Dangerous Crossing was based on a radio play by John Dickson Carr, a writer of detective fiction who was regarded as the master of the “locked-room” mystery. Dangerous Crossing isn’t quite a locked-room mystery but it does have many similarities to this sub-genre in the sense that it deals with an apparently inexplicable occurrence.
It was made at 20th Century-Fox in 1953 and directed by Joseph M. Newman. It was a low-budget movie that looked very expensive because it used lavish shipboard sets built for two other big-budget Fox movies that were made at about the same time - Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Titanic. So it’s effectively a B-picture with A-picture production values.
The inexplicable event in Dangerous Crossing is the disappearance from a cruise ship of John Bowman, the husband of Ruth Bowman (Jeanne Crain). They had been married for just four days. He boarded the ship with her, carried her over the threshold of their cabin, Cabin B16, and then said he had to make a quick trip to the Purser’s Office. And that was the last Ruth saw of her husband.
Even stranger, when she tries to return to their cabin she is informed that it is empty. And there is no record of any cabin being booked for either a John Bowman or a Ruth Bowman. But there is a cabin booked for a Ruth Stanton, which is her maiden name. It’s Cabin B18.
Not surprisingly Ruth has a bit of a crack-up at this point. She cannot persuade anybody to believe her story (up to this point the plot is almost identical to an excellent British movie So Long at the Fair made three years earlier). She is placed under the care of the Ship’s Doctor, Dr Paul Manning (Michael Rennie).
Dr Manning is very sceptical of her story as well but he is at least prepared to listen to her, and even sends off a wire to the Bureau of Missing Persons. And he’s sympathetic. Then things get stranger. Ruth’s missing husband phones her, tells her they’re both in great danger, that it would be too risky for them to be seen together, and that he’ll phone her again tomorrow.
Of course she has no evidence that this phone call was ever made and it has the effect of confirming the suspicions that she is crazy. Even Dr Manning starts to come around to this way of thinking.
The solution to the mystery is ingenious and the plot is well-constructed. The tension is maintained throughout the short 75-minute running time. Director Newman does a very competent job and makes the most of the shipboard setting. There’s some very effective and moody film noir-style black-and-white cinematography (thanks to the very talented director of photography Joseph LaShelle who always did this kind of thing very well).
This movie in some ways marks the end of an era. It’s a classic film noir-styled B-movie mystery of a kind that the major studios, sadly, had pretty much stopped making by the mid-50s. It’s a product of the studio system - a cheap movie that is expertly made because the studios had such a wealth of talent under contract.
Jeanne Crain does well in the leading role. She doesn’t overdo the hysteria but she very effectively conveys the mental anguish of Ruth. Michael Rennie makes a satisfactory leading man in a role where the biggest danger is the character would come across as being too bland. Rennie mostly succeeds in avoiding this danger. Being a major studio picture it benefits from a very competent supporting cast.
The Fox DVD is up to the very high standards of their other Film Noir releases, with an excellent transfer, a brief documentary on the movie and a commentary track.
Its claim to being a film noir is slightly dubious, although it does have the visual style. Overall this is an assuming but thoroughly enjoyable mystery.