April 24, 2009 at 7:43 PM (Film Noir Reviews) (, , , )


Jeopardy is a film noir (supposedly) from 1953 that is directed by John Sturges. It doesn’t come without star power with Barbara Stanwyck, Ralph Meeker and Barry Sullivan, but it does lack just about everything else. It is considered a film noir, but I have yet to see why that is.


The writing is sub par to be generous and while the storyline in many good noirs is questionable, Jeopardy’s catalyst is about the worst. On a family vacation to an abandoned beach front, Barry Sullivan (the father) falls through a dilapidated pier and his leg is caught under a large piece of timber that originally held up that section of the pier. The wife, Barbara Stanwyck, and the young son (Lee Aaker) try to get him out before the tide comes in and drowns him.


The frustrating thing is that the piece of timber is not very large, though it breaks their car jack, and the sand underneath is soft. The film is supposed to convince you that they cannot shovel out the soft sand because there are a couple of rocks around, but it defies anyone’s common sense and their attempts to get him out from under the log are extremely minimal before it is decided that Stanwyck should make a 2 hour journey back to the only house they saw on the way in.


The story does pick up when Ralph Meeker enters, an escaped convict that doesn’t care about Stanwyck’s family and takes her as a hostage. The movie struggles mightily until he enters. Meeker does get the best lines of the film and is the only actor that seems to care about his character.


The big hook of the film is the moral quandary Stanwyck finds herself in as she tries to decide if it is worth it to give herself to Meeker in order to save her husband from certain death. Meeker wants to have his way with her and this Stanwyck’s only bargaining chip.


I would never tell anyone not to watch a film, but don’t expect much from this one. The beginning is amateurish at best and it appears as if the filmmakers didn’t even try to convince the audience that Sullivan was truly stuck under the large timber. Stanwyck is a great actress, but this may be the worst film I have seen of hers to date and it really hurts to watch her talent wasted.


Spoiler Alert


One glaring problem with this story is that the hook is not really used. Stanwyck is supposed to give herself to Meeker in order to convince him to help her husband. Whether or not sex actually happens is open to interpretation (they have a couple of violent kisses), but it was not necessary as what convinces him to help is that Meeker can have her husbands clothes, identification and car.


It may have helped this film if Stanwyck did run off with Meeker and left Sullivan to drown in front of his son. Instead, the ending was lackadaisical and predictable with the exception that you know Meeker probably gets away at least for a while longer. If Stanwyck would have been a real femme fatale, this would have at least given the film some tones of noir. Otherwise it was simply a poorly written and put together film that has little value other than to give further evidence the Ralph Meeker was an underrated actor. 


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