Jeopardy (1953) – A Review
Husband and wife (Barry Sullivan and Barbara Stanwyck) arrive in Mexico with their young son Bobby (Lee Aaker) for a fishing vacation. They make the long drive to a remote beach hours away from anyone and prepare to enjoy the quiet and tranquility.
Of course the story can’t be that simple and you want to know what’s the rub. Well, unfortunately Sullivan gets trapped between some rocks and a fallen pylon from a shoddy pier. Every attempt to free him is fruitless and with the tide rolling in he doesn’t have a lot of time before he’ll be underwater.
The clock begins counting down as dutiful wife Stanwyck leaves her husband and son to makes a dash to find help. It seems like good fortune that she does manage to find someone – but he turns out to be an escaped criminal (Ralph Meeker) who has no interest in helping her save her husband and prefers to kidnap her, steal her car and avoid the police who are hot on his tail.
Will Stanwyck manage to escape the clutches from this creep, make it back to the beach and rescue her husband before it’s too late?
Directed by John Sturges, who would go onto to make some great classic films in a few years time (Bad Day At Black Rock, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape), Jeopardy has a few good moments, but ends up being an underwhelming thriller.
Based on a radio play, Jeopardy is meant to a straight forward nail biter of a story revolving around the four main characters. Watching to see if Stanwyck can convince Meeker to take her back to the beach before her husband is dead. What lengths will she go to save her husband?
The funny thing is, while Meeker and Stanwyck are both quite good, their confrontations end up being pretty underwhelming and predictable.
Meeker is entertaining as the escaped con and is practically relishing the luck of having run into this panicked woman and being the one responsible for the soon-to-be drowning of her husband. He could play devilish quite well, much like he did as Mike Hammer in Kiss Me Deadly. When he shows up the film gets some much needed spice.
Stanwyck is Stanwyck. She could play these type of women in peril, hardening when she has to and turning on her sex appeal when needed as easy as anyone. She was forty-six at the time and Jeopardy must’ve been one of the last times she pulled out her signature ‘sexpot’ talent.
Other than the scene where Stanwyck finally does manage to placate Meeker, there’s no real standout moments or dialogue between the two while they traverse the desert roads. I suppose the indelible line that is uttered in the film is Stanwyck saying, “I’d do anything to save my husband….anything!” Perfect for the tagline of the movie.
Yeah, she attempts to clock him with a wrench, but it’s predictable stuff. I can envision these two having much more compelling conversations, biting dialogue and arguments being tossed between them than what they’re given to play. And Stanwyck and Meeker would have played them to the hilt.
The trouble is most of the movie’s tension lies with Stanwyck and Meeker. Sullivan and his son are stranded at the beach and other than seeing the moment when he realizes he might indeed die there, there’s really nothing memorable that happens on that beach. Their cries for help from passing boats go ignored, the water gradually gets higher as expected, but there’s no unexpected twists or surprises that occur with their predicament.
It’s almost silly watching little Bobby make his father a cup of coffee given the predicament he’s in. Sullivan remains pinned and is basically the hour glass emptying that Stanwyck must get back to before the sand runs out.
The most interesting drama should be with the wife and the con, and there’s simply not a great deal of interesting things that transpire between them. While both of them were fun to watch, I felt the majority of their scenes were par for the course for this type of thriller.
A much better B-movie ‘vacation from hell’ that turns into a survival tale noir thriller is Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker. It has a lot of similarities with Jeopardy – it was released the same year, its’ around the same length, it’s about vacationing buddies that get kidnapped by an escaped con. It will have you gripping the armrest from beginning to end and is much better Jeopardy.
Meeker and Stanwyck play their parts well and the location is remote and ominous. There are a few moments of tension that get squeezed in it’s short 69-minute runtime, but they are much too few.
I wish I could say Jeopardy is a hidden gem of a B-movie that you must seek out, but it ends up being a fairly average noir thriller. If you stumble onto it might hold your interest, but it doesn’t live up to the talents involved.