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Everyone has their favorite family vacation horror story but this one takes the prize. In Jeopardy (1953), Barry Sullivan and Barbara Stanwyck play a married couple traveling with their small son (Lee Aaker) along the Mexican coast. After scouting for an ideal location for their fishing trip, they set up camp near a deserted village. The little boy wastes no time exploring his surroundings and promptly gets stranded on a derelict pier. When his father attempts a rescue, he falls beneath the rotting timbers and is pinned in the sand. High tide is just a few hours away and so is certain death unless Stanwyck can find a rescue party for her husband. She races off in the family car to seek help and is apprehended by Ralph Meeker, an escaped convict who commandeers her vehicle with no interest in saving Stanwyck's husband.
A taut, seventy-minute exercise in suspense, Jeopardy is a perfect example of why John Sturges was considered a master craftsman by Hollywood studio executives. Though modestly budgeted, Sturges elicited excellent performances from his three stars and transformed Jeopardy from a routine thriller into a surprise box-office hit for MGM. It was no easy task considering the original source material was a radio play, A Question of Time by Maurice Zimm. Screenwriter Mel Dinelli had to expand the material to three times its original length to make it a feature.
Jeopardy was Barbara Stanwyck's first film after taking a year off from her screen career. Her original intention had been to retire after Clash by Night (filmed in 1951 but not released until 1952) but after spending some time in Europe, she said, "I simply didn't know what to do with myself, so I went back to work." It was a lucky break for Sturges who later said, "I recall one aspect of her approach to her work that struck me as meaningful. I commented one day on how purposely and yet gracefully she moved, the marvelous sense of contained power in the way she walked, stood, sat down, or whatever. She told me years ago in New York she had the standard heel hitting clack-clack jolting walk of a chorus girl, which she was then. She went to the zoo, and for days and weeks studied the tigers, and made herself move as they did. That straight-on attack to become what she wanted to be seems to me a strong indicator of the kind of make-up she has as a person."
Co-star Barry Sullivan was also grateful for Stanwyck's participation, stating "of the films I did with Miss Stanwyck only Jeopardy sticks in my mind as having any merit, but all three occasions (the others were The Maverick Queen and Forty Guns) cling to my memory as fun experiences."
Director: John Sturges
Producer: Sol Baer Fielding
Screenplay: Mel Dinelli
Cinematography: Victor Milner
Editor: Newell P. Kimlin
Art Direction: William Ferrari, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck (Helen Stilwin), Barry Sullivan (Doug Stilwin), Ralph Meeker (The Fugitive), Lee Aaker (Bobby Stilwin).
BW-70m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford