PITFALL ( 1948 )

PITFALL ( I )PITFALL ( III )PITFALL ( II )PITFALL ( IV )Husband                     Wife                         Mistress                   Creep

PITFALL is taut tense quiet drama and I like how it plays out. You think it’s going to go one way and director André De Toth takes you in a different direction.  For Dick Powell who plays John Forbes, your average, postwar, 9-to-5, Everyman, Insurance man, what happens outside his marriage comes crashing into his suburban home like a tsunami. (Gosh, insurance guys sure lead fascinating lives; remember Walter Neff?) Powell’s a hero to his son, a good provider to his wife, but his life is in a rut. Then Lizabeth Scott falls into his lap.

PITFALL ( V )RAYMOND BURR is Mac, the private investigator Dick Powell sends out on Lizabeth Scott’s case and he’s developed a hankering for her, to put it mildly. He’s just a guy who can’t take “No.” Basically he’s a one-track minded terminator, obsessed with Scott beyond all rhyme and reason. He’s having that relationship with her all by himself. In fact, Burr spends much of the late 40’s and 50’s not getting the girl. Scott wants no part of this hulking brute. Any girl would take a ten-foot pole and vault as far away from him as possi-ble. Visiting her in the shop where she works, he has free rein to sit and watch her model clothes for him as long as his cash holds out. All perfectly legal. All perfectly “Eeeeew!” I told you he was a creep.

DICK POWELL ( PITFALL )

I like DICK POWELL as John Forbes. He gets all caught up in a web of his own making but I do feel sorry for him. It’s not that he does not love his wife; he does. He’s just frustrated and bored with the routine and predic-tability of his own life. He did not look for this; doesn’t initiate it. Yes, lying by omission is still lying. Yes, he should have gotten a hobby. Yes, he could have said no, but…c’mon.

“I guess I’m a little out of practice. I never quoted anything but statistics. I’m a little unsure of  myself whenever I crawl out of my briefcase.”

WHO’S DRAWING OUT WHOM?

PITFALL ( VII )

Forbes takes inventory of the items Mona Stevens received from her ex-boyfriend who’s now in jail for embezzlement. LIZA-BETH SCOTT plays Mona and if you know anything about Lizabeth in the 40’s, you know she rarely caught a break! As Forbes investigates her, he is strictly about business. Says Mona about her ex:

“He was just too much in love with me. He wanted to do things for me and he didn’t have the money. So he went out and got some…I liked him mostly because he was nice to me. Very few men are. That means a lot.”  

( RULE #1 – HOOK THE HERO WITH YOUR TALES OF WOE )

Forbes warms up to her when he sees she’s not a bad egg; she is not a femme fatale in the strictest sense of the word. She just got caught up in something herself. It’s the begin-ning of getting-to-know-you. Mona offers Forbes a life raft out of his sea of boredom. She lets him have a ride on her ill-gotten gains of a boat before he confiscates it, and he gets a brief glimpse of how the other half lives; a respite from his ordinary existence. I think they recognize they’re each caught up in life’s circumstances. She invites him to a home-cooked meal where one thing leads to another. See…he just falls into it.

GUILT – THE GREAT MOTIVATOR

PITFALL ( VIII )
Maybe moguls got JANE WYATT confused with Jane Wyman due the similarity of their last names. Wyatt did not get all the meaty roles Wyman or Dorothy McGuire were offered, but she was a fine actress as well – ( I love her voice ) and it shows here in “Pitfall” as Sue Forbes, John’s wife. As Sue she is pretty, competent and has a sense of humor; she tries to sensibly cajole him out of his doldrums. She seems like a true partner in that marriage; someone who can go to a PTA meeting or country club, and is probably a good bridge partner. ‘The Wife’ usually is a thankless role in movies, painted as nag, shrew, harpy. But not here. ( Anne Archer in “Fatal Attraction” comes to mind. )  As Sue, she’s not too busy for her husband and accepts her adult responsibility. Yes he strays, but we can see there’s nothing really wrong with Sue.

 

ENDING WHAT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEGUN

PITFALL ( IX )

After she accidentally discovers he’s married, he breaks off the affair.

________________

JOHN: “I’ve done something I’m terribly ashamed of. I’d like to make it up to you.”

MONA: “Well if you think I’m going to stand in competition with a wife and child…even I’ve got more sense than that.”

JOHN: “What’s going to happen to you?”

MONA: “What do you care, really. Honestly Johnny, aren’t you a little relieved to get out of it this easily. This is the set up Johnny. This is the kind of girl you’ve always dreamed about. I’m going to let you off without an angle. I could be nasty. But I’m not going to be.”

JOHN: “Why?”

MONA:  “I don’t know. But I’m not going to be…what happens to men like you, Johnny? If I had a nice home like you did Johnny, I wouldn’t take a chance with it for anything in the world.”

JOHN: “I’ll do anything I can.”

MONA:  “Will you really? Alright. Then go home. Stay there.”

JOHN:  “Alright. If that’s the way you want it.”

MONA:  “If that’s the way I want it? Have you got any other ideas?”

_______________

It’s a clean break. A sad one. Hurtful. John gets away “scott”-free. He’s learned his lesson and is now back in the fold, content with what he has at home.

