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Pitfall (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on February 2, 2013

John Forbes (Dick Powell) is an insurance investigator.  He loves his wife Sue (Jane Wyatt) and his little boy, but he feels like he’s in a rut, wondering where his dreams went.  His current assignment is trying to recover money from the embezzler Bill Smiley (Byron Barr).  He meets up with Smiley’s girl Mona (Lizabeth Scott) to take the gifts he bought her with the stolen cash.  And in Mona, he finds an escape from his humdrum existence.  But his brief dalliance with infidelity will endanger everything, as a private detective (Raymond Burr) with the hots for Mona embarks on a spree of stalking, intimidation, manipulation and vengeance.

I’ve just gone over my DVD shopping list and deleted all the iffy titles.  I’ve tried to avoid buying movies I was on the fence about, but it’s been happening too often lately.  I’ve got plenty of movies to watch (more than I can handle, really… it’s about time for another pruning) and not enough money.  I can’t afford to be frivolous, even on budget-priced DVDs.

Which isn’t to say this isn’t worth seeing, or even worth seeing twice, although I’ve lowered my score.  On the negative side, it’s kind of snoozy.  You won’t find much action here, it’s much more drama than thriller.  The threat against Forbes does go up, but the film doesn’t have that gripping “OMG this is getting intense” feel to it.  It’s a slow burner.  One or two interesting shots aside, there isn’t much about the cinematography that’s visually compelling, and some of the scoring is kinda goofy.

On the positive side, first off there’s Raymond Burr.  One of the best noir baddies — even though many of the films he appears in aren’t very good — he has such a menacing presence.  You’ve got to love the psychotic workings of this character’s mind… if he gets rid of the two other men in Mona’s life, she’ll have no choice but to be with him.  Powell and Scott are fine, although Scott does sound annoying saying “Johnny” all the time, just like she does saying “Danny” all the time in Dark City.  But it’s Burr who steals the show, holding your attention firm every second he’s onscreen.  And the film does get into some interesting noir themes about morality and conscience and suburban ennui.  The dialogue isn’t snappy, but there are well-written scenes where Sue or Mona challenges Johnny’s perceptions.

The film just needs more a little more life to it, either in the camerawork or the lead performances or the script.  As it stands, it has some admirable qualities but never really takes off.  Rating: Good (74)


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