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Dangerous Crossing

Dangerous Crossing(1953)

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teaser Dangerous Crossing (1953)

Although popular mystery author John Dickson Carr was highly prolific, this is one of the few films derived from his work. It was adapted from his 1943 radio drama "Cabin B-13," an episode of the mystery series Suspense. The show was repeated, with different actors, just seven months later. In fact, the story and Carr were so highly regarded, the author was given his own program under the title, a mystery anthology series in which the ship's doctor related a different strange tale from aboard the ocean liner where the titular cabin was located.

This film is based on the original plot, the kind of "vanishing lady" formula used so successfully in Hitchcock's appropriately titled The Lady Vanishes (1938), Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965), and most recently in Flightplan (2005). This time, however, it's the man who vanishes, the groom of newlywed Ruth Bowman (Jeanne Crain). After boarding an ocean liner for their honeymoon, hubby goes to the purser's office to put in safekeeping a large sum of money he's carrying. He never returns, however, sending his bride into a frenzy, especially when no one on board, and none of the ship's records, have any recollection of a husband accompanying her. In fact, she finds herself registered under her maiden name in another cabin, while hers (for some reason changed to B-16 in this version) remains empty. In her desperation, she turns to the only person who may be able to help her, the ship's doctor, played by British actor Michael Rennie.

The working titles of the picture were "Ship Story" and "Cabin B-13" (raising the mystery again of why the number was changed in production). It was filmed somewhat on the cheap (under half a million) and in only 19 days using the large ship sets from two of 20th-Century Fox's more lavish productions, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Titanic (1953). Coincidentally, Crain later starred in the sort-of sequel to the former movie, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), while Rennie provided the off-screen narration for the sea-disaster epic.

The leftover sets were well used by director Joseph M. Newman (The Outcasts of Poker Flat, 1952; This Island Earth, 1955) and respected cinematographer Joseph LaShelle , a nine-time Academy Award nominee, notable for his fine black-and-white work on The Apartment (1960), Marty (1955), and the film noir classic Laura (1944).

This was Crain's penultimate movie under contract at the studio where she started her career a decade earlier. Crain generally liked working at Fox, but she was eager for new horizons and different types of roles. "There comes a time when an actress stays too long in the same place," she later said. "People get used to having you around, and they can't think of you in a different light."

The vanishing husband may look familiar to some viewers - Carl Betz, the star's husband on the sitcom The Donna Reed Show.

Carr's story saw several other incarnations. It was printed in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine in 1943, the year it debuted on radio, and later done on BBC radio in their Appointment with Fear series. It made it on to television as an episode of the Climax! series in 1958 with Kim Hunter in the lead and again as a TV movie (set in 1947), Treacherous Crossing (1992). As inexplicable as the cabin number changes, the characters' names in each version are different.

The urban legend that inspired the story can be traced back to a supposed conspiracy around the time of the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. An English woman traveling with her grown daughter collapsed on the bed of their hotel room. The hotel doctor sent the younger woman out for medicine, and when she returned, she found her mother had disappeared. The doctor and all of the hotel employees claimed never to have seen the mother, insisting the daughter had arrived alone, and someone else was registered in the room, which has now completely changed in appearance. According to the most frequent versions of the story, the young woman never sees her mother again, can find no one who will believe her, and ends her days in an insane asylum. In other versions, the determined daughter finally uncovers the truth-that the older woman had contracted the plague and the hotel, to avoid a tourist panic just when people were expected to flock to town for the world's fair, removed her and all traces of her to cover up the fact.

Director: Joseph M. Newman
Producer: Robert Bassler
Screenplay: Leo Townsend, based on the radio play "Cabin B-13" by John Dickson Carr
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Editing: William H. Reynolds
Art Direction: Maurice Ransford, Lyle Wheeler
Cast: Jeanne Crain (Ruth Stanton Bowman), Michael Rennie (Dr. Paul Manning), Carl Betz (John Bowman), Mary Anderson (Anna Quinn), Marjorie Hoshelle (Kay Prentiss).

By Rob Nixon

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