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The noir cycle had run its course by the early 60s, but a few stragglers made it through the gates before the 70s changed the way movies were made and viewed. The Money Trap is one of them, and could have been made, in terms of technique and sensibility, in 1956 rather than a decade later. (Digression: this was a time when a series of European "bombshells," most of whom seem to have learned their lines phonetically, starred in big-budget movies, in Hollywood's dizzy anticipation of multiculturalism. Here we have to endure Elke Sommer whose eyes all but cross in her attempt to pronounce English). The theme is the rot at the core of the American Dream (Norman Mailer's novel of that title appeared in 1966, too). Glenn Ford plays a police detective goaded by Sommer to a higher standard of living than his salary permits. He allows himself to be lured into the company of some very shady characters, chief among whom is Joseph Cotten, and starts his descent down the primrose path. Best part of the movie is the return of Rita Hayworth (Ford and she first paired, unforgettably, in Gilda 20 years earlier), as a blowsy waitress with whom Ford once.... Well, you get the picture. When he asks her how she's been, she grudgingly responds, "I've been around."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Very 1960's with mid-century houses and Hollywood Hills and convertibles and Elke and her life-like body on display. Easy to see why Glenn put up with her extravagance and even her unfaithfulness. The surprise was a used-up, doomed Rita Hayworth, better than Sadie, better than "Fire Down Below." While nobody would believe that Rita was really a down on her luck waitress, she played her exhaustion and disillusionment with the world and especially with men better than any Method actress. Her scenes with Glenn Ford were genuine chemistry between two old friends with loyalty and affection and honesty. And, in the 1960's, how many fifty year old down on her luck character actresses were shown "shacking up" with the star of the picture. Rita established her character so well that, when her sad end was talked about but not seen, it rang true. A real keeper, especially for the next Rita Retrospective.
The Money Trap for me has the distinction of being one of the last B
features I ever saw on the big screen as part of a double bill. It is a
film way past its prime as a noir picture.
Noir as a genre essentially died little by little as more televisions were in American homes. The kind of stories that noir does best were now being shown on television every night. Movies were getting bigger and splashier to compete with TV and films like the Money Trap were just not being made for theaters any more. Watching it yesterday on TCM, I was struck by the ludicrousness of a letter box version for a black and white noir.
By the way, in 1965 television was about to go full color and black and white feature films were getting rarer each year.
But even as a noir film, The Money Trap has no people you really care about. Glenn Ford is married to a wealthy woman and lives in a lifestyle beyond his cop's salary. But then wife Elke Sommer gets a letter saying her late Daddy's stock won't be paying any dividends. Well golly gee, we should all have such problems.
It never occurs to Glenn Ford to tell Elke to tone down her extravagant ways, maybe even move out of that luxurious home they have to something more modest. Ford's kind of into the good life also.
During a homicide investigation involving a wealthy doctor played by Joseph Cotten who allegedly surprised a burglar in his home, Ford and partner Ricardo Montalban suspect something dicey. Before expiring in the ambulance, the burglar gives Ford the safe combination.
Now knowing something is amiss here. Ford and Montalban decide on a robbery. Of course the doctor is smarter than the both of them put together. The whole thing ends in one bloody mess and the viewer doesn't really care.
A few years later The Money Trap would have been strictly a made for TV feature if it got made at all. Probably MGM was busy trying to get rid of long time contractual obligations to Ford and Montalban. Both of them have sure done better work.
But the saddest thing of all is that this is the last feature film partnership of Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth. Rita's the best thing in this film, playing a very worn out forty something ex-girlfriend of Ford's and widow of the burglar Cotten shot. A great acting job and not anything a former reigning sex goddess ever did before.
But it ain't enough to save The Money Trap.
Lionel White's novel becomes an adequate time-filler from rote director Burt Kennedy. Big city cop Glenn Ford, anxious to hold on to luscious wife Elke Sommer, turns to crime; his partner of six years, Ricardo Montalban, wants in on the action. Familiar swindling and safe-cracking yarn goosed by Hal Schaefer's beatnik music, Paul Vogel's gorgeously bleak black-and-white cinematography, and interesting performances from an agreeable cast. Glenn Ford doesn't try hard to flesh out this complicated character, yet his smaller moments (like stroking Sommer's forearm in bed) go a long way to making a connection with the audience; Rita Hayworth (despite a corny send-off) is excellent as an alcoholic, and Montalban simmers with cat-like heat and paranoia. The dialogue is amusingly gritty ("I'm worried!" ... "Then worry with your mouth shut!") and the locales are vividly captured, however the M-G-M studio streets and back alleys look as phony as ever. **1/2 from ****
Glenn Ford and Ricardo Montalban are good policemen gone bad who fall
into "The Money Trap," a 1965 noir directed by Burt Kennedy. Ford plays
Joe Baron, married to beautiful Lisa (Elke Sommer) who is no longer
getting dividends from her father's company. Downsizing and some yard
sales would seem to be in order, but instead, Joe has his eye on a mob
doctor's (Joseph Cotten) safe that's filled with money. Montalban, as
his partner Pete, wants in. One man has already been killed cracking
the safe, and there are some surprises in store.
This film is just okay, kind of depressing, but it's notable for the performance of Rita Hayworth as the widow of the dead burglar. She looks pretty used up as her character should, but she's still a stunning woman with true star charisma and great chemistry with Ford, her old co-star. And, as someone else mentioned, how many 50-year-old women playing character roles get to shack up with the lead in a movie? Well, if anyone could, it's Rita.
Ford was an appealing star without a huge range; this character could have been mined for more depth, but he's fine in the role. Montalban is very good as his money-obsessed partner.
