Appellate Judge James A. Stewart thinks someone ought to gather up all these little studio B-movies and put them on broadcast television after midnight. They could call it The Late Movie.
"You mustn't let him out of your sight. Husbands can get lost so easily. I know."
If the sets in Dangerous Crossing look familiar, you might have seen them before in Titanic, the 1953 version which boasts an absence of Leonardo DiCaprio. This low-budget Fox B-movie was put together quickly—filming in 19 days—to take advantage of the availability of that movie's expensive sets, film historian Aubrey Solomon says in his commentary.
The sinking ship here wasn't the one on which Jeanne Crain sails in the movie, but the studio B-movie itself, which would soon become a casualty of TV's growth, Solomon notes. He contends that this movie wouldn't have been made at all a year later (although Robert Lippert might have tried it for a lot less than the $519,000 spent on Dangerous Crossing).
The story came from a radio script by John Dickson Carr, the master of the "locked room" mystery. Solomon explains that, thanks to the simplicity and cheapness of the sets, this subgenre was a popular one in B-movies and on television.
As part of its Fox Film Noir series, Dangerous Crossing, which mostly played second banana on movie bills the first time around, gets star treatment on DVD.
Facts of the Case
The locked room here is Cabin B-16 on a cruise ship. When Ruth (Jeanne Crain) returns to the cabin after her new husband (Carl Betz, The Donna Reed Show) fails to show up at the bar, the cabin is locked, and the crew tells her no one was booked into this cabin. It turns out that she was booked alone into Cabin B-18, and no one saw a man board the ship with her. No one believes her, except for the ship's doctor (Michael Rennie). Still, she's determined to find her missing husband.
Dangerous Crossing may be cheap, but it delivers all the B-movie thrills: foggy nights and the sound of footsteps on the ship's deck, closeups of a frightened Crain, a puzzle Ruth must solve alone, a fight that wraps up the mystery, and a violent end for the villain. Even a routine scene of Jeanne Crain lying awake in bed from worry looks good, thanks to expert lighting. And it's all in glorious black-and-white. For the most part, those thrills come across well in the transfer, but you'll need to turn up the volume to catch Jeanne Crain's voiceovers.
Jeanne Crain's performance, complete with fainting and screams, is exaggerated for dramatic purposes but not beyond belief. She's likeable enough that it doesn't seem out of place for Michael Rennie to be telegraphing his growing affection for Ruth. Rennie, in turn, balances concern and disbelief well as the doctor.
Although Aubrey Solomon devoted most of his commentary to telling viewers how cheaply the movie was done, his insights were entertaining. He mentions "bottle shows" he wrote for TV, but doesn't say which shows he wrote them for; his credits on IMDb include prime-time hits like Quincy, M.E., but also include the bargain-basement (but fun) Adderly. A short feature, "Peril at Sea: Charting a Dangerous Crossing," continues the examination of the movie's reuse factor by showing the sets side-by-side with their scenes in Titanic and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
A theatrical trailer that gives away too much, an ample photo gallery, an isolated score track, and an interactive pressbook that gave theaters a fill-in-the-blanks "Holdover Hit" press release (wishful thinking?) round out the extras package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The plot and its resolution may make sense within the conventions of mysteries, but it takes way too long for the doctor to start asking the right questions and a bit of luck could have solved the mystery very quickly.
There's one missing piece to the extras package: Why didn't Fox track down the radio version, "Cabin B-13," and include it?
Dangerous Crossing is a modest little movie—so much so that even the DVD commentary and shorts feel modest about it—but it's a good one. It may not have big-budget pyrotechnics or CGI razzle-dazzle, but if you have a fondness for classic studio B-movies, this is one of the better ones.
Not guilty, but next time the defendant should keep a better eye on her husband.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Film Historian Aubrey Solomon
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