Jeopardy (1953)

Film Review


Release Date: 1 May 1953

Studio: MGM

Director: John Sturges

Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker, Lee Aaker

Writers: Mel Dinelli, screenplay; Maurice Zimm, story

Cinematographer: Victor Milner


While vacationing at a lonely beach in Baja California, Doug Stilwin's (Sullivan’s) leg becomes immobilized under a fallen piling. He is trapped below the high tide line, and the tide is coming in.

Doug’s wife, Helen (Stanwyck), and son, Bobby (Aaker), cannot move the heavy piling. Helen drives back to a small garage/gas station two hours distant to get assistance or at least a rope.

At the garage Helen meets Lawson (Meeker), a murderer who is being hunted by the Mexican police. Seeing a chance to escape, Lawson goes back to the beach with Helen but refuses to help her husband. The tide is rising rapidly, and Helen offers Lawson anything he wants if he will save Doug. Lawson agrees.

Using his ingenuity, Lawson get leverage and raises the piling. Helen drags Doug free. With the police coming, Helen offers to go with Lawson as she agreed. Lawson, who admires her bravery and undaunted loyalty, declines her offer, shakes her hand, and flees. Helen, tending to her husband, thinks about the choices a wife may be forced to make.


Jeopardy presents high drama, with the tight plot featuring only four characters. The tension is pretty well maintained to the end. Director John Sturges specialized in plots that featured dramatic, tense and exciting situations.

Both stars are in constant peril, and the story alternates between them. As time passes, the tide reaches higher and higher around Sullivan, Aaker and Sullivan face this peril together. Stanwyck, becoming more and more desperate to save her husband, is willing to offer Meeker anything he wants. The rescue is dramatic, Stanwyck and Sullivan, immersed, struggle in the waves. The three adults, working desperately, finally move the piling off Sullivan who struggles ashore.

The film concludes on a weak fourth act. After Sullivan has been saved, the main plot line has been completed. However, Meeker is still around, and Stanwyck’s promise to go with him is unresolved. Meeker’s character suddenly goes soft and he runs away, leaving Stanwyck with her family. In a voice-over coda, Stanwyck muses about her choices during this distressing day. In her middle age, Stanwyck (age 46), one of the great stars of her time, retains her personal attraction and command of the screen. She puts over strongly the rising desperation of the beleaguered wife.

MGM bought the rights to a radio play, A Question of Time, that had been presented on Hollywood Star Playhouse, September 18, 1950, starring Anne Baxter with Harry von Zell, written by Maurice Zimm (Maurice Zimring; 1909 - 2005). Writer Mel Dinelli adapted the plot of the radio play into the tension-filled screenplay.

MGM launched Jeopardy with a saturation campaign of television ads, the first film whose release was launched by television advertising. Attendance at the film was better in markets with the TV ads than in markets without the ads. The nearly exclusive TV advertising in various areas was credited by the producers with upping box office returns.


Maurice Zimm. A Question of Time. Hollywood Star Playhouse. September 18, 1950

Hollywood Inside. Variety. Feb 3, 1953

TV Slices Newpapers' Pix Coin. Variety. March 9, 1953

Heavy TV Bally Hypoes Metro “Jeopardy” Takes, Big NY Spot Drive Set. March 25, 1953

Homer Dickens. The Films of Barbara Stanwyck. Citadel Press. 1984