Jeopardy (1953)

A man vacationing with his wife and son near a desolate jetty in Baja becomes trapped under a rotten timber as the inevitable tide threatens to drown him.

Attractive cast raise material

22 May 2003 | by rosscinema (United States) – See all my reviews

This was made when Barbara Stanwyck was not exactly at her prime form but she was still a major star and she still had to stay busy and pay her bills by appearing in uninspired material like this. Film starts out with Doug Stilwin (Barry Sullivan) taking his family to Mexico for a fishing trip and they head to a secluded beach area to camp. Their son Bobby (Lee Aaker) gets his shoe caught on an old pier and Doug gets him out. While getting off he falls and a piece of the pier lands on his leg and traps him.

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His wife Helen (Stanwyck) must take the car and find some rope because the tide is coming in! While on the road Helen meets Lawson (Ralph Meeker) who is an escaped convict and takes her hostage. She finally convinces him to take her back to the beach in exchange for sex (Not exactly implied) and to go with him. She agrees! Story sounds just like those “B” movie scripts that kicked around every studio at the time. But their is a few interesting things to notice here. Stanwyck and Meeker have more chemistry together then Sullivan has. Sullivan is so stiff and the only time that he seems to come to life is when he see’s a lobster boat and he starts barking orders to Aaker and has him running around like an idiot waving a white cloth and putting more wood on the fire. But as you watch Helen in her scenes with Lawson she gives off just enough glint in her eye and uses subtle body English to make you think that she’s secretly attracted to the bad boy Lawson. He’s the total opposite of her husband. Meeker makes the most of his role and is always grinning like the big bad wolf. The script is strictly “B” level but the cast does their best and they do raise the material up a notch.

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“Pretty Neat, Huh?”

7/10
Author: Eric Chapman (caspar_h@yahoo.com) from Pittsburgh, PA
18 January 2001

Leonard Maltin must’ve been watching some other movie. (Though I find his Guide to be quite a valuable resource, please disregard his comments on this one.) He states “starts off well then fizzles” when it’s really the reverse – “starts off tepid then catches fire”. The plot is about as simple as it gets. Happy Mom, Happy Dad and Happy Son take a vacation at an isolated beach, Dad incapacitated in accident, Mom runs off to get help, meets up with dangerous escaped convict. Mom tries to trick convict into helping while Dad waits and hangs on for dear life.

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Good white-knuckler given an electric jolt by Ralph Meeker, appearing suddenly (the director, John Sturges, films it in a clever way that will make you gasp) around halfway through as the cunning, desperate criminal. Meeker is an unusually flippant, reckless actor (at least here and in the classic “Kiss Me Deadly”) and he happily snatches the keys to the film’s narrative and speeds off with the top down. His character has a habit of grinning childishly and saying “Pretty neat, huh?” when he’s especially pleased with his misdeeds. There is a funny break in the action when they get a flat tire and he tersely instructs his hostage, Barbara Stanwyck, “Don’t go away”. She fires back “Where would I go?” (they’re in the middle of nowhere) and he realizes sitcom-ishly “Yeah, that’s right”. The friction between them is a hoot.

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There are flaws, somewhat ridiculous ones. There’s one scene where the police, who have been chasing after Meeker for some time, stop Stanwyck’s car and to evade detection Meeker rests his head on her shoulder like a loving husband supposedly would, and pretends to be asleep as she’s being questioned. A. He looks conspicuously un-masculine in this pose and B. I think it’s safe to say that any adult who appears to be asleep during an encounter with law enforcement would certainly arouse suspicion.

Still a sturdy thriller which builds to an exciting and edifying conclusion.

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The Tide Is High!

9/10
Author: telegonus from brighton, ma
30 October 2001

Jeopardy is a tense, satisying thriller, a cut above a B but not really a major production. It qualifies as almost an experimental film, as the studio that produced it, Metro, was desperately looking for new kinds of films, stars and directors to compete with the then new medium of television. The director, John Sturges, was an up-and-comer whose best years lay ahead. He had just recently begun directing A level films, and had already proved himself a most capable craftsman. Stars Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan and Ralph Meeker, were at very different phases of their careers. Stanwyck’s glory years were behind her, and yet she could still carry a film, as she proves here. Barry Sullivan, as her husband, was one of a dozen or so leading men who got started in films in the forties who never quite achieved the success many had hoped for him. He was a fine, low-key actor, poised, but in an upper middle rather than upper class way, which made him excellent in professional roles. As the escaped convict who is the only person around who can save Sullivan’s life (he is trapped under a pier, and the tide is rising), Ralph Meeker is more energetic than usual. This excellent actor had the misfortune of having come to films after Brando and Clift.

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He was in his way as good an actor as either of them, but he lacked charisma. His bargaining with Stanwyck, which comes down to his demanding sex in exchange for saving her husband (by implication only, as this is 1953), makes for an intriguing premise which, had this been a different kind of film, could all raised all sorts of interesting questions about Stanwyck’s character. Meeker is indeed a more exciting character than Sullivan; and in her scenes with him Stanwyck is livelier than she is with her husband and son. But as this is a formula picture, not a Strindberg play, the possibility that Stanwyck might want want to have a fling,–leaving aside the question of her husband’s predicament,–remains unexplored. In this sense the incoming tide doesn’t quite have the effect one might have wished, though the movie remains tense and highly entertaining thanks to excellent acting, fine location photography, nearly all of it outdoors, and excellent direction by the woefully underrated Mr. Sturges.

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Wow! How long can you hold your breath?

10/10
Author: jshaffer-6 from United States
16 July 2007

I found this movie to be suspenseful almost from the get-go. When Miss Stanwyck starts her narration it’s only a few minutes until you realize that trouble is coming. The deserted area, the lock on the deserted gas station door, everything sets you up to wait for it…here it comes. At first you think it will be about the little boy, but all too soon you start holding your breath watching the tide coming in. I found this movie to be really stressful, even though I had watched it before and was prepared for the denouement. Now a movie that can keep you in suspense even when you have seen it before deserves some sort of special rating, maybe a white knuckles award?

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