“Don't let go while I'm hanging on
’Cause I've been hanging on so long
It's so hard to be all alone
I know you’re not that strong”
- “Jeopardy,” Greg Kihn Band, 1983
Surely Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker and director John Sturges made better films than 1953’s just-over-an-hour-running-time programmer Jeopardy, released thirty years before the Greg Kihn Band’s earworm burrowed its way through MTV and FM radio all the way to the #2 spot on Billboard’s Top 10. But (and bear with me here) both the 1953 film and the 1983 music video shared a theme of a couple in trouble, split apart by demons and circumstances beyond their control, an explicit test of their matrimonial bond.
Okay, I admit. It’s a stretch. Let’s get back to the movie.
“Bienvenidos,” Daddy-O reads the roadside sign and explains as they enter Tijuana. “That means ‘welcome.’”
The car overheats. Stanwyck admits she forgot to fill the water can at the last stop. They roll into a middle-of-nowhere garage, last chance for gas for so many miles, but the place is deserted. They cool down the engine and head on.
Undeterred, they set up camp and isn’t this swell. You, me and little Bobby… who has wandered off… but let’s make out for a minute… he’ll be fine… where is that little sonofabitch, anyway? Bobby! Son!
“Behave now or this is gonna blow a real pretty piece of you over the side,” Meeker says.
There is real sexual energy here. Dangerous. The kind we haven’t really seen between Babs and Barry. But with Meeker, it’s different. Instant. There’s a feral sexuality, an animal attraction mixed with abject disgust. Like we like it. Hello, film noir, how’ve you been, glad you showed up.
There’s a dance of misdirects: Will she pull the pistol from its hiding place and get Meeker’s help at gunpoint? Will she club him with a tire iron when their wheel goes flat?
“When was the last time you…”
She lets the word hang in the charged space between them.
“…talked… with a woman.”
He dodges her question like a bullet.
She asks it again.
The tension is high. Our love’s in jeopardy. I won’t squander the film’s few and simple pleasures with any more spoilers, but if you’re so inclined, check out Jeopardy, the kind of a picture that has stars too big to be the bottom half of a double feature, a novella that teases a catalyst and doesn’t really care about the consequences.
Seis Manos, a “Mexicanime” adult animated series set south of the border in the 1970s. He’s currently writer and co-producer of an upcoming Showtime drama series, Rust, with Jeff Daniels.