Treacherous Crossing (1992 TVM)

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Based on a John Dickson Carr radio play, a vicious plan to drive a new-wed bride insane!
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US / 84 minutes / color / OTML, Wilshire Court, USA Network Dir: Tony Wharmby Pr: Bob Roe Scr: Elisa Bell Story: Cabin B-13 (1943 radio play) by John Dickson Carr Cine: Brian West Cast: Lindsay Wagner, Angie Dickinson, Grant Show, Joseph Bottoms, Karen Medak, Charles Napier, Eric Avari, Cameron Watson, Jeffrey DeMunn, Scott McCray, Robert Meadmore.

Treacherous Crossing - 0

A TV remake of the John Dickson Carr adaptation DANGEROUS CROSSING (1953) dir Joseph M. Newman, with Jeanne Crain and Michael Rennie. If you’re familiar with the original then, to be honest, you’ll find that the remake doesn’t have very much new to offer, and of course it lacks Crain and Rennie. On the other hand, Wagner’s interpretation of the abandoned wife who fears for her sanity is arguably on its own worth the price of admission.

It’s New York City in 1947 and the crowds along the dockside are waving at the passengers aboard a luxury liner that’s preparing to depart for Europe. Among those waving passengers are freshly wed Lindsey Gates (Wagner) and cynical wife-on-holiday-from-husband Beverly Thomas (Dickinson); they meet and promise to spend time together during the voyage.

Treacherous Crossing - 1 Lindsey, full of hope for her new married life

 Lindsey (Lindsay Wagner), full of hope for her new married life.

Conspicuously not by Lindsey’s side is her adoring new husband, Kenneth, a composer and former writer of Broadway plays, who promised to meet her in the bar after embarkation. Lindsey waits and she waits, assuming he must have gotten delayed while sorting out some detail with the purser, perhaps. When one of the crew (McCray) suggests he might have gone back to their cabin, she looked there . . . only to discover that her key doesn’t fit the lock. Further inquiries reveal she’s been booked aboard the passage under her maiden name, Lindsey Thomas, and in a different cabin, 240B rather than 236B, a single rather than a double. In vain does Lindsey protest:

“We were just in Room 236B—it’s full of yellow flowers, he carried me over the threshold . . .”

Yet the maid who supposedly tended to the young couple’s cabin, Belinda (Medak), has no memory of Kenneth or of the yellow flowers in 236B; all she can remember is Lindsey’s being solo in 240B. Similarly, none of the other crew can recall having clapped eyes on Kenneth. Was he just a figment of Lindsey’s imagination? Is she nuts, or heading that way?

Treacherous Crossing - 3 The maid Belinda cannot support Lindsey's story

The maid Belinda (Karen Medak) cannot support Lindsey’s story.

Certainly the ship’s captain (Napier) thinks she is. Chief Stevens (Show) thinks the same, only almost militantly more so. Don Gallegher (Avari), the assistant purser, concurs. Her steward (Watson), too, cautiously advances a bats-in-the-belfry diagnosis. Even Beverley, her new-found friend, has her doubts.

Treacherous Crossing - 2 The assistant purser doubts her tale, but politely

Don Gallegher (Eric Avari), the assistant purser doubts her tale, but politely.

Treacherous Crossing - 4 Beverley goves Lindsey a sympathetic hearing

Beverley (Angie Dickinson) gives Lindsey (Lindsay Wagner) a sympathetic hearing . . .

Treacherous Crossing - 5 . . . and so does Dr Johnston

 . . . and so does Dr. Johnston (Jeffrey DeMunn).

Treacherous Crossing - 6 The captain, though, thinks she's two funnels short of a schooner

However, the captain (Charles Napier) clearly thinks she’s two funnels short of a schooner.

The only dissenter to the prevailing view is the ship’s physician, Dr. Eric Johnston (DeMunn), who from the very outset sees something that no one else can—including the movie’s audience, to be fair—that persuades him Lindsey is all too sane, just the victim of a dastardly conspiracy either to drive her insane or at least to persuade the world that she is so. Perhaps it’s the discovery of a yellow rose petal in cabin 236B . . .

