John Forbes is a family man who's tired of the 9 to 5 humdrum of his job an insurance company executive. Life gets a little more exciting for him when he calls upon femme fatale Mona Stevens. Her boyfriend has embezzled from a store insured by Forbes' company and has showered her with gifts using the loot. Forbes comes to collect the ill-gotten gifts, but the boyfriend is in jail, and Forbes falls hard for Mona and begins an affair. The only problem is that MacDonald, a private dick who freelances for the insurance company, has had his eyes on Mona first. The obsessed MacDonald turns the soon-to-be-released boyfriend against Forbes. Written by
Martin Lewison <email@example.com>
PITFALL (United Artists, 1948), a Regal Film Production directed by Andre De Toth, is a well constructed melodrama starring Dick Powell in one of his best screen performances as Johnny Forbes, a claims adjuster for Olympic Mutual Insurance Company living in a nice home in the suburb of the Los Angeles area with a wife, Sue (Jane Wyatt) and young son, Tommy (Jimmy Hunt). Everything seems fine as the family is introduced getting ready for another day at the breakfast table, but there's only one problem, though. Johnny is bored, bored with routine, bored with life, bored with everything. Neither does he know that his new day at the office would start of a chain of events that's to change his routine of life forever. As his firm is to pay off on the $10,000 robbery committed by Bill Smiley (Byron Barr), now serving time in prison, with items of stolen goods given to his girlfriend, Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott), a fashion model, Johnny's next assignment is to recover some of the items by meeting with Miss Stevens himself after company detective J.B. "Mac" MacDonald (Raymond Burr) has located the girl in question. An innocent meeting between Johnny and Mona soon turns to an illicit affair with Mac menacing Johnny for stepping into his territory in wanting the girl all for himself, regardless of her rejection towards him, leading to a pitfall of lies, cover-ups, deceit and murder.
Powell, who began his screen career in movie musicals at Warner Brothers in the 1930s, established himself a decade later as a fine dramatic actor starting with MURDER, MY SWEET (RKO Radio, 1944) in which he played private eye, Philip Marlowe. Other dramatic roles followed, including CORNERED (RKO, 1945) and JOHNNY O'CLOCK (Columbia, 1947), that formulated Powell as a 1940s tough guy, but it is PITFALL that is equally as good as his previous dramatic efforts combined. Powell's Johnny Forbes is someone who can very well be any average man, bored with life and unsure of himself. A well-scripted drama based on "The Pitfall" by Jay Dratner, with able support by Jane Wyatt as his caring but somewhat suspicious wife; Lizabeth Scott as a tough girl with the raspy voice whose life meets with further obstacles when unwittingly falling in love with a married man, but it's Raymond Burr's role that goes without question, predating Robert Mitchum's performance in CAPE FEAR (1962), as a creepy stalker who won't take no for an answer when it comes to getting someone he wants. His crucial moments include beating up Forbes in front of his home as he warns him to stay away from Mona; his constant stalking of Mona at both job and home; and even going to her boyfriend in prison with intentions of getting him jealous with envy over Mona. Also in the cast are Ann Doran as Powell's secretary; Selmer Jackson as Ed Brawley; and former Warner Brothers contract player John Litel in one scene as a district attorney with advise to Powell's character what he should have done to avoid his pitfall of murder. Had he done that, there would have been no movie, no story, no PITFALL.
What originally attracted me to watching PITFALL when televised in the late 60s/ early 70s on the afternoon movie was actually getting to see Raymond Burr, whose prime time IRONSIDE TV show along with reruns of his popular TV series "Perry Mason" has made him into a public figure among TV personalities at that time. As much as Burr nearly acquires more attention than his leading players, I was equally impressed by its leads, Powell and Scott. I was even more surprised later on when I came across an early musical, 42nd STREET (1933) to find this to be the same Dick Powell from PITFALL as the baby faced singer introducing the hit tune, "Young and Healthy." There's no singing this time around, not even that of Raymond Burr crooning, "I've Got You All to Myself" to Lizabeth Scott listening to him attendedly with disgust. Overall, PITFALL is straight drama that doesn't let up for an instant. Aside from Powell's low-key character, there's Jane Wyatt, whom I've grown to know from her 1950s TV series, FATHER KNOWS BEST starring Robert Young, as a wife and mother, who, unlike housewives of the day, is a little ahead of her time as the one who drives her husband to work. Her emotions, especially its conclusion, are well handled and realistically done for its time.
Of the handful of classic "film noirs" that turned out in the 1940s, PITFALL is one that's virtually unknown to many due to lack of television broadcasts. Had it starred stronger names as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, or Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake for that matter, in the Powell-Scott roles, chances are PITFALL would be a well known classic from the 1940s, but as it turns out, entire production, including actual location footage of Los Angeles, makes this worth viewing. Rarely televised since the 1970s, PITFALL did see the light when distributed on VHS through Republic Home Video in 1991, and many years later on Turner Classic Movies, September 2, 2013. (***1/2)
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