Postal Inspector Al Goddard (Alan Ladd) is assigned to investigate the murder of a fellow officer. The only witness to the crime is Sister Augustine (Phyllis Calvert), who identifies the photograph of one of the assailants. This leads Goddard to a seedy hotel where he learns that the assailant is a member of a gang headed by Earl Boettiger (Paul Stewart), and he soon discovers that the gang is planning a million dollar mail robbery. This classic film noir also features the stars of Dragnet, Jack Webb and Harry Morgan, as Stewart’s Henchmen. This was Alan Ladd’s final Film Noir and was directed by Lewis Allen (The Uninvited).
At five-feet-six-inches, Alan Ladd was one of Hollywood's shortest tough guys, yet the vertically challenged actor forged a successful motion picture career during the 1940s, often teaming with the alluring Veronica Lake (known for her over-one-eye peek-a-boo hairstyle) in a series of taut film noirs. Yet by 1951, Ladd's popularity had slipped, and two years before his last hurrah in 'Shane,' he appeared in several forgettable movies, including 'Appointment with Danger,' a talky, by-the-numbers mystery directed without any flair by Lewis Allen. What should be a tight, thrilling tale about a rogue postal inspector who goes undercover to solve a murder and thwart a million-dollar robbery ends up a lackluster enterprise that's devoid of suspense and style, and seems much longer than its 89-minute running time.
When a postal inspector (who knew there was such a job?) is knocked off during a "routine assignment," the central office enlists his brusque, hard-nosed, and oh-so-cynical colleague Al Goddard (Ladd) to help nail the thugs who bumped him off. Not much of a people person (as one fellow inspector tells him, "You're a good cop, but that's about all you are"), Goddard first must protect the crime's only eyewitness, Sister Augustine (Phyllis Calvert), a sweet, wide-eyed nun, but when leads run dry, he goes against procedure and tries to crack the nefarious crime ring from the inside.
What begins as an intriguing nun in jeopardy movie quickly devolves into a standard underworld yarn that lacks suspense and character development, methodically loses steam, and only marginally employs the postal angle. The oil-and-water relationship between Goddard and Sister Augustine somewhat evokes 'Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison' (Calvert often resembles her British compatriot Deborah Kerr in look and manner), but 'Appointment with Danger' never rises above the mundane. Only a couple of snappy exchanges lace the by-the-book screenplay and even acclaimed cinematographer John F. Seitz, who shot such exquisitely photographed noir classics as 'Sunset Boulevard' and 'Double Indemnity,' can't dress up the material with any visual panache.
Ladd is smooth and likable, but it's difficult to create much chemistry with a nun, especially one who vanishes from the story halfway through and only reappears for the climax. Jan Sterling makes a bit of an impression as a mob gal Friday who flirts with Goddard, but the most interesting character performances come from Harry Morgan (billed here as Henry) and Jack Webb. Sixteen years before the two would team up as crime-fighting cops on the classic TV series 'Dragnet,' they appear here as a couple of ruthless thugs hoping to score a cool million and extinguish any complications in their path. Both actors try their best to file first-rate portrayals in this second-rate film, as does the always reliable Paul Stewart, but their efforts go unrewarded.
It's tough to make a dull film noir, but somehow director Allen does just that. 'Appointment with Danger' boasts a colorful cast, but a colorless script and autopilot direction sabotage this criminally pedestrian police drama that's both flimsy and forgettable.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Appointment with Danger' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the full-motion menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
Pleasing clarity and contrast distinguish this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer from Olive Films, but the banged up source material severely diminishes its impact. At times, flurries of white vertical lines threaten to obscure the image, and a plethora of nicks, marks, and blotches often dance across the screen. As the film progresses, the video quality improves, but it rarely reaches acceptable levels for a Blu-ray transfer. Grain is noticeable, yet adds appropriate texture to this film noir tale, and acceptable gray scale variance enhances depth. Blacks, especially the robes of the nuns, are rich and deep, and whites are crisp, while close-ups highlight fine facial details well. The driving rain in the opening sequence shows up nicely, but it's almost indistinguishable from the print damage, and daylight exteriors look a little washed out. Shadow delineation is fair, however crush is minimal, and no digital doctoring seems to have been applied. Though 'Appointment with Danger' is a B movie at best, it deserves a far better transfer. This subpar effort doesn't meet Blu-ray standards and won't even please the film's fans, if it has any.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track outputs adequate sound that serves the film well. No noticeable age-related imperfections, such as hiss, pops, and crackles, intrude, but a slight tinny quality occasionally lends the track an unfortunate shrillness. Victor Young's melodramatic music score sounds rich and full-bodied, dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, sonic accents like gunshots and screeching wheels are crisp and bright, and a wide dynamic scale keeps distortion at bay. All in all, this is a solid audio effort that greatly outclasses its video counterpart.
No supplements whatsoever, not even a trailer, are included on the disc.
Despite his diminutive stature, Alan Ladd stood tall as one of the more believable tough guys of Hollywood's Golden Age, but 'Appointment with Danger' is a decidedly inferior vehicle that keeps the actor's attributes in check. This dull, plodding film noir about the undercover travails of a postal inspector seeking to solve the murder of a colleague and foil a high-stakes heist is mostly talk, and the little action that transpires is bush league at best. Olive's Blu-ray presentation also fails to make the big leagues, thanks to a marked up video transfer and no supplements. Even Ladd's devoted fans should skip this second-rate genre entry and disappointing high-def release.