A Dangerous Profession (1949)

A Dangerous Profession (1949)
is a stylised pulp cop versus bail-bondsman versus client stand-off romance crime and detective mystery mannered film noir directed by Ted Tetzlaff, and starring Ella Raines, George Raft, Jim Backus and Pat O'Brien.

The tough loners of film noir are always waiting for a new case in the city of crime, whether they be detective or heel, or in this case a bail bondsman, something of the perfect cinematic loner. 

Some of them are waiting for the return of the woman that burned them, and George Raft plays both, with his usual stillness and impassive stone hard cinematic stare.

In the game of sucker moves, this loner works his broken relationships with broken noir charm, the grimaces of both his current partner and his former police partner testify to this.

Yep it's a different sort of Bond movie, though the bondsman appears to be a little used figure in the multifold and never ending library corridors of the film noir archive of 40s and 50s hard verbal fist fighting monotony that is normative noir.

Evidence of A Dangerous Profession (1949)

George Raft used to flash a badge, now he slings bail bonds, side by side with Pat O’Brien. They’re a pair of hard-nosed gents in a racket that’s got more shadows than the dark side of the moon. Clients are vanishing like smoke in a stiff breeze, and it’s got Raft pacing the floorboards. To thicken the plot, Ella Raines, a dame from his past with curves that could drive a man to distraction, waltzes back into his world.

Jim Backus in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

The flick’s got that noir edge, but it ain’t swimming in the usual pool of shadows and fog. The most dramatic flare comes when the secretary, a doll with a voice that could make a wolf howl, catches a buzz on the horn.

The  40s male arm-grip — endemic to the movies and to film noir, cannot lie 
 A Dangerous Profession (1949)

The light cuts through the gloom, throwing the company’s moniker in reverse across the wall like a ghost sign. Tetzlaff’s at the helm, steering this ship with a steady hand, nothing flashy. Raft’s rattling off his lines like he’s double-parked outside, giving you the sense he’s just clocking in for the dough. 

Jim Backus, Betty Underwood, George Raft in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

But it’s Jim Backus, playing a gumshoe with a tie to Raft, who swipes the scene, smooth as a pickpocket in a crowd. How was this all billed and what would you read as you browsed the lobby cards on a hot night on the local strip, back in '49? These read as follows:

Thieves and Killers are my Clients!

He's got to be tougher, trickier than they are. He walks a tight wire between the law and crime. One slip can find him in the ditch ... with a slug in his chest!

A Dangerous Profession (1949) is a film noir that delves into the perilous world of bail bondsmen in Los Angeles. The story unfolds through the eyes of Vince Kane, a former police detective turned bail bondsman, portrayed by George Raft. Kane’s life takes a complex turn when one of his clients, Claude Brackett, is murdered. 

Classic George Raft stillness of visage in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

Brackett was a suspect in a securities robbery and his sudden death propels Kane into an investigation driven by two compelling motives: his innate curiosity as a former cop and his romantic feelings for Brackett’s widow, Lucy, who happens to be an old flame. 

As Kane delves deeper, he uncovers connections between Brackett and unsavory characters like nightclub owner Jerry McKay and a criminal named Roy Collins. Kane’s investigation leads him to suspect McKay’s involvement in the robbery, and he embarks on a risky strategy, posing as a crook himself and demanding a hefty bribe from McKay for his silence. This tactic puts him at odds with his partner, Joe Farley, who disapproves of Kane’s methods and warns him of the consequences.

The plot thickens as Kane navigates the treacherous waters of crime and deception, where every move could be his last.  A Dangerous Profession  offers a gripping look at the post-war American underworld, where the lines between law enforcers and lawbreakers blur, and where love and loyalty are tested in the face of danger.

In the bustling post-World War II era of Hollywood, George Raft emerged as a prominent figure in RKO’s cinematic offerings. His fourth film with the studio, following the likes of  Johnny Angel (also known as  The Big Jump  and  Hounded ),  Nocturne (1946),  and  Race Street,  was a venture into the gritty world of crime and suspense.

Ella Raines in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

Impassive George Raft in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

Look again — A Dangerous Profession (1949)

Impassive nervous George Raft — A Dangerous Profession (1949)

She loves you — Ella Raines in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

The project began as an original script titled The Bail Bond Story,  penned by Warren Duff and Martin Rackin. It caught the attention of Humphrey Bogart’s production company, hinting at its potential allure. However, it was Fred MacMurray who initially optioned the script for his own company, only to let the option lapse.

