Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Noir City Northwest: Jeopardy (1953)/Woman In Hiding (1950)

A: The theme of Noir City day four.

Q: What is dames in distress?

That’s a joke. Look at the first title. Come on, people, cut me some slack. All this noir is making me loopy.

Jeopardy begins with a voiceover by Barbara Stanwyck that could come from the American Highway Council. Only her spiel turns strangely lush and poetic. Then there’s a kicker you don’t see coming. It’s a great set up for an entertaining odd duck of a film.

Running a mere 69 minutes, Jeopardy still takes its time putting all the pieces on the board. Stanwyck, her husband (Barry Sullivan) and their son took a slow drive down Baja for a fishing trip. Just as they set up camp, Sullivan gets pinned underneath a collapsed pier – and the tide is coming in. Stanwyck seeks help, and the first person she finds is an escaped American convict (Ralph Meeker) who wants considerations before he’ll go Good Samaritan.

Meeker is never over the top in his menace. His hoodlum is simply cagey and ruthless, perfectly willing to let Sullivan die if it’ll save his own life. Sullivan is saddled with a thankless part, but he does get one fantastic scene as the water is rising and he tries to impart some advice to his young son. Plus there are excellent physics lessons to be picked up.

It’s hard to believe that Ida Lupino could ever be in distress, but Woman In Hiding does its damnedest. It’s directed by Michael Gordon, whose grandson Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a contemporary noir icon with the films Brick and The Lookout.

Ida’s new husband Stephen McNally only married her because he has designs on the family business. When she discovers the truth, he tries to kill her – only Ida escapes and goes on the run, determined to dig up evidence before McNally locates her. Her only ally is an aimless war veteran played by Howard Duff, who would soon marry Lupino in real life. The movie is a minor effort but a fun one thanks in large part to plot twists provided by Roy Huggins, a man this website has declared a stealth giant of pop culture. It also follows Chekhov’s dictum that if a hydroelectric turbine is mentioned in Act One, it must be turned on in Act Two.