Lindsey very swiftly becomes suspicious of Belinda, and furtively follows her around a lot. Here the movie does lose its impetus a little because, once you’ve seen one shot of Lindsay Wagner lurking on a companionway, you’ve seen ’em all. But for the most part the plot keeps leaping ahead pretty efficiently, with some very good surprises along the way—as when Lindsey suddenly discovers the word “DIE” scrawled in blood-red lipstick across her cabin’s mirror.

Treacherous Crossing - key to appropriate bit in text

If left at that, the moment could be dismissed as a cheap but fairly effective shock, but scripter Elisa Bell chooses to use it as a starting point to give us a little insight into Lindsey’s character.

To digress for a moment: Wagner’s undoubted beauty has a sort of fragile vulnerability to it, and through it she manages to convey the perfect image of the puzzled bride uncertain of everything and everyone around her—a woman, in short, who might very well be prey to delusions. This possibility is underscored when we learn a little of her backstory. She owned a fashion boutique. Both she and her first husband, David Hawkins, were orphans. When he hanged himself, she tried to cut him down—with the result that her fingerprints were found on the beam and so, as if her shock and grief weren’t enough to cope with, she went through a long and grueling period of being a suspect for his murder. Not surprisingly, she thereafter had to spend a while in therapy. But then: “When I met Kenneth, for the first time in my life I felt genuinely loved. I can’t lose that.” All in all, then, it’d be easy for us to go along with the majority opinion of the ship’s officers.

But we’d be wrong. As Lindsey scrubs off the “DIE” from her mirror, her commentary to Beverley reveals her true self:

“But I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to kill myself. The strangest thing has been happening. Before, I couldn’t do anything without Kenneth, and now I feel like I can handle almost anything and whoever it is that’s doing this to me. They didn’t plan on that, did they? They. Didn’t. Plan. On. That.”

Our anticipations that Lindsey will win out against the underhanded conspirators are of course correct—because this is that kind of movie—but the plot plays skillfully with our suspicions as to who those schemers might be. It also constantly tantalizes us with little pieces of evidence that our assumption of Lindsey’s sanity might still, despite everything, be wrong. The most important of these is the mention that Lindsey has seen a play called Melissa’s Big Lie, back in New York. But she’s not the only one to have seen it. As Beverley explains to Dr. Johnston, “I happen to have seen it myself. The story’s about a woman who pretends to have a husband . . .”

Treacherous Crossing - key to stuff on noirish angles

The cinematography is rampant with angled shots.

Visually the movie, despite its limited settings, has quite a lot to offer. West’s cinematography leaves us in no doubt about his intentions to homage classic-era film noir—indeed, so fond is he of the angled shot that whole stretches of the movie go by with nary a perpendicular in sight. This could fall into the clutches of cliché but instead it serves, quasi-paradoxically, to add visual variety to a movie that’s very largely confined to cabins, gangways and companionways.

Treacherous Crossing - 7 Lindsey as a flapper at the masked ball

Lindsey (Lindsay Wagner) as a flapper at the masked ball.

Treacherous Crossing - 8 Beverley as a ballerina at the masked ball

Beverley (Angie Dickinson) as a ballerina at the same glam romp.

The most visually flamboyant sequence occurs when the ship’s passengers are all invited to participate in a fancy-dress/masked ball, with costumes largely hired from the various costumiers who sell their wares in a sort of mini-mall belowdecks. There’s lots of color here, as well as exploitation of Lindsey’s inability, when she spots in the distance a “cowboy” who she thinks might well be Kenneth, to muscle her way through the crowds to reach him. Needless to say, the fact that at the last moment Beverley insisted that she and Lindsey swapped costumes has an effect on subsequent events.

Treacherous Crossing - 8b Later, Beverley lies bleeding

Beverley (Angie Dickinson) after the last pavane.

As noted, the selection of Wagner as the vulnerable, potentially flaky widow/bride is a brilliant piece of casting; heresy it might be to say it, but I think I actually prefer her to Jeanne Crain in the role (although it’s not really a very fair comparison, since the two movies are each giving a quite different balance of emphases to the same stories). As to the supporting cast, we can say their performances are, well, stalwart but not a huge amount more—with the exception of Show, who hams the role of Chief Stevens a bit.

