 1947 novel In a Lonely Place. That film also has similarities regarding a psychological thriller with male psychopathy. Although Phyllis Bottome wrote about a similar concept at least 10 years prior to In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes.

d. Fay Emerson sings a small snippet of the song It Had to Be You written by Isham Jones and Gus Khan, first published in 1924. I had heard it in the Season 9 Episode 4 of Columbo movies, "Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo" as a background song listened to by the antagonist. I had searched for that song a while ago and finally today found about it after seeing this movie.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. In the beginning of the film, Ronnie has a limp that he says he got it during World War II. However as the film progresses, his limp disappears. How is that possible?

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