JEOPARDY ( 1953 )

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“I’ll do anything to save my husband… anything.”, Barbara Stanwyck as Helen Stilwin pleads to Ralph Meeker in a formidable situation.

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Barbara Stanwyck was the most versatile actress from the silver screen who had an extensive resume of films that consisted of a pantheon of memorable classics that stemmed from the Pre-Code era and continued on until her retirement in 1986.

In a career spanning sixty years, Barbara Stanwyck explored every genre in the film industry and excelled in an array of diverse roles that spotlighted the versatility in her range as an actress. With her flexibility Stanwyck could easily adjust from a breezy screwball comedy to a faced paced Film Noir, an aspect in cinema in which she was accustomed to.

The Film Noir era was a triumphant time for Stanwyck. After enthralling audiences with her thunderous portrayal of Phyllis Dietrichson in 1944’s Double Indemnity, Stanwyck’s success amassed into an abundant flow of spectacular Film Noir productions.

While most of these films opened to critical acclaim, some of them were made on a small budget and never acquired the recognition they deserved. One of these vehicles is Jeopardy, an effectual MGM thriller that attained moderate results on it’s release, but vanished shortly after without requisitioning fanfare.

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Jeopardy was directed by John Sturges, and based on a radio play titled A Question Of Time, with the screenplay by Mel Dinelli, who was prolific for his writing efforts in films that include The Spiral Staircase and Beware, My Lovely.

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Barbara Stanwyck headlines Jeopardy with her portrayal of the tenacious and vulnerable Helen Stilwin, who with her husband, Doug ( Barry Sullivan ) and son, Bobby ( Lee Aaker ) travel to a remote beach in Baja, Mexico for the family vacation.

On their arrival at the isolated destination, Helen starts inhabiting bad vibes about the old dilapidated jetty, but when Doug rescues Bobby from the loose planks, Helen’s premonition comes true, and the jetty collapses forcing Doug to become trapped under the heavy wooden pylons as the tide is starting to approach. Now Helen must race against time, and sets off in the car to search for help, where she finds herself captured by an escaped convict ( Ralph Meeker ) who has no interest in helping Doug. Will Helen be returned to Doug in time, or will Doug drown in the rough tides?

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Jeopardy might not be considered a cinematic masterpiece, but it sure holds a special place in my heart. When I first decided to delve into Barbara Stanwyck’s illustrious filmography, Jeopardy was one of the first films I discovered. Needless to say I was immediately impressed. Not only did I attain another movie to cherish, it helped establish my passion for Barbara Stanwyck and transformed me into a lifelong fan.

After progressing my way through Stanwyck’s entire filmography, I can truthfully admit that Jeopardy is one of those underrated gems that receives little attention. The reason for this is that the film was made and distributed by MGM, who were known for their opulent and lavish musicals, and didn’t really give much consideration to the low budget thrillers that were made by their small unit that focused on these type productions.

Despite the films production company and the mixed reviews, Jeopardy is an entertaining and gripping thriller that features complex personifications and an effective character study of a traditional American family.

For a film that only has a duration of 69 minutes, it is overflowing with suspense, and moves along vigorously, cramming a myriad of electrifying elements into such a short period of time.

To add to the already breathtaking production is the assembled cast. Barbara Stanwyck is always a highlight in every role she’s played, but when she combines her usual toughness and vulnerability, she’s exceptional, and that’s exactly what she does here. Stanwyck as Helen is determined to save her husband, and is willing to contemplate this terrifying situation, but in the process she gets herself in a rather difficult position, which results in a dangerous duel between Helen and the escaped convict.

Ralph Meeker delivers the spice in the picture, and gives a commendable performance in the role as the escaped convict with nowhere to go. Barry Sullivan is the less fortunate and remains under the large pylon for most part of the movie, which doesn’t allow him the opportunity to disseminate his talents. As for Lee Aaker, he would go on to have considerable success in The Adventures Of Rin Tin Tin the following year.

From the brisk pace and the picturesque locale of Yacca Valley to the thrilling plot, Jeopardy is destined to keep you captivated from beginning to end.

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Trivia:

“Lux Radio Theater” broadcast a 60 minute radio adaptation of the movie on March 15, 1954 with Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan reprising their film roles.

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Quotes:

Helen: “I’ll do anything to save my husband… anything.”

Helen: “If he dies, I promise you one thing… I’ll kill you.”

Lawson, the fugitive: “That puts you in a class with 10,000 cops. They all got the same idea.”

Helen: “It’s good idea.”

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Cast:

Barbara Stanwyck: Born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16th, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Died: January 20th, 1990 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 82. Cause of death: Congestive heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Barry Sullivan: Born Patrick Barry Sullivan on August 29th, 1912 in New York. Died: June 6th, 1994 in Sherman Oaks, California. Aged 81.

Ralph Meeker: Born Ralph Rathgeber on November 21st, 1920 in Minneapolis. Died: August 5th, 1988 in Woodland Hills, California. Aged 67.

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4 thoughts on “JEOPARDY ( 1953 )

  1. tammayauthor says:

    I remember seeing this film a while back. Stanwyck was terrific, as always. She is one actress who never had to revive her career like Bette Davis or Joan Crawford did in the 1950s. She just continued to be brilliant (can you tell that she’s my favorite classic actress 😀 ?)

    Tam

    Like

  2. Virginie Pronovost says:

    You call this film “one of those underrated gems that receives little attention”. I like that, because that’s the kind of movie I’m often looking for. Of course I love big well-known classic such as Gone With the Wind, but if I wouldn’t watch those little underrated gems, I’ll miss so much! Of course your great review made me curious about this one and as I love Stanwyck too, I’ll try to see it. I really appreciated your personal comment about it. Next Stanwyck’s film I’ll watch will probably be Annie Oakley as I have the dvd at home. Do you like this one?

    Like

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