“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.
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.
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?
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
ENDING WHAT NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEGUN
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.”
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
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 BURR. The 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.
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.