Cast & Crew
On a rainy night at the Compton Hotel in Gary, Indiana, postal inspector Harry Gruber is murdered by two men, Joe Regas and George Soderquist. Regas and Soderquist then drive Gruber's body to La Porte and prepare to dump it near a railroad switching station. As they are taking the body out of the car, they spot a nun close by, fumbling with an umbrella. Hoping to distract her, Soderquist offers his help, but while he is chatting, she notices Regas struggling to keep the body upright. After Soderquist explains that his "friend" is drunk, the nun walks off, but asks a passing motorcycle officer to check up on the man. Just then, however, a car speeds past, and the officer pursues it. Later, the body is identified by police, and Al Goddard, a no-nonsense postal inspector from Chicago, is assigned to investigate. Al's first task is to track down the nun, and after interviewing various railroad employees, he finds her at a church in Fort Wayne. When Al asks the the soft-spoken nun, Sister Augustine, for help in catching the killers, she at first demurs, but changes her mind when Al reminds her that it is her "job" to help the police. Sister Augustine goes with Al to the downtown police station and picks Soderquist's photo out of a mug book. Aware that Soderquist's last known address is in Gary, Al then persuades Sister Augustine to accompany him there. At St. Michael's church in Gary, where Sister Augustine is staying, Mother Ambrose questions the younger nun about the investigation, and she admits that she is reluctant to help Al because he has "no heart" and "no charity." Despite her feelings, Sister Augustine goes with Al and homicide detective David Goodman to a pool hall frequented by Soderquist and, while hidden, identifies Soderquist as the man in La Porte. Sister Augustine then leaves to hail a cab and is spotted by Regas. Although the nun could not identify him, the nervous Regas calls his boss, Earl Boettiger, and announces that she must be eliminated. Later, after Al and David learn that Soderquist has eluded a police tail, they decide to check out the post office Gruber had been investigating. There, the postmaster informs them that Gruber had been closely watching three truck drivers involved in transferring money shipments at Gary's switching station. Al recognizes one of the drivers, Paul Ferrar, from the pool hall and assumes that Gruber was killed because he knew that Ferrar and Soderquist were planning a heist together. At St. Michael's, meanwhile, Regas spies on Sister Augustine and tries to kill her by causing debris from an overhead construction site to fall as she passes under it. Upon hearing about Regas' attempted murder, the low-key Boettiger, who runs the Hotel Compton, orders him to leave the nun alone, but does agree to get Soderquist out of town. When Soderquist refuses to go to St. Louis, however, Regas blundgeons him to death. Al, meanwhile, worries about Sister Augustine's safety and, against David's advice, decides to infiltrate Ferrar's operation by pretending he is a money-troubled, rogue inspector. At the pool hall, Al reveals to Ferrar what he knows about Gruber and demands that Ferrar pay him $25,000 in exchange for his silence. Eventually, Al manipulates Ferrar and Boettiger into inviting him to participate in the heist, which entails waylaying a one-million-dollar money shipment at the switching station. Later, at the post office, Ferrar eavesdrops as the postmaster informs Al that Soderquist's body has been found at a steel mill canal. Ferrar follows Al to the canal, which is swarming with police, but flees when he is spotted. Although the police fail to catch Ferrar, Al proceeds to the switching station to discuss the heist with Boettiger, Regas and their two cohorts, Gene Gunner and Leo Cronin. During the meeting, Ferrar bursts in, but before he can expose Al, Al surreptitiously threatens him with a gun. Al then forces Ferrar to leave with him, and the next day, describes the heist to the police. After thanking Sister Augustine for her help, Al returns to the gang and learns that one of the rendezvous points has been altered. Only Regas, who does not trust Al, knows the new location, so Al phones the police from the hotel to warn them about the change. As Al is talking, Boettiger's girl friend, Dodie La Verne, walks in and realizes he is speaking to the police. Although Dodie has fallen for Al and does not want to be mixed up in his murder, she refuses to betray Boettiger and takes off to avoid witnessing his downfall. The next day, as the heist is being put in motion, Regas spots Sister Augustine leaving St. Michael's. Still obsessed with silencing her, Regas kidnaps her, neglecting his assignment in the robbery scheme. The heist soon goes awry, and the robbers, including Al, end up with Regas and Sister Augustine at the gang's hideout. When Regas threatens to murder the nun, Al fights and kills him, then is inadvertently revealed as an imposter by Sister Augustine. Al gives himself up to Boettiger in exchange for Sister Augustine's freedom, but after she is released, he jumps Boettiger. The two men fight as the police arrive and arrest Cronin and Gunner, and Al eventually shoots and kills Boettiger. Later, Sister Augustine says a final goodbye to Al, who admits that his life is a little less cold for having met her.