Uhmmm…not so fast.

BLACKMAIL MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

PITFALL ( XII )What intrigues me about this film is that it’s not just your usual married-man-cheats-and-slinks-back-home-feeling-guilty sort of thing. There are tangible consequences, not just emotional ones. His outside actions intrude on his home life ( again, like in Fatal Attraction” ) and in a big way. Big as in RAYMOND BURRThe conflict between the two men is an in-teresting dynamic and it puts Forbes in a pickle. They both like Mona. One offers protection, the other – his obsession. How can John protect Mona against Mac without his wife finding out about the affair? And if pounding  Forbes to a pulp won’t keep him from Mona, ( John has to lie to Sue about why he was beat up… )  Mac decides to create a human heat-seeking missile out of Mona’s ex, Smiley, ( Byron Barr. ) And Smiley heads straight to Forbes’ house after being released from prison. It all comes to a head.

PITFALL ( LOGO SHOT )

Sue tells John:

Conscience? You make it sound like a dirty word. You worrying about your filthy little conscience… you’re not going to the police. You lied once. It came to you easily enough then. You’ve got to lie now. I mean this Johnny, if you drag this family through the dirt I’ll never forgive you!

Lots of compromises in “Pitfall.” Everything is not tied up in a nice tidy bow. That only hap-pens in the movies.

CineMoral: If your husband gets a beat-down and doesn’t report it to the cops…he’s having an affair.

You can read a more in depth look at Raymond Burr in “Pitfall” here: at the Caftan Woman blog that covered his performance in this movie for last April’s GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings and Shadows and Satin.

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7 thoughts on “PITFALL ( 1948 )

  1. Nice article T, as always. I’ve never seen this movie in its entirety but now I must! Its a good Noir and I look forward to watching it, all! Scott is very alluring as always, Burr is very menacing as always, Powell is very solid as always, and Wyatt is, as always and perhaps that’s why this movie, as good as it is doesn’t stand out as prominently as others of its genre; perhaps. To be fair, I’ll have a better opinion when I finally watch it in its entirety.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Marvin ( as always. ) I think this movie’ll be right up your alley. It doesn’t have neon lights and dark rain~soaked streets. But the femme fatale is there and the menace is there. Marital Noir. A subset of a subset? Find it. Watch it. There’s great comfort in watching good solid acting by reliable pros. Watch this one.

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  2. Relaxing on a Sunday with a cup of coffee and so excited to see Theresa is writing about Pitfall. Put the old feet up and enjoy the insightful dissection of a favourite flick by a favourite movie pal. It is truly all those loose ends, those awkward turns in life that you wish you could take back in this dandy movie that make it memorable. It is a hard one to shake.

    Most pleasantly surprised by link to my piece on that uber-reprobate Mac. Pitfall is one of those movies that you can watch from each character’s perspective and see or feel something new.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WOWSAHHHHHH!!! Your comments here are better ‘n my whole darn review, Paddy. How d’ya do it???!!! L0L! I’m going to quote you ( if I may! ) Thank you for having my words accompany your morning cuppa and again taking the time out to read and comment. I enjoy this movie. It doesn’t have easy answers. In fact, it’s unfair in some ways. But I enjoy this film sooooo much. Good Golly!!! I have absolutely NO IDEA HOW Raymond Burr was ever allowed to play good guy Perry Mason. Lizabeth Scott’s my girl, but I soooooooooo appreciate Jane Wyatt’s performance.

      I guess sometimes…things happen. ( Pssst! Tell me how I can “FOLLOW” your blog. I don’t see a Follow button on your home page. )

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      • I’ll fiddle around with the darn thing and check for a follow button. Until then, you’ll just have to think of me once in a while or check out the CMBA feed.

        You would think with this attitude that I don’t take my blogging seriously, but trust me, I do. Seriously with a grin.

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      • 😉

        Trying to maintain my own work…entering ( a tiny bit too many ) blogathons…mulling around a blogathon idea of my own is limiting blogs I can read. But I want to rectify that for 2017.

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  3. I really liked this without being able to move that one more step to fully loving it. I think the reason is Dick Powell, he’s good and much preferable in this phase of his career to his eager beaver ah shucks Warners musical self, but I kept thinking this should be John Garfield who would have been able to project the underlying desperation of the situation more fully than Powell.

    I make that mental connection between Jane Wyatt & Jane Wyman often as well when I see a cast list with one or the other in it. Wyman was a more varied performer with a wider range of emotion but within her scope Wyatt was a strong stable presence. And the woman never aged it seemed at least between her first movies in the mid-30’s until seemingly the 70’s. I did like that the film went the opposite route by not having her be a harpy that her husband wants to get away from. It makes the situation more relatable.

    I love Lizabeth Scott, it seems like I say that about every classic actress but believe me there are several I can’t stand-Jennifer Jones in particular gives me hives, and while she was very much a type within that specific category she was very effective. She doesn’t have quite the onscreen punch of Veronica Lake or Betty Bacall but she’s silky and alluring. She could also play variations on it as she does her with the well meaning Mona or the rapacious pit viper Jane Palmer in Too Late for Tears however when she stepped outside that as she did in the western Silver Lode she stumbles because she was too contemporary for the setting.

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