Let's hear it for more radio drama on television. An old 1930s airwaves mystery provides the foundation for a stylish new film on cable's USA Network tonight.
"Treacherous Crossing" (at 9 on the basic service) grew from the radio play "Cabin B-13" by mystery novelist John Dickson Carr, and contrasts starkly with many of the schlock-suspense movies USA churns out a couple of times a month.
For one thing, the movie was filmed entirely aboard the opulent cruise liner Queen Mary, now restored and docked as a tourist attraction in Long Beach, Calif. And in both costume and music score, the movie nicely evokes the age when crossing the Atlantic by ship was fashionable.
But further, a mystery story written for radio has to be plotted tantalizingly enough to hold interest without visual support. And the mystery here is a goodie.
Lindsay Wagner plays a newlywed (named Lindsey) embarking on a honeymoon cruise. As the movie opens, with festive departure scenes well-staged at dockside, her husband has gone to the purser's office to pick up tickets. She meets another woman, Beverly (Angie Dickinson), who is taking the cruise away from her husband as a trial separation.
Soon, however, Lindsey is into a nightmare. Her husband fails to appear and no one remembers seeing him. Worse, she seems to have been booked alone into a single cabin under her maiden name.
Inquiring ship's officials discover Lindsey had previous mental problems and a former husband who died by a suspicious suicide, leaving her very wealthy. So is she deluded? Or is somebody plotting to make her think so?
Wagner persuasively projects a slow, scary coming to grips with events that seem unreal. Dickinson is somewhat less good, over-doing the cynical wife bit. But she does offer her character the necessary air of enigma -- is she a friend to Lindsey or not?
Jeffrey DeMunn plays the ship's doctor, who is inclined to believe Lindsey's story.
The climax seems a mite contrived and not quite clear. And the excessive use of tilted camera shots gets annoying.
But on the whole, "Treacherous Crossing" will keep you guessing right to the end -- unless, of course, you remember the radio play that spawned it.
ON AND OFF THE AIR:
* Phil Donahue explores the election issue of health insurance in DTC PBS special, "Condition Critical: American Health Care Forum," at 9 tonight on Maryland Public Television.
* Switched signals: The new "Listening to America" series with Bill Moyers made a late episode change for last night's premiere on Maryland Public Television. The two-part "America: What Went Wrong?" segment, listed in this space as beginning last night, will now be seen on April 14 and 21.