Sunday 5 July 2020

Movie Review: Dangerous Crossing (1953)

A woman-in-distress drama, Dangerous Crossing is a compact economy thriller, with plenty of spooky style enlivening the story of a troubled bride on a luxury ship.

In New York, newlyweds John and Ruth Bowman (Carl Betz and Jeanne Crain) board a transatlantic ocean liner, seemingly giddy with happiness. They only met a few weeks prior, with John helping heiress Ruth through a difficult patch. But as soon as the ship sails, John promptly disappears. Ruth is frazzled: none of the crew members can remember John coming on board and there is no record of him as a passenger. Ruth starts to question her sanity.

Doctor Paul Manning (Michael Rennie) is in charge of passenger health, and he tries to untangle Ruth's story. She then receives a phone call from John, claiming they are both in danger and she ought to not trust anyone. With the ship sailing through thick fog, Ruth has to decide whether she can confide in Paul, while holding out hope John will reappear with an explanation.

Filmed on a miniscule budget in a matter of days and on sets built for other movies, Dangerous Crossing makes good use of scarce resources. Leo Townsend's script is stripped of any externalities, and director Joseph M. Newman limits the action to 75 minutes, maintaining tight control over a traditional gaslighting plot.

The opening few minutes introduce the happy couple and all the events that will subsequently be questioned as unreal, casting genuine doubt on Ruth's mental health. Newman appropriates black and white to his advantage, and utilizes seaworthy fog, a relentless fog horn, nighttime shadows and mysterious men in trenchcoats (complete with limp and cane) to elevate the sense of conspiratorial dread engulfing Ruth.

Jeanne Crain and Michael Rennie are the film's two main assets, and they quickly embody their characters. Crain glows despite Ruth's predicament as she alternates between frantic, bewildered, vulnerable and determined. Rennie deploys his sturdy presence to try and calm the waters.

The resolution of the mystery is as trim as the rest of the production, Paul finally extracting from Ruth the threads of a conspiracy swirling in the background. Given the constraints, words have to suffice when flashbacks would have enriched the narrative. But Dangerous Crossing is all about doing more with less, cutting through choppy waters with admirable poise.

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