Monday, November 21, 2011

Remember to phrase your cry for help in the form of a question

I should have blogged about this yesterday afternoon or evening, because by the time you read this post, you'll probably have missed the TCM airing of the movie Jeopardy, which is at 10:00 AM today. Fortunately, the movie has gotten a DVD release, so you can still watch it even if you miss the TCM showing.

The scene is your typical post-World War II family: father (Barry Sullivan), mother (Barbara Stanwyck) and a young son. Thanks to the new prosperity America had by the early 1950s, they're able to get in their car and go on a nice little vacation to a relatively deserted beach house on the Baja California coast. There's an old abandoned pier near the house which, having been abandoned, is in a parlous and dilapidated state, which worries Mom when her son wants to go near it. She's right to worry: eventually part of the pier collapses, and Dad gets caught underneath one of the moorings. As if that weren't bad enough, the tide is coming in, so they have to do something quick before Dad gets drowned by the ocean!

There's nobody right by and no phone, so Mom has to get in the car and go looking for help. Eventually, she finds a hitchhiker (Ralph Meeker), who seems willing to offer help, at least at a price. It turns out that Meeker is an escaped convict on the run, and sees this woman in a car as an opportunity to make his escape. So he offers the mother a bargain, but at a fairly high price: he seems to want more than just a chance to escape....

Jeopardy was made at MGM in the early 1950s at a time when they seemed to be making two types of movies. One was the big musical or other spectacle movie: Jeopardy came out only a year after things like Singin' in the Rain and The Bad and the Beautiful. The other sort of film was a small picture that tried to have some sort of message; Dory Schary wanted to make movies that were more socially relevant. While Jeopardy isn't quite "relevant", it certainly fits into this second category. It only runs about 75 minutes, but has a substantial star in Stanwyck, and a couple of people Hollywood was trying to grrom into bigger stars. There's also the high production values that MGM always had. And yet, a lot of these message movies from MGM seem more preachy than any of the social commentary films Warner Bros. had made back in the 1930s, or even the Fox docudramas.

Still, Jeopardy is worth watching if only for Barbara Stanwyck, who is as professional as ever even when having to deal with a plot that doesn't do much.

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