Appointment with Danger (1950)

Appointment with Danger (1950) is a modestly fun film noir from the lesser regions of the canon, telling the exciting story of a postal inspector who goes undercover to break a crime gang that is planning a heist.

Beginning with the only clue that he has, a nun as a witness, Alan Ladd (playing postal cop Al Goddard) proves a tenacious force, driving his way from clue to clue until he has tracked down the gang.

When he has finally got the gang in his sights, he then poses as a corrupt postal cop in order to infiltrate the gang and foil the crime. 

Although things go reasonably well, we're invited to take a look at Al's character as agent of authority, which is established early on. Al, it appears, is driven only by one thing, and that is his work. Even his colleagues are bemused in fact by Al's attitude. He foregoes everything, and lives in a kind of existential isolation, with only his work, which even in itself does not appear to be enough for him.

As an agent of the state, Al Goddard is determined, and almost super-human in his focus. He's no time for anything in fact, other than his goal, which is protecting the US Post Office from bad guys.

Grim times of film noir at the Hotel Compton in Appointment with Danger (1950)

The most obvious comparison which Appointment with Danger begs, is with the film T-Men. What is stressed in T-Men is the enormous lengths that the agents of the state have to go to in order to break crime gangs and foil plots, which in the case of Appointment with Danger, is a heist.

Anyone scared yet? The Post Office Police in Appointment with Danger (1950)

In T-Men and in Appointment with Danger the detection of the crimes is a complex business. Behind this lies the idea that a lot of hard work is going into saving society from crime, and both films boast credit sequences that show the seal of their respective government departments, which indicates something in and of itself. 

En route to Danger! Appointment with Danger (1950)

There is a an idea here that much of the fatalism, ill-luck and bad-timing that leads to crimes being detected in many other film noirs is a fantasy. In films like Fritz Lang's While The City Sleeps, the police are portrayed as baffled, and even at times idle, as there are no clues and they have no methodology for capturing the killers they are looking for.

Alan Ladd as the tough-ass postal officer is a fun combination, especially when he plays the corrupt angle, threatening to frame people from crimes they haven't even heard of, hanging out in criminal dives and yet looking his full clean-cut self — fit to be seen with a nun.

Nun in noir - - Phyllis Calvert in Appointment with Danger (1950)

The key witness in Appointment with Danger is a nun, which causes the action to drag through several convents and other religious locations. But nuns, like cops, wear a uniform, and as witnesses prove hard to track down as they all look the same. However, the figure of the nun in noir does at least provide severe moral clarity, if it is needed.

Alan Ladd plays bad to play good. One issue however is that the sudden popularity of the semi-documentary style was losing its appeal by the time this was released — a fast trajectory, but the form with its stentorian voiceover, and extended inside observations of the mechanics of crime-detection — not to mention the use of the undercover agent within the gang —  all of these were fast becoming old Fedora.

Post office cop - - Alan Ladd in Appointment with Danger (1950)

In 1950, the United States Postal Service (USPS) was known as the United States Post Office Department. It was a federal agency responsible for the collection, transportation, and delivery of mail and packages within the United States and its territories.

At that time, the USPS was the primary means of communication and commerce for many Americans, as it was the only practical way to send letters and packages over long distances. The USPS had a vast network of post offices and postal carriers that spanned the entire country, making it possible for people to send and receive mail from almost any location. And as it had its own police force, it required propaganda, in the form of public information noir. 

Jack Webb in Appointment with Danger (1950)

The USPS in 1950 operated using a combination of mechanized and manual processes. Sorting and delivery of mail was done by hand, with postal workers responsible for manually sorting letters and packages based on their destination. The postal system also employed a number of mechanical sorting machines, which used a series of conveyors and chutes to sort mail based on its zip code.

Paul Stewart in Appointment with Danger (1950)

Despite its importance  the USPS faced a number of challenges in 1950 including budget constraints and rising competition from other forms of communication, such as telephones and telegrams.

Nonetheless, the USPS continued to be a vital institution, delivering important messages, documents, and goods to people all over the country. Appointment with Danger, with its USPS government seal, touches on one of the more little-known noir styles and genre twists - being the public information film noir.

