Thursday, January 31, 2008

Noir City 6: Barbara Stanwyck in Jeopardy

"She did it ... because her fear was greater than her shame!"
-- tagline from Jeopardy

In noir, piers in Mexico are always a bad sign. Usually, we reach the pier at the end of the movie, and it's like reaching the end of the earth, no going back (Kansas City Confidential, The Hitcher).

In Jeopardy, we get there early on, for a family fun fishing and camping vacation. But as soon as we reach that pier in Mexico, right on schedule things start to go horribly wrong.

is a low-budget independent picture, with four main characters shot on location, only occasionally interrupted by a few bit players. With the studio system in shambles by 1953, you could have Barbara Stanwyck in a non-glamorous picture like this one.

Barry Sullivan is the army-trained dad who is prepared for anything, even bringing a gun. But a fishing pier column falls and pins his leg in the surf. They try several methods of extrating the log, but to no avail. They were unable to hear the voice in my head yelling "Fulcrum, Fulrum, Fulcrum!" as I watched helplessly in my seat at the Castro.

Sullivan must send Stanwyck for help, while his young son Bobby tries to, well, do something for his Dad at the pier. Stanwyck gets a tow rope from a shack, and then suddenly finds Ralph Meeker is there. Meeker, an escaped prisoner, takes control of the car and Stanwyck. Savvy in the ways of noir, he is not interested in going to the pier and saving Barry Sullivan.

If you thought Meeker was cool in Kiss Me Deadly, he is even cooler here. His character would sound out of place today, but look-wise would fit right in with slightly shaggy hair.

Meeker asks Stanwyck to switch seats with him while driving, taking advantage of the bench-style front seat as generations of American men have. He takes a long pause as she's on top of him, and when she squirms back to her side, she is humiliated -- he is smiling. Pretty racy stuff for 1953.

Meeker shows some manly knowledge while repairing a flat tire in the desert with no car jack available.

While speeding down the back roads, director John Sturges lets Stanwyck's face tells us in advance what she plans to do to convince Meeker to go to the pier so she can save Sullivan. A Stanwyck voice over will soon materialize, asking what would any woman do in this situation? When Stanwyck switches from vulnerable to steely, it is instant and total.

Will Meeker take her to the pier? Will he just ... take her? Will Barry Sullivan drown in front of his son? Will Meeker's clever criminal Think Fulcrum?

It's on DVD, people.

The Tijuana street vendor is Natividad Vacio, a musician and character actor who was a close friend of George Reeves and is portrayed in the film Hollywoodland.

Child actor Lee Aaker was a busy boy throughout the 1950s, appearing in many films and the Rin-Tin-Tin TV series.

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