Sunday 23 October 2022

Movie Review: 5 Steps To Danger (1956)

A Cold War noir thriller, 5 Steps To Danger borrows from other, better movies, but cannot overcome limitations on budget, talent, and imagination.

After his car breaks down on a California highway, John Emmett (Sterling Hayden) is invited by traveler Ann Nicholson (Ruth Roman) to share the driving to speed up her trip to Santa Fe. At a gas stop John is warned by nurse Helen Bethke (Jeanne Cooper) that Ann is unstable but harmless and under the care of Dr. Simmons (Werner Klemperer).

Ann and John continue their journey, and are soon stopped by highway patrolmen claiming Ann is wanted for questioning about a murder in California. After they escape, Ann confides in John that she is originally German and is trying to deliver secret missile design transcripts smuggled out of East Germany to a Dr. Kissel at a Santa Fe research university. The dean of the university (Richard Gaines), the CIA, the FBI, and a murderous henchman are all soon involved.

Written, produced, and directed by Henry S. Kesler, 5 Steps To Danger has grand ambitions well exceeding the capacity to deliver. Nods and winks to Hitchcock and Wilder pepper the script, but the homage elements are undone by a basic cheapness that leaps off the the screen. The sets are rudimentary, and many essential plot points (the California murder, the real Kissel, Ann's brother, the entire CIA investigation) are talked about but never seen. Stars Hayden and Roman are adequate, but the supporting cast members are stiff, not helped by some inept scene blocking.

The plot starts with a promise of intrigue and mystery, but unravels quickly into an incomprehensible mess. The character motivations and movements are almost impossible to understand or follow, leaving the impression that every action serves the script rather than logic. Hayden's John Emmett, in particular, seems happy to just go along and wade into an increasingly dangerous spy world he knows nothing about. 

Kesler does better on the open road, the highway scenes offering an expanse of freedom to capture large cars roaring down the highway, and the rest-stops are suitably grungy. A few shadow-on-the-wall noir elements leave an impression, and Ann's complicated story carries femme fatale potential. But despite the few decent elements, 5 Steps To Danger is about three steps short.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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