Jeopardy (1953): John Sturges’ Psychological Thriller, Starring Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan and Ralph Meeker

The taut directing of John Sturges and impressive craftsmanship elevate Jeopardy above the level of a routine psychological thriller, resulting in a rather engaging noir crimer about a family in peril.

The stars Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan as a married couple, and Ralph Meeker as an escaped convict.

Based on a short (22-minutes) radio play, “A Question of Time,” the film is shot in black-and-white. (Ace cinematographer Victor Milner also has a bit part in the movie)

Americans Doug and Helen Stilwin, and their young son Bobby, embark on a vacation, driving across the border into desolate Baja California in Mexico to a remote fishing spot along the coast, where her father used to visit with his military buddies.

Upon arrival at the remote beach, young Bobby goes exploring out onto a precarious, rotting jetty high above the water. His foot gets stuck in a crack between boards and Doug frees him. They start back, but part of the jetty collapses, and a wooden piling falls on Doug’s leg, trapping him on the beach just as the tide starts coming in.

Helen tries to lift the piling with their car jack, but it breaks. Doug sends her for help at a deserted gas station they stopped at earlier. He estimates they have four hours before he drowns in the rising surf.

Helen comes across some Mexicans, but the language barrier prevents communication. Helen reaches the gas station, where she meets a man named Lawson. Helen explains her predicament, and he gets in the car.

It soon becomes clear that Lawson is a dangerous escaped convict.  When they spot a police car approaching, Lawson makes her drive and pretends to be asleep; He threatens to kill her if she betrays him.

In the end, Helen offers to hold up her end of the bargain and leave with Lawson, but he decides to go on alone. When a police siren is heard, she shakes hands with Lawson, before he flees on foot.  Helen decides not to tell them about Lawson.

Some of the film was shot in Pioneertown, and also features footage of the “Cantina” building that now houses Pappy & Harriet’s.

The modestly budgeted film, essentially a programmer, was quite popular, earning $1,206,000 in the US, and $409,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $264,000.

Barbara Stanwyck as Helen Stilwin
Barry Sullivan as Doug Stilwin
Ralph Meeker as Lawson
Lee Aaker as Bobby Stilwin


TCM showed the movie on May 19, 2021.