Dangerous Mission isn’t a very good movie. But for some folks it may be worth a look. To explain why, I must venture into spoiler territory.
Consider this fair warning.
The film opens with a murder. We’re looking down a set of stairs into a darkened, deserted nightclub. A man sits playing a piano with his back to us. Another man appears atop the stairs. He has a gun. He sneaks down and creeps across the nightclub floor. There’s a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder from the storm outside. The piano player turns, and the gunman shoots twice. The piano player drops dead. Then we hear footsteps and a woman scream. The gunman whirls towards us and fires. We hear the sound of running and a door closing. The gunman hurries after the mystery woman.
Next we're in a posh high-rise office. Two weeks have passed. The rain hasn’t stopped. The gunman, Johnny, sits on a couch. He pokes at a toy piano, playing the same melody the piano player played before he died.
We learn that Johnny is out on bail. He’s planning to claim self-defense at the trial, but the District Attorney has a witness that could put Johnny away for a long time. Johnny thinks he knows where the witness is hiding and wants her out of the picture.
“That’s your job,” Johnny says to a man sitting in a chair with his back to us. Now, here’s where things get confusing. They know where the witness is hiding, but they don’t know her identity. They have a guess, but they’re not sure. So the mystery hitman’s job is to fly out, rent a car, then go undercover. Mingle with the people and suss out the witness’s identity. Then kill her, but make it look like an accident.
“What a hideout,” Johnny says. “No wonder we couldn’t find it until yesterday. It’s the last place in the world you’d expect anyone to hide.”
Cut to Glacier National Park in Montana. We see Matt Hallett, played by Victor Mature, entering the park in a rented car. The guard at the gate spies a gun in Matt’s glove compartment and phones it in to Chief Ranger Joe, played by William Bendix.
For the next half-hour or so, the film plays like a would-be suspenseful mystery. The script tries in vain to make us suspect Matt as the hired killer. It helps that Mature has a way of talking where his entire body remains motionless except his jaw. It kept reminding me of a ventriloquist’s dummy. Certainly creepy enough to be a believable sociopath.
But, of course, we know better. This would-be misdirection gives Vincent Price a chance to do what he does best, play a character playing someone else. Here, he plays Paul Adams, a mob hitman playing a nature photographer. Early on, he’s all folksy smiles and good humor, but still comes off as something of a dilettante with a hint of menace.
Matt and Paul both vie for the attention of the witness, Louise, played by Piper Laurie. Given that Louise is the only woman that comes close to fitting the witness’s description in the entire park, I’m not so sure it was such a good place to hide.
Louise is cordial to Paul, but finds herself drawn to Matt. In between, there’s a sub-plot involving a fugitive Indian and his daughter, an avalanche, and a forest fire. Most of these diversions exist to exploit the film’s 3D presentation. I suppose they do a decent enough job, but they also give us the impression that Glacier Park is something of a death trap.
Anyway, a little before the halfway point, Paul’s true identity is revealed. Though we see it coming, the scene isn’t without a surprise. From here, the film shifts into adventure, as Paul has to kill Louise and flee the park. But despite being a professional killer, he fails to off Louise, and she alerts the park authorities. With all the roads closed, Paul has to flee overground.
Matt, now revealed as a cop working for the New York District Attorney’s office, sets out after Paul. Of course, Louise somehow ends up going with him. There’s some great location photography, and everything culminates in a showdown inside an ice fissure. It’s a scene that would have looked great shot in a real ice cave. Instead, the soundstage artifice is all the more glaring. You’ll be hard-pressed not to laugh.
As I said, Dangerous Mission is not a good movie. The convoluted script and uneven production values see to that. But fans of Vincent Price should enjoy him here, if only for the outfit he wears for the square-dance scene.