RKO, seizing the opportunity, acquired the script and enlisted George Raft for the lead role. Raft, originally slated to star in  The Big Steal,  found himself available due to delays with Hounded, released as  Johnny Angel (1945). Thus, Robert Mitchum stepped into The Big Steal,  and Raft was cast in what would become A Dangerous Profession.

The film’s production accommodated the schedules of its stars, with Pat O’Brien’s involvement in John Ford’s stage production of  What Price Glory?  and Raft’s travel plans to Europe.

The film’s direction underwent a notable change; initially, Howard Hughes announced in February 1949 that Lewis Milestone would helm the project, with Raft, O’Brien, and Jane Russell as the leads. However, Ted Tetzlaff ultimately took the director’s chair.

Film noir window dressing —  George Raft and Ella Raines in
 A Dangerous Profession (1949)

In the shadow-draped alleys of what large language models consider to be a reasonable working of hardboiled language into generated script for film noir websites, A Dangerous Profession demonstrates  a plot that twists like a knife in the back. Bill Williams, cooling his heels in the clink with a bail set at a steep $25,000, finds his only hope in his dame, Ella Raines. She’s got history with George Raft, the bail bondsman with a heart as hard as the city’s concrete.

Men don't touch —  unless they are fighting — A Dangerous Profession (1949)

She’s short on dough, clutching only $4,000 to her name, and Raft, alongside his sidekick Pat O’Brien, is playing hardball for the full pot. It’s a sucker’s game; if she had the whole wad, she wouldn’t need their muscle. The bail bond biz is supposed to be a ten-cent dance, not a full-price ticket.

Then, like a twist in a pulp novel, a shadowy grifter slides $12,000 across the table, greasing the palms of Raft and O’Brien. They pocket the cash, but their eyes are still hungry for more. It’s a dirty play in a dirty game.

Williams’s rap sheet reads like a bad joke. He’s in the hot seat for cashing $150,000 in hot securities, but he’s playing dumb about the two wise guys behind the caper, even though one’s a night club kingpin he rubs elbows with. And Jim Backus, the cop with a badge cleaner than a preacher’s conscience, couldn’t sniff out Williams for two years, even though the guy was hiding in plain sight.

The flick’s got the noir getup, but it’s running circles like a flatfoot on a wild goose chase. Raft’s playing the treasure hunt, bouncing from A to B to C, until the credits roll and the case cracks wide open.

Backus is wound tighter than a two-dollar watch, acting like Raft’s bond slip for Williams is as bad as springing Al Capone. O’Brien’s got a shifty look, like he’s got a secret itching under his skin. And Raines, she’s no spider woman, but that’s just one joe’s opinion.

And let’s not forget the grand finale — a car taking the big dive off a cliff. Back in those days, L.A.'s canyons were a graveyard for Detroit steel. It’s all part of the dance in this city of angels and devils, where every shadow could be your last. This car does not in fact appear to go off the cliff, which is one of the more environmentally friendly aspects to its climactic scene.

Production commenced in May 1949, with Jean Wallace cast as the female lead. Her tenure was brief, lasting only four days before she was replaced by Ella Raines, who was promptly flown in from England.

As the film neared completion, its title evolved to  A Dangerous Profession,  a name that encapsulated the film’s essence and promised audiences a thrilling journey into the perilous and captivating world of bail bonds and crime. The film stands as a testament to the era’s dynamic and often unpredictable nature of movie-making.

Ella Raines in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

The world of bail bondsmen has been explored in various films, here they are, just a list of a few, there will surely be more, but they are in various modes, and a general mix of action, comedy, and drama. Here are a few notable examples:

Midnight Run (1988): This action-comedy stars Robert De Niro as a bounty hunter who must transport a former Mafia accountant, played by Charles Grodin, across the country. The accountant has jumped bail, leading to a cross-country chase involving rival bounty hunters, the FBI, and the mob.

Jackie Brown (1997): Based on Elmore Leonard’s novel  Rum Punch,  this crime thriller directed by Quentin Tarantino features Robert Forster as Max Cherry, a bail bondsman who becomes entangled in the schemes of the titular flight attendant, played by Pam Grier.

Winter’s Bone (2010): This drama centers on a 17-year-old girl who must navigate the criminal underworld of the Ozarks to find her father after he puts up their house for his bail bond and disappears.

Blood Money (1933): This pre-Code crime film delves into the life of a charismatic bail bondsman who encounters various offenders, from first-time defendants to career criminal.

