Sunday, March 31, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Trapped (1949) at the Noir City Film Festival

The 21st Annual Noir City Film Festival opened on Friday night, March 29th, with a double bill consisting of TRAPPED (1949) and THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950).

Both films were screened in 35mm. TRAPPED is a brand-new UCLA restoration which has also screened this year at the Noir City San Francisco Festival in January and the UCLA Festival of Preservation in February.

TRAPPED, from Eagle-Lion Films, was directed by Richard Fleischer, who also directed memorable crime films such as ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) and THE NARROW MARGIN (1952). TRAPPED was more noirish goodness from Fleischer.

TRAPPED is definitely my kinda movie, starting out with a docu-noir style introduction about the importance of the Treasury Department. Phony bills are circulating in Los Angeles, so the feds fake a jailbreak by Tris Stewart (Lloyd Bridges), hoping he'll lead them to the counterfeiting plates being used, since he'd been in possession of them before being sent to prison.

Tris gives the agents the slip and makes a beeline for his gorgeous girlfriend (Barbara Payton), who works as a cigarette girl at a nightclub. Tris wants to get a stash of the fake money to fund his escape to Mexico, but he needs real money to pay for it and turns to John Downey (John Hoyt), who hangs around the nightclub and has been making a not-too-subtle play for Tris's gal.

What Tris doesn't know is that the feds are listening to every word he and his girlfriend say in her apartment...and what's more, Downey may not be quite who he seems.

The plot barrels along in a quick 78 minutes with some wonderful set pieces, such as a sequence where agents are staked out along a street to observe the money being handed off for the fake bills. One's a grocery store clerk, another's mowing a lawn, one is cleaning window screens, more are delivery men, and so on. The tension builds as they wait for the all-important signal to move in when an agent sets down a case of soda. It's terrific.

The L.A. locations are excellent, with the climactic shootout coming in a Red Car barn. Fantastic stuff for a noir fan. I really enjoyed the entire film and would happily watch it again. (And I suspect I'll have that chance sooner rather than later...) (Update: I did indeed see this movie again just a few weeks later at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival.)

It's rather interesting that about 2/3 of the way through the film Bridges' character is sent to jail, never to be heard from again! It was a surprise that he simply disappeared from the story, as he dominates the proceedings up to that point.

James Todd -- whose character is weirdly obsessed with personal grooming in his office -- moves front and center as the main bad guy for the feds to chase in the film's final scenes, while Hoyt basically takes over as the film's lead at that point. Perennial character actor Hoyt, who was onscreen from 1946 to 1987, is really good in this and helps make the change in focus work smoothly.

Payton, whose life was ultimately tragic, is quite the stunning blonde bombshell here. Just a few years later Payton's hard living was already affecting her looks, as seen in MURDER IS MY BEAT (1955), but here she's so gorgeous it really makes one regret what might have been if she'd made different life choices. She's an excellent femme fatale, and her final scene is rather shocking.

The cast also includes Russ Conway and Robert Karnes, with familiar faces in the background like Rory Mallinson, Tommy Noonan, Frank Sully, Ken Christy, and Harry Antrim.

After the film Richard Fleischer's son Mark briefly took the stage to greet the audience along with Eddie Muller.

TRAPPED was filmed in black and white by Guy Roe. The story and screenplay were by George Zuckerman and Earl Felton.

TRAPPED is on DVD in some pretty poor public domain editions, as seen in a review at DVD Beaver. Let's hope that eventually the gorgeous restored print I saw Friday evening will make its way to DVD and Blu-ray with a company like Flicker Alley. It was quite an entertaining film, and it would be great if film fans who can't make it to film festivals have the chance to see it as well.

Coming soon: A review of the bottom half of the opening night double bill, THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON. (Update: Here is that review!)

December 2019 Update: TRAPPED is now available in a combination Blu-ray/DVD set from Flicker Alley. My review of the set may be found here.


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