George J. Lewis
Wyatt D. Haupt
Byron [s.] Barr
Mary Kay Dodson
John F. Seitz
Appointment with Danger - Alan Ladd in APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER on DVD
Roving Postal Inspector Al Goddard (Alan Ladd) is assigned to the murder of one his department's own. Al ingeniously traces the killers to another Indiana city, and uncovers a million-dollar mail truck robbery scheme. The killers Joe Regas and George Soderquist (Jack Webb & Harry Morgan) were seen dumping the body by a nun, Sister Augustine (Phyllis Calvert) and make an attempt on her life. The Sister's refusal to leave the city earns Al's admiration, as it contradicts his personal belief that everybody "has a pitch", that is, a selfish reason for their actions. Al eventually has no choice but to infiltrate the gang and join in on their caper. Posing as an Inspector gone bad, he must think fast to stay ahead of gang leader Earl Boettiger (Paul Stewart), and avoid the suspicions of Earl's provocative girlfriend, Dodie (sultry Jan Sterling of Ace in the Hole).
It's a safe bet that J. Edgar Hoover had nothing to do with the production of Appointment with Danger. Hoover didn't permit his FBI agents to be depicted as crooked, nor would he be likely to accept a storyline with a federal employee who aids in the hijacking of a mail truck. J. Edgar might also find fault with Alan Ladd's hardboiled, misanthropic hero. Al Goddard angers his boss with his cynical remarks. Upon first meeting Sister Augustine, Al quotes Martin Luther, just for the sake of getting a reaction. But a professional understanding soon develops between Goddard and his key witness.
Scripts about lawmen going undercover are a dime a dozen, but Appointment with Danger surprises with its sharp dialogue and interesting characters. Al Goddard leads off with a classic line: "Sure I know what love is -- it's what goes on between a man and a .45 that won't jam." Al is constantly on the movie. When the corpse in the alley leads to a dead end, he asks a few questions in a nearby rail yard. Realizing he's on the right track, Goddard ditches his taxi and hops a passing freight to the next town, right then and there. James Bond would have used a sports car or a jet, but Goddard is a real man of the streets. Four hours later our agent has found Sister Augustine and has her downtown making a positive identification.
Al's penetration into the gang is nicely written and played out. The crooks move in a shadowy world of pool halls and creaky hotels, and Al's deception is almost discovered more than once. Jack Webb's sinister Joe Regas breathes down Al's neck at all times -- Al takes the opportunity to knock him out cold during a handball game. The movie does without a conventional love interest -- no Veronica Lake shows up to sing and rest her blonde head on Ladd's shoulder -- but Al's interesting friendship with Sister Augustine more than compensates. Phyllis Calvert's spirited and devout nun should have won an award for avoiding "cute" Going My Way whimsy. When Sister Augustine accompanies the Inspectors to a pool hall, the movie doesn't milk the scene for undue laughs.
Following another noir trend, much of Appointment with Danger is filmed on real city streets, including the swift mail robbery sequence. But the outstanding contribution is a sharp and observant script. The thieves sweat out the caper as individuals looking out for Number 1. Dodie plays records and relieves her boredom by trying to seduce Al. Paul Stewart's big boss keeps weighing the gang's choices, even when the heist goes bad. Director Lewis Allen (The Uninvited, Desert Fury) must be credited for some of this sophistication. Al Goddard faces a last-minute crisis when gun moll Dodie discovers his true identity. To our surprise Dodie proves that she's no dummy like everyone else, all she wants is to insure her own survival. It's an unusually smart scene.
