Jeopardy (1953) John Sturges
Jeopardy (sometimes known as A Woman in Jeopardy) would probably be a good movie even if Barbara Stanwyck wasn’t the star of the film, but she is, which elevates it immediately to a higher level. The screenplay is by Mel Dinelli (who also wrote Beware, My Lovely, discussed in Episode 3), based on a Maurice Zimm radio play called “A Question of Time.” Stanwyck plays Helen Stilwin, a woman on vacation with her husband Doug (Barry Sullivan) and their young son Bobby (Lee Aaker). Doug drives the family from Baja, California to Mexico, remembering a favorite fishing spot he and his army buddies used to frequent. When the family arrives, the place is rather run-down, particularly a long ramshackle jetty.
Doug has an accident on the jetty and becomes trapped, unable to free his foot. No problem: Helen can take the car and head back to the nearest town for help before the tide comes in. No problem, that is, until she meets an escaped convict named Lawson (Ralph Meeker).
The set-up is fairly routine, but what Stanwyck does with it shows just how superb an actor she was. The dangerous Lawson is the only chance Helen has of rescuing her husband, but Lawson’s not interested in helping anyone but himself and possibly helping himself to Helen. Stanwyck is so good you can almost see what Helen’s thinking, going through all the possibilities of how she can manipulate Lawson.
One of the best lines in the film occurs when Helen’s eyeing Lawson silently, then says, “How long since you’ve… talked with a woman?” We know that “talked” isn’t the verb she has in mind, but the way she delivers it leaves no doubt as to what she’s thinking. She even says at one point, “I’d do anything to save my husband. Anything.”
I’m not sure I totally buy the ending, but the rest of the film is solid, taut, and lean, clocking in at a trim 69 minutes. Meeker is excellent as the vicious killer but it’s Stanwyck who rules the film, but then again, when doesn’t she rule the film?
Next time: “You know that what’s she doin’ is sure to cause your ruin…”
Photos: Film Noir of the Week, In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood