Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Pitfall (1948) at the Million Dollar Theater

The second film on tonight's film noir double bill at the Million Dollar Theater, following THE BIG COMBO (1955), was PITFALL (1948).

PITFALL stars Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, and Jane Wyatt. Like THE BIG COMBO, PITFALL was shown in a 35 millimeter print restored by UCLA.

PITFALL is the story of John Forbes, a somewhat depressed man (Powell) who is bored with his pleasant life, which includes a pretty wife named Sue (Wyatt), a cute little boy, Tommy (Jimmy Hunt), a nice home on a hill, and a secure job working for an insurance company. Though on one level it's clear John loves his wife and son, he can also be remote and use them as targets for his acidic sense of humor.

Mona Stevens (Scott) enters John's life, and he unexpectedly finds himself smiling and relaxing. For a couple of days he enjoys the novelty of playing hooky and spending late hours with her, before coming to his senses.

But it's already too late -- J.B. MacDonald (Raymond Burr), the very strange private investigator John's company contracts with, is stalking Mona, convinced she'll be his. MacDonald jealously beats John to a pulp -- that's interesting for John to try to explain to Sue -- and then sics Mona's gun-toting boyfriend, who's been in jail, on John. John's once placid life has become a total nightmare.

This was an absorbing, dark take on family life in which tensions are always bubbling just under the surface. The uneasiness in the family relationships is made clear right off the bat, as Sue repeatedly calls John to breakfast, nagging at him as though he's a young child. In turn, the uptight John makes wisecracks even as he dishes out the $5 his son needs for a camping fund. All three family members seem stressed and edgy; small wonder that little Tommy wakes up with nightmares.

Powell is always interesting, and there's a poignance to his zingers, as he ruefully sizes up his life and then, later on, his huge mistake. For someone who always has a wisecrack handy, he's painfully inarticulate when it comes time to explain his behavior to his wife.

Scott manages to be sympathetic despite being the "other woman" -- who incidentally attracts the insurance company's attention in the first place as her boyfriend gave her stolen property. She may have a nice smile, but she's no angel.

Wyatt may be the most interesting character in the film, as the steely woman who has sensed trouble in her marriage but is determined to hold it together.

As the evening began, Alan Rode of the Film Noir Foundation (pictured at left) shared that he had spoken with Lizabeth Scott about PITFALL. She told him that her experience making PITFALL was "delicious," and she had the highest praise for Dick Powell, saying he was kind and a joy to work with.

Several other bloggers have posted interesting takes on the film, including Moira at Skeins of Thought, Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant, and dfordoom at Classic Movie Ramblings. There are even more links at the bottom of Moira's fine essay. There's some debate among bloggers about whether or not the film is pro-marriage, as well as whether or not Sue is an admirable character. It's definitely a thought-provoking movie.

PITFALL was directed by Andre De Toth, with black and white cinematography by Harry Wild. There are some great shots of postwar Los Angeles.

The screenplay by Karl Kamb was based on the novel THE PITFALL by Jay Dratler. IMDb lists William Bowers and director De Toth as having done uncredited work on the screenplay. The film runs 86 minutes.

Ann Doran, always a very welcome presence, plays John's secretary, Maggie. John Litel is the District Attorney. Mona's convict boyfriend is played by Byron Barr.

PITFALL was released on VHS; I actually purchased a mint condition used copy a few months ago but hadn't gotten around to watching it yet. The videotape is a "Republic Restored Classic" which utilizes the print restored by UCLA.

It's recently been released on DVD but a review at Amazon indicates it's a poor copy; on the other hand, Classic Movie Ramblings says the print is fine. (Update: PITFALL is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.)

This movie can also be seen at Amazon Instant Video.


Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Another one I've not seen, but thanks for linking to the other reviews as well. Moria always does a great job, too.

A swell double feature.

4:49 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

This sounds really intriguing! I'll keep my eye out for it!

8:27 AM  

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