Jeopardy is a very tense and suspenseful thriller starring Barbara Stanwyck, who while looking for aid after a camping trip turns bad, meets an escaped convict instead. It begins rather plainly enough with a family going on vacation in Mexico at a beach used by none, but remembered by husband Barry Sullivan. Eventually an accident happens that finds his leg trapped beneath a piling from the dock on the beach and with no way to get free, Stanwyck must seek help and it is then that fate intervenes and tries to derail her mission by introducing a felon played by Ralph Meeker. While it seems like the tide might claim her man, Stanwyck manages to work a small miracle and get Meeker on her side, if only momentarily.
When the film begins, Stanwyck’s voice-over hints at where the film might go, but when the destination of the family trip is finally shown – a deserted beach in the middle of nowhere, the viewer automatically knows that things are not going to go well for these people. Factor in a rotting pier, a kid that gets himself into trouble and the tide rolling in and things only go from bad to worse. While Sullivan and Lee Aaker as Bobby are good at what they do, director John Sturges focuses in on Stanwyck as the lead and rightfully so as she is the glue holding this family unit together. When Sullivan gets into trouble, it is Stanwyck who must go and seek help and she does so without a moment’s notice, fear prompting her into action. Eventually she makes it to the gas station that the couple had stopped at earlier in the picture and meets an American and without question, lets him in her car only to realise that something is very off about the man.
It is hard to say who steals the show more in this film, Stanwyck as both the damsel in distress and the femme fatale or Meeker as the villain, suave and dangerous and the kind of man that many a woman would find electric. Meeker is almost overpowering once introduced, but Stanwyck holds her own and the two make a great on-screen team, playing off of each other easily. Meeker’s character Lawson is a man who cares about nothing but himself and a man who would stop at nothing to get what he wants. Helen as played by Stanwyck comes to perceive that almost immediately and starts to use it to her advantage, turning from meek housewife into a self-assertive and tough woman who knows that she must turn the tables on this man or risk losing her family.
Sturges takes that chemistry between the two characters and creates some nail-biting scenes, all of it culminating in the final act at the beach, where after the husband is rescued, Stanwyck agrees to go with Meeker on the run, with the man finally finding a bit of decency within himself to let her go. If there is one thing that Sturges does with this fairly average story, it is turning it into a must-see, edge-of-your-seat ride that never stops right from the get-go. Not a moment is wasted and what could have played out as a rather tame drama, became a smart and exciting thriller that entertains no matter how many times one watches it. Jeopardy is easily a classic and one of Stanwyck’s, if not Meeker’s best film.
4.5 out of 5