"Unless you've been a cop, you'll never know the satisfaction of finding a man you have been hunting for over two years."
Jim Backus in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

Film noir’s core is defined by a protagonist who is not inherently malevolent but is ensnared by a fatal flaw, plunging him, her or them into a shadowy, treacherous realm. Vince finds himself lured into a perilous charade, orchestrated by individuals of a particularly dangerous ilk. 

The enigma lies in discerning the nature of the game he’s entangled in. Whose interests does he represent? What stakes is he vying for? Could it be the allure of a woman, or the seduction of wealth? Is Vince the knight or the knave in this twisted tale? Perhaps even Vince is grappling with that very conundrum.

George Raft’s portrayal is emblematic of his cinematic persona. Known for embodying the quintessential tough character with seamless authenticity, Raft’s real-life ruggedness meant he never had to feign toughness. His true prowess lay in bringing a touch of empathy to these hardened roles, particularly those who revelled in the thrill of risk. Vince Kane is no stranger to gambles, embroiled in a situation he would have been wise to avoid, yet inevitability dictated otherwise.

Sartorial clashing in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

The old film noir quagmire from the past is evoked in a true style in this true yet mild noir. Mild noir is a beautiful strain and the George Raft raft of expressions is in full play, with this being another film that utilises his intense stillness and charm. Same said of Ella Raines, who is the large hat wearing doorway to the misty quagmire which reminds us that we never reform, not in the world of noir, not ever if we were a cop, which is the case with the George Raft bail-bondsman performance.

To be this sort of man is to be stable and yet troubled, the stoic and steady body in the face of fate, underdressed as well, compared to his business partner. It should be the case although it is not, that each noir has its own particular flavour special to it, and if there were such to mention here it may be curious to note the outré quality of Pat O'Brien's jackets, hats and ties, which usually and unusually clash with those of others, in a remarkable interesting sartorial aside. This kind of jacket did never catch on, yet.

Ella Raines in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

Emotional discord is the hard cored stable of the past in the truest cases of the style, and even if the standard photography veers it out of the pleasantly stifling high pressure depths of the style, it is still noir by dint of this gumshoe of a performance, even though Raft is a bail-bonder.

Ella Raines, a name that resonates with the lyrical grace of poetry, embodies a muse of creativity. Yet, she is enshrouded in an enigma, a legend of sorts—not in the ubiquitous sense of a Marilyn Monroe, whose fame is universal—but in a more elusive, almost mythical presence that captivates the imagination of the inquisitive souls among us. 

Her cinematic legacy is concise yet impactful, comprising a mere 22 films released between 1943 and 1956 and does include delights such as Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak, 1944), Hail the Conquering Hero (Preston Sturges), Brute Force (Jules Dassin, 1947), and The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (Robert Siodmak, 1945). There’s a lingering suspicion that A Dangerous Profession (Ted Tetzlaff, 1949) might have graced my screen during one of my George Raft-inspired moods, though certainty eludes me. Despite the modest number of her films the significance of Ella Raines in the life of film noir remains undiminished.

Concluding cliffside rolling fight in A Dangerous Profession (1949)

Concluding clinch — Pat O'Brien, George Raft, Ella Raines and Jim Backus
A Dangerous Profession (1949)

If you’re ever in the mood to delve deeper into her work, her performances are a testament to the era of classic film and are worth exploring. Ella Raines’ contribution to the silver screen, though finite, has left an indelible mark on the hearts of those who appreciate the golden age of cinema.

Vacuum Cleaners in Film Noir —  A Dangerous Profession (1949)

A Dangerous Profession (1949)

Directed by Ted Tetzlaff

Release Date - Nov 26, 1949 (USA) |   Run Time - 79 min.  

Man Ray’s choice of Ella Raines as a subject for his photography, with his signature surrealist flair, indeed adds layers of intrigue to her already enigmatic persona. The lack of extensive public information about their collaboration only intensifies the allure surrounding Raines. She was known for her “sultry” and “mysterious” presence, often gracing crime pictures and film noir with her performances. 

This very aura of mystery that Raines projected might have been what drew Man Ray to capture her essence through his lens.

Ella Raines’ talent and her contribution to the film noir genre certainly merit more recognition. Despite a relatively brief filmography, her performances left a lasting impression on the genre, showcasing her versatility and depth as an actress.

Continuing to discuss and highlight Ella Raines’ work is a wonderful way to honour her legacy and introduce her to new generations of film buffs, all you buffs, buff your way to the front of the line here. Her nuanced performances in a variety of roles across cinematic genres deserve to be celebrated and remembered. It’s through conversations like these that the underrated gems of cinema are kept alive and appreciated.

Ella Raines by Man Ray

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