Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961)

Genres - Crime, Science Fiction  |   Release Date - Jul 4, 1961 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 82 min.  |   Countries - Japan, United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

Allan Dwan's final film in a directing career spanning 50 years and six decades is one of his best, and also one of his most fascinating, not only as a superb example of the sci-fi thriller, but for its aesthetic content, particularly its surprisingly direct and open sexual allusions and imagery, in an era when such factors were usually suppressed in movies. The movie -- which was shot in Mexico in 1958 but not released until three years later -- has the look of a relatively ambitious episode of one of the period's detective shows. It's lit too brightly and the decor is rather spare, and there's not a huge cast, but it's an unusually good one, led by Ron Randell and Anthony Caruso as the contending mobsters, and Debra Paget and Elaine Stewart representing, respectively, the dark and bright sides of female sexuality. Dwan's experience with silent films comes into play the moment we see Randell's mobster, Eddie Candell, fleeing across the desert, the handcuffs still on his wrists, and his realization that he's in the middle of an atom test. His silent, desperate gesturing to the camera that is monitoring events from the bunker, his whited-out image against the screen as the bomb goes off, and his seemingly miraculous reappearance moments later, are the most memorable images in the movie, and a tribute to Dwan's visual panache.

Dwan's storytelling comes into play on a significantly more complex level later on, as Candell confronts the full reality of what has happened to him. In a scene remarkable for an American movie made in 1960, Linda Marlow (Paget), Eddie's disloyal former lover, tries to stir a spark of humanity in him by coaxing him to slowly remove her high-heeled shoes and inviting him to start on her stockings; the cutaway leaves little to the imagination, and their reappearance together later, as captor and hostage, leaves even less in terms of what happened (or didn't). Finally, Dwan's handling of the close-up action scenes is remarkable for a director in his 75th year. The exterior confrontations are a bit lethargic, but in the fights, with just a few tight close-ups, some well-placed (and well-staged) groans, and savage moves and gestures from Randell, the bone-crushing action seems very vivid. Most of the special effects are simple and fairly primitive -- steel handcuffs "dissolving" into Eddie's body, bullets stopped by his skin and absorbed into it -- but the atomic test site scenes are very well staged, designed, and assembled. And the finale, with the man/monster run to ground in the outsized California landscape, facing off against flame-throwers and still shouting his defiance (in an eerie amalgam of Raoul Walsh's White Heat and High Sierra with Jack Pollexfen's The Indestructible Man), is almost as haunting as the atom test sequence. At its best moments, Most Dangerous Man Alive resembles a good episode of the original Outer Limits (in which Randell did appear subsequently, in one of the series' best performances). It made an excellent swan song for Dwan, as one of the most provocative and fascinating science fiction movies of its period, far outclassing lots of bigger-budgeted productions of the same era. It was also seized upon for an oblique homage by no less a figure than Wim Wenders, whose 1981 drama The State of Things depicts a film crew shooting a remake of Most Dangerous Man Alive.