Treacherous Crossing - 9 Bad boy Kenneth confesses all

Bad boy Kenneth (Joseph Bottoms) confesses all.

Of the other two principals, Dickinson has an unrewarding part but DeMunn offers us a performance of some interest. Obviously he can’t directly rival the great Michael Rennie (although in a few places the camerawork elicits a slight resemblance), and sensibly he and director Tony Wharmby opt for a quite different characterization. Here the good doctor, Eric, is presented as someone who’s on the slightly flaky side of things himself. It’s evident from the outset that the captain quietly despises him in a sort of “with all due respect” fashion, preferring dependable blockheads like Chief Stevens to imaginative and hence perhaps flighty individuals like the doc. Of course, the ship’s officers weren’t much enthused by Rennie’s character in the original, but he had the power to frighten them back under their stones with the Rennie stare. The slightly wild-eyed DeMunn instead adopts an off-the-wall, hell-with-them attitude: it’s about time Eric retired, anyway; who cares if he gets canned.

It just about works, and it’d work triumphantly if it weren’t that the screenplay has to factor in also Lindsey’s growing romantic fondness for the good doc. Of course, in real life beautiful women do fall in love with wild-eyed flakes—to choose a single example, I’ve been married twice—but in a piece of fiction like this it’s difficult to imagine how the friendship and obvious gratitude could naturally graduate into something more.

As for the bad guy, the rotten deceiver Kenneth (Bottoms)? We eventually discover who he is and why the conspiracy was mounted. In his great confessional speech we discover a further example of how Bell’s screenplay is a tad more eloquent than you’d expect from a TV movie. This could come out of any number of classic hardboiled novels:

“Just a lowly crewman—not a composer. Just a crewman fell in love with a chambermaid. But they were both too smart to stay in the rotten positions life had forced them into because they knew that there were plenty of wealthy, crazy, lonely women like Lindsey Thompson . . .”

In case the ship’s interiors look at all familiar to you from elsewhere, there’s a note in the closing credits that explains things:

“The Producers wish to thank the Queen Mary for their cooperation.”

Treacherous Crossing - closer

Shades of And Then There Were None?

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16 thoughts on “Treacherous Crossing (1992 TVM)

  1. Cabin B-13 was the very first radio play I ever listened to, and something that I feel spoiled me a little for later experiences. I’ve not seen either of these films, though not through any deliberate effort — they’ve just never come up. Some day perhaps, some day…

    Although, a TV movie from 1992 called Treacherous Crossing sounds to me like rather more of a Robert Wagner affair, perhaps with him as the captain of a computerised cruise ship steering inexorably towards a killer storm and everyone rushing to override the programming before it kills them all. Just sayin’.

    • I’ve never (so far as I know) heard the radio play. I suppose I should go rootling around at the Archive or on YouTube to see if someone’s uploaded a copy — assuming one survives, of course.

      Of the two movies, the older one is definitely more of a must-watch, but this one has its charms.

  2. Hooray for Lindsay Wagner! I mean it. I’ve seen her in a few made-for-TV movies, and I think she always gives you your money’s worth. Also, I know this doesn’t matter, but she often wears the most interesting earrings.

    I’m glad to know about this one – thank!. I think it would make for a good flick on a rainy evening.

  3. Hi John — Your amazing website is added to my bookmarks, and I must make time to explore all of the great material on classic and new noir that you have curated. I’m also thrilled to learn about your encyclopedia; it will be an anticipated addition to my shelves.

    Treacherous Crossing sounds like retro fun, and it’s nice to see Charles Napier pop up in an early ’90s role. I also haven’t listened to the radio play Cabin B-13, although I have been listening to John Dickson Carr introduce the radio mysteries (by other authors) in the series Murder by Experts from around 1950. They’re very entertaining.

    And a quick request: if you have a streamlined PDF of Grand Guignol, I would love to have a copy. Thanks in advance, and thanks for your wonderful site for crime and noir fans!

    Jason

  4. Always loved Wagner but when I saw this 25 odd year ago I remember liking it a lot more than the thoroughly enjoyable Fox movie version. I did a piece on that one and the original version at Fedora, but am absolutely not doing the self-aggrandising link think again – there are limits! Great review John, would be good to see this again sometime.

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