The writers were surely hoping to achieve the word-of-mouth buzz enjoyed by Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death, with its controversial scene in which Richard Widmark pushes an old lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. Appointment with Danger tries to top that brutality by having the dominant hit man Regas (Jack Webb) beat his submissive partner Soderquist (Harry Morgan) to death with Soderquist's own baby's bronzed booties. The sustained sadism is made all the more vicious through Webb's understated performance. Webb retained this deadpan persona for his later heroic roles, as in his self-directed feature Pete Kelly's Blues. Even more interesting in retrospect is that actors Webb and Morgan later played L.A.P.D. detectives in the second iteration of Webb's long-running TV police drama Dragnet. Viewers can be forgiven for smiling -- after seeing this callous murder scene, the relationship of Officers Joe Friday and Bill Gannon will never again seem the same.
Paramount finished shooting Appointment with Danger almost a year and a half before its 1951 premiere, but the delay seems to have been a routine scheduling decision unrelated to any issues with the film's content.
New DVD label Olive Films does well enough with their DVD presentation of Appointment with Danger, licensed from Paramount Pictures. The transfer on this show is quite good if perhaps a tiny bit light. We once again are given a chance to admire the expert work of Paramount's process projection master Farciot Edouart -- many of the process dialogue scenes are very neatly worked out. There is no visible negative damage and Victor Young's expressive score is nicely represented on the good audio track. The disc has no extras.
For more information about Appointment With Danger, visit Olive Films. To order Appointment With Danger, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Appointment with Danger - Alan Ladd in APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER on DVD
The working titles of this film were Postal Inspector, United States Mail and Dead Letter. The order of the onscreen end credits differs slightly from that of the opening credits. The film opens with a voice-over narrator describing the workings of the U.S. Post Office and the job of postal inspector, "the nation's oldest police force." Various post offices, including the main office in Washington, D.C., are seen. Although the film did not open in the U.S. until May 1951, it was reviewed in the British Monthly Film Bulletin in April 1950 and opened in London shortly thereafter. According to a July 1948 Variety news item, Endre Bohem was first slated to produce the picture, and writers Ardel Wray and Robert L. Richards were assigned to the script. The contribution, if any, of Wray and Richards to the final film has not been determined. Although a January 1947 Variety item announced that Eagle Lion had purchased a screen story by Henry Sucher entitled "Postal Inspector," that story does not appear to have any connection to the Paramount property. According to a July 1949 Los Angeles Daily News news item, Appointment with Danger was based on a series of "true incidents from government files" and marked the first time that the Post Office Department had given its "complete co-operation" to a picture. Harold Ambrose, special assistant to the U.S. Postmaster, was reportedly sent to Hollywood to discuss the project.
In March 1949, Hollywood Reporter announced that William Keighley was directing the picture. Paramount publicity material, contained in the film's file at the AMPAS Library, announced that "radio personality" Blossom Plumb was to make her screen debut in the picture, but her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Stacy Harris, a regular on the radio series This Is Your F.B.I., made his screen acting debut in Appointment with Danger. By the time of the film's release, Jack Webb, who plays the homicidal "Joe Regas," was starring in the popular police radio series Dragnet. The series began on television in 1952, and in 1967, Henry Morgan, who plays Webb's partner-in-crime in Appointment with Danger, became Webb's co-star in a new television version of Dragnet. As noted in news items and studio publicity, two weeks of location filming took place in Chicago, IL, and Gary, La Porte and Fort Wayne, IN. On January 19, 1953, William Holden and Coleen Gray appeared in a Lux Radio Theatre version of the story.
Released in United States Spring May 9, 1951
Released in United States Spring May 9, 1951