Thursday, March 13, 2008

DANGEROUS CROSSING (20th Century-Fox 1953) Fox Home Video

Based on the radio play ‘Cabin B-13’ by noted playwright, John Dickson Carr, director Joseph M. Newman’s Dangerous Crossing (1953) is a rather impressively mounted endeavor shot on an even more impressively miniscule $500,000 budget in just 19 days. Incorporating every hand-me-down prop and costume catalogued on the Fox backlot, the film moves along briskly at a scant 76 minutes, largely thanks to an adept screenplay by Leo Townsend.

Carr had been known on the radio for his ‘locked door’ mysteries; basically a one act scenario where all the action takes place in one or two rooms where no point of entry for the crime at hand can at first be deduced. In Townsend’s revision, he opens the story action up only slightly to encompass the claustrophobic atmosphere of a luxury liner perpetually mired in dense fog.

The tale begins in earnest with newlyweds Ruth Stanton Bowman (Jeanne Crain) and her husband John (Carl Betz) embarking on a honeymoon cruise. However, after carrying his wife across the threshold into their cabin, John informs Ruth that he must leave some money at the purser’s office – then, mysteriously never returns. Ruth searches the ship in vane, but to no avail. Even more disturbing is the fact that when Ruth returns to B-16, the cabin she was to have shared with John, she discovers that all their luggage has also vanished.

Ruth begs Captain Peters (Willis Bouchey) to conduct a full search of the vessel for her husband and he does, only to deduce that no such passenger ever boarded. Later on, it will even be suggested that Ruth and John were never married – that, in fact, John is a figment of Ruth’s fertile – if deranged - imagination. Indeed, as Ruth’s concern becomes more frenzied, everyone from the ship’s Purser (Gayne Whitman) to its matron, Anna Quinn (Mary Anderson) – who actually met John and Ruth when they first boarded – deny having ever seen the couple together.

The one man who might be able to help, the ship’s doctor, Paul Manning (Michael Rennie) grows increasingly suspicious. Is he really trying to help Ruth resolve her mystery, or is he placating her erratic behavior while keeping the truth of John’s whereabouts a secret? Eventually, the truth does come out – that John is actually the ship’s Third Officer Jack Barlowe; in love with Anna and plotting to toss Ruth overboard to gain access to her inheritance. But by the time of this big reveal the story has lost most of its steam.

Dangerous Crossing is fairly dull, and that's a shame because Joseph LaShelle's cinematography really sets a mood and tone of foreboding that the Leo Townsend screenplay never lives up to. Sets from the studio’s 1953 version of Titanic have been slightly redressed for this sea faring voyage – actually shot entirely on soundstages with process screens subbing in for the ocean. It is reported that cast and crew shot an average of 7 pages of script per day. Unfortunately, and despite a flawless shoot, there are more than a few troubles mounting for this rather pedestrian noir.

Jeanne Crain – a studio favorite of Darryl F. Zanuck – plays Ruth as a sort of manic marionette, at one point flailing about the grand ballroom like a hunted animal; wild-eyed until her complete meltdown forces Capt. Peters to confine her to her room for the remainder of the voyage.

There also seems to be no point to the inclusion of characters Jim Logan (Max Showalter) or Kay Prentiss (Marjorie Hoshelle); the former a bumbling detective, the latter a sort of Eve Arden/Kay Thompson knock-off, first introduced as a possible confidant for Ruth at the start of the voyage, but then almost entirely jettisoned from the plot and cropping up sporadically to merely marvel and leer at the way Ruth casts off every and any offer to help her get to the bottom of John’s disappearance.

What becomes painfully apparent midway through the film is that this ship is stocked full of what director Alfred Hitchcock coined MacGuffins – oddities like Karl Ludwig Lindt’s aged foreigner with a cane who is meant to be slightly menacing even though it is eventually revealed he has absolutely nothing to do with the mystery. In the final analysis, Dangerous Crossing is a sub-standard noir thriller; pretty to look at but rather dull to watch.

Fox’s Home Video’s DVD delivers a fairly impressive B&W image. Though a hint of minor shimmering of fine details persists throughout, the overall image quality is refined with exceptional tonality and a considerable amount of fine detail evident throughout. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are relatively pristine. Film grain is fairly accurately reproduced. The audio is mono as originally recorded and presented at an adequate listening level.

Extras include a commentary track by Aubrey Solomon; ‘Peril At Sea’ a very brief featurette about the making of the film, as well as an interactive press book, stills, isolated musical score and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)
3

VIDEO/AUDIO
4

EXTRAS
3

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