EDGE OF DOOM(director: Mark Robson; screenwriters: from the novel by Leo Brady/ Ben Hecht/Philip Yordan; cinematographer: Harry Stradling; editor: Daniel Mandell; cast: Dana Andrews (Father Roth), Farley Granger (Martin Lynn), Joan Evans (Rita Conroy), Robert Keith (Mandel), Paul Stewart (Craig), Mala Powers (Julie), Adele Jergens (Irene), Harold Vermilyea (Father Kirkman), Mabel Paige (Mrs. Pearson), Virginia Brissac (Mrs. Dennis), Jean Innes (Mrs. Lally), Ellen Corby (Mrs. Moore), Ray Teal (Ned Moore), Frances Morris (Mrs. Lynn), Houseley Stevenson (Mr. Swanson), Howland Chamberlain (Mr. Murray), John Ridgely (1st Detective), Douglas Fowley (2nd Detective); Runtime: 96; RKO; 1950)
“The potential was there for a great film.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Warning: spoilers throughout review.
This gloomy film noir, tells the story of a mixed up young man, Martin Lynn (Farley), who on the night of his mother’s death sought help from his local church priest to give his mother (Morris) a big funeral and became enraged by the old priest’s insensitivity to his poor family’s plight. Without thinking, Martin picks up a crucifix on the desk and kills Father Kirkman (Vermilyea) by banging the cross over his head.
The producer hired Ben Hecht to add a prologue and epilogue to its already finished project. Hecht also expands the role of Father Roth (Dana).
The Edge of Doom is told in flashback. Father Roth uses the story of Martin as a morale booster to a young disillusioned priest wanting to leave the poor New York City church because he can’t reach the parishioners. Father Roth was the younger assistant to Father Kirkman and inherited the job of church pastor upon Kirkman’s death. He will tell the priest how he tried to save the kid by getting him to believe in God and confess to the police about his crime.
Martin is an industrious truck deliverer for a floral shop. His boss, Mr. Swanson (Houseley), refuses to give him a raise on his $30 a week salary. Due to lack of money, Martin is unable to help his ailing mother get the proper medicine needed and move to Arizona, where he thinks she will be able to survive best. It also keeps him from saving enough money to marry his elevator operator girlfriend, Julie (Mala), who loves him but is upset that the handsome momma’s boy is so busy that he hardly sees her anymore.
That night while the two lovebirds plan to dine together, Martin receives a call from his mother’s neighbor, Mrs. Lally (Innes), that his mother took very sick. When Martin gets home, he learns that she died and he becomes visibly shaken. The view of Martin’s claustrophobic tenement apartment, in which he shares with his mother, indicates how trapped he must feel.
Martin has developed a negative feeling toward the church ever since the tragic incident that occurred when he was 13-years-old and his father held up a store to get money for his needy family but when caught, he committed suicide. Father Kirkman refused to give his father a proper Catholic burial. Martin never stepped foot in the church again despite his mother remaining an avid church-goer and coming to terms with what Father Kirkman did. Though he grew up to be a good boy, never getting into trouble and devoting his life to helping his kindly mother, he was left with a pent-up rage against what he felt was a hypocritical church — which he saw as taking money from parishioners who were poor enough already.
Martin has it in his head that he must give his mother a big funeral and feels the church owes it to him, and he goes to the rectory to see Father Roth who got along very well with his mother and has a way of reaching people; but, as fate would have it, the Father has just gone out on a call and only the insensitive Father Kirkman is in. The old priest tries to tell him that the church could cover the expenses for a small funeral, but he soon feels uncomfortable around the troubled young man so he calls him a cab and gives him cab fare to get rid of him. That’s when Martin went into his rage and accidentally killed him.
Escaping into the city’s crowded streets in a panic, Martin passes a movie theater whose box office has just been held-up and runs away from the crowd into a diner. He is picked up by a pair of cops who harshly grill him sensing something is wrong; they book him for the theater robbery. At the police station Martin is further grilled by Inspector Mandel (Keith) who tells Father Roth that he suspects something about that boy, but releases him to Father Roth’s custody. Mandel goes on to tell Father Roth, that in his experience as a cop, he knows when someone is holding back information. But Father Roth adamantly says he’s not the type to rob someone. These scenes between the cops and the hysterical youth are classic noir ones and are what give the film its dark edge.
At the floral shop, Martin goes slightly berserk demanding that his boss give him the best floral arrangement possible for his mother’s funeral, but he upsets his boss so much that he is fired. Martin goes to Murray’s funeral home, trying to arrange a lavish funeral even though he doesn’t have the money. When Murray (Chamberlain) hears that he is unemployed, he refuses to help telling him instead to go to the church and let them take care of matters.
Father Roth accidently scratches on Father Kirkman’s notepad and the impression of Martin’s name is on it. Now knowing that Martin is the killer, he will try to get Martin to confess and find peace for his troubled soul. Father Roth believes Martin is not an evil person, but someone who is confused and has a good conscience because deep down he believes in God.
Martin is part of a lineup for the murder. But the neighbor fingers the wrong person, a Mr. Craig (Stewart), a neighbor of Martin’s who is a known petty thief. Craig tells the cops he didn’t do the murder but he did the theater robbery, but Inspector Mandel books him for the murder.
Meanwhile Martin is full of pain and anxiety, not knowing what to do. He sneaks into the funeral home and views his mother’s body, talking to her and coming to terms about what he has to do. Martin later on meets with Father Roth and is concerned only that he shouldn’t miss his mother’s funeral, as he is turned over to Inspector Mandel. Father Roth says that both of them will be at the funeral.
In the epilogue, Father Roth tells the young priest that he writes to Martin in his prison and Martin expresses an interest in coming back to the church and praying at the altar where Father Kirkman prayed. This was a dark tale and could have been made more interesting if it cut away from Father Roth’s saintly but unconvincing role and followed through more on the story as it was written by Philip Yordan from Leo Brady’s novel. The potential was there for a great film. Censorship was the curse of the 1950s. This good-priest/bad-priest story unfortunately turns out to be a futile exercise in self-righteousness.
REVIEWED ON 1/16/2000 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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