This is a film noir that also uses the form to deliver a message to the public, not just about the benefits of fidelity, the benefits of not murdering or stealing, and the benefits of settling down in suburbia. Public information film noir is more direct, and wants to specifically inform its viewers of an aspect of the state and its ideological work. 

"T-Men" (1947) and "Appointment with Danger" (1950) are both film noir crime dramas that were produced by Eagle-Lion Films. While they share some similarities, and are both in effect Public Information Film Noirs, they also have some notable differences.

Pool halls of danger! 

Alan Ladd in Appointment with Danger (1950)

Stairs of Danger! Alan Ladd in Appointment with Danger (1950)

One of the significant differences between the two films is their setting. T-Men takes place in Detroit and Los Angeles and focuses on the efforts of two Treasury Department agents to track down a counterfeiting ring. Appointment with Danger, on the other hand, is set in Milwaukee and follows a postal inspector as he investigates a murder and theft at a post office.

Another difference between the two films is their style. T-Men is shot in a documentary-style, perfect for the public information film noir, with an emphasis on realism and authenticity. The film's director, Anthony Mann, used a lot of location shooting and incorporated a number of real-life Treasury Department agents into the film. Appointment with Danger, on the other hand, is a purely stylized police and gangster procedural, with a greater emphasis on mood and atmosphere.

Women accessorise Appointment with Danger (1950) rather than act in it, and if they are not nuns, then they are generally quite the opposite. Even so, this is not a film renowned for great female roles, despite perennial film noir favourite Jan Sterling being pulled across the set in various outfits, pouts and poses. 

Dangerous games - - Appointment with Danger (1950)

Both T-Men and Appointment with Danger share some common themes, such as corruption, betrayal, and danger. They both also feature a protagonist who is dedicated to his job and willing to risk his life to bring criminals to justice. Additionally, both films have a strong sense of tension and suspense, as the protagonists face dangerous and unpredictable situations.

The squash scene is similar to the boxing scenes in other undercover cop movies — like The Street With No Name (1942) — and is a beautiful body-checking masterclass in fear that Jack Webb loses badly — while Paul Stewart makes hood-like investigations as the background of pretenda-mook Alan Ladd — although it does like other scenes express well the danger of entering such a dangerous and violently unpredictable world. A new relationship of more than cat and mouse develops between criminal and cop. They are ideological foes too, in the 1950s.

In terms of critical reception, T-Men is generally considered to be the superior film. It is often praised for its realism, tight pacing, and gripping action sequences. Appointment with Danger, while generally well-regarded, is considered to be a more conventional film noir, with less innovation and originality.

Harry Morgan in Appointment with Danger (1950)

If there was a genre for procedural villainy, then Appointment with Danger (1950) may meet its entry requirements, Paul Stewart and Jack Webb do their bit, menacing but making poor decisions, and ending up in a fairly exciting and dark dénouement, with suitably punishing deaths for all who merit them. That's the film noir way, of course.

Appointment with Danger is also rather significantly maybe the last appointment Alan Ladd had with the film noir style, and it is probably his weakest of the bunch.  It's true that he turns up again in Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) but this is a colour film noir, and maybe does not count for much in the purified canon.

There are game attempts at snappy film noir style dialogue, by writers Warren Duff and Richard Breen who would go on to write Dragnet for Jack Webb (here featured), such as this immortal line, when Alan Ladd's character is challenged concerning the fact that he does not know what love is:

"Sure I do, it's something that goes on between a man and a .45 that won't jam."

Moments of sudden violence do offer Appointment with Danger (1950) a brief attempt at pure noir class, such as the game of softball that becomes deadly — and a moment when one man picks up some bronze boots that are a memento of his departed son, and beats Harry Morgan's character to death with them.

Alan Ladd in Appointment with Danger (1950)

The final shootout, which takes place around and behind several cars, is one of those great scenes which Hollywood still shoots to this day, in which nobody seems to have to any capacity to aim their gun. This is in a manner of speaking an accurate portrayal of a gun fight, although what is important is that shots are fired — the net closes in — and crime is paid off with death.

Appointment with Danger (1950)

Make your own Appointment with Danger (1951) at Wikipedia

OK — completed and released in the UK in 1950, but released in the US in 1951

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