Worth it for Rita.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It has smooth, stylish, black & white photography; a peppy but brooding jazz soundtrack and charismatic actors. It's a simplistic but compelling morality play in glamorous film noir clothing. Glenn Ford is sexy (in a vulnerable tough guy past his prime sort of way), Rita Hayworth is lovely and sympathetic, Elke Somer is adorable, Ricardo Montalban is stupid and greedy, Joseph Cotten is sleazy and everyone is degraded. The men suffer from their lack of faith in others; the women through their misguided dependence on virility (they count on men to provide emotional and worldly sustenance). It's worth seeing just for the glossy cinematography and the early 60's architecture and settings.It is not a film for those who venerate realism or seek a highly original screenplay, nevertheless it is far more slick, attractive and entertaining than a large percentage of current Hollywood film or television. Like a song sung by Amy Winehouse, you wouldn't use it to tell you how to live, but it sure feels good when you turn it up loud and surrender for a little while.
I've always liked "The Money Trap", and so I watched it again last
night. This film noir has many positives. The criticisms of it are not
cogent, such as that it shouldn't be in widescreen (it looks great), or
that it's a b-movie (so what?), or that Rita Hayworth has aged (don't
we all?), or that this is a last ditch noir (what difference does it
make?), or that we have to "endure" Elke Sommer (she does just fine),
or that the story is predictable (it's not), or that no characters are
sympathetic (not the case at all), or that the story is formulaic (not
for its time).
I like this movie from its first rainy frames to the last frames of the swimming pool at Ford's and Sommer's modern suburban home.
There are reviewers who understand this movie and treat it properly. There is Ken Salikof at his blog and there is Jeff Stafford at TCM.
A big positive is that the story is very well-focused. It takes its themes seriously and develops the characters around them so that we know exactly who they are, what they're doing and why they're doing it. Money as a trap is of course the main theme, but beneath that we are told that human wants are at work, trying to be quelled by acquisitions. Glenn Ford is married to Elke Sommer, whose inherited stock pays for their upper-middle class lifestyle, swimming pool and all. When the dividends are omitted, his bruised male ego comes into play. He thinks he has a way of getting a stash of money from the wall safe of a doctor, Joseph Cotten, who deals in drugs. Cotten's muscle is played by Tom Reese, always effective in such roles.
Cotten's character looks down upon those in the lower classes. He is callous and cold. He doesn't care what the results of his role in the drug distribution are. There is nothing left in him of sympathy or the doctor's code. Human beings are dispensable if they are impediments or can be witnesses.
Ford's partner is another bruised male, played by Ricardo Montalban. He feels overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. He also feels a chip on his shoulder as a Mexican-American who has worked hard to avoid poverty and yet still hasn't broken through into a really comfortable life with wealth. He wants money too. Seeing that Ford is onto something, Montalban manages to weasel his way into the action.
Along the way, Ford meets up with his childhood neighborhood flame, his first woman, Rita Hayworth. Deglamorizing herself but retaining enough beauty to attract Ford for a night after he has argued with Sommer, she is resigned to her lower-middle class lot. She tells Ford he should have accepted it too, married her, and not gone after Elke. Elke, she tells him, sounds very educated, but he should have been a lawyer, not a policeman. Ford is after more than a reunion, however. He wants to learn more about Cotten, who has shot and killed Rita's burglar husband.
The men in this story aspire after money for different reasons. Cotten's character shows the limit reached when the aspiration dominates. His corruption is complete before the story commences. Montalban's character shows the progress of the corruption and how it absorbs the person. In one scene he wants to feel the money and especially the new crisp bills. Ford's character shows the possibility of restraint through conscience but not before the money trap has exacted a high price. Elke Sommer's character is selfish but honest with herself and less driven by warped psychology than the materialism of her life may suggest. The American Dream has grown bitter fruit for all of the main characters or proved to be empty of nourishment. Rita Hayworth's character suggests that acceptance of one's social position in life and even love are really no match for being immersed in a sea of aspirations. She could not hold Ford when he was young and she can't hold him now.
They were looking pretty tired in this. It was the characters they played but they didn't have to stretch much for the part. I see why my wife has a poor opinion of Ford. I always liked him but I had never seen this movie before. I want to know more about the house that Ford and Elke lived in. The design of the pool was very unique. Did anyone notice when Ford was riding in the ambulance (a Buick conversion) talking to the dying burglary suspect, that the car next to them was pacing and passing a code 3 ambulance with its siren on? The camera was set up to shoot the scene but there was normal traffic flowing next to it, so when Ford signals to the driver that the suspect is dead and he can slow down, nothing changed in the street scene outside the window. Loved the white 1964 Plymouth Sport Fury convertible that Ford drove. That model has a value these days of $15K to $20K.
Was the world ever really like this?
Pure 1965 black and white, this time machine of a crime drama takes you back to when Elkie Sommer was young, and Joseph Cotten was'nt dead. No profanity, blood or sex on the screen, but everywhere in the painlessly stereotypical screenplay. Predictable to a fault, you seem not to care it's all one big cleche. The jazzy, pre-groovy background music, a totally orignal score by Hal Schaffer, makes this crime-like thing a nostalgic romp of flat-foot flick.
The cast and quality black-and-white camera work would seem to destine
this film for something great but we don't get there. The problem seems
to be the storyline/script which is just too familiar and predictable.
Glen Ford plays a fairly well-to-do cop who feels pressured by his
barbie doll young wife, Elke Sommer, to deliver even more affluence.
His partner, Montalban, is more directly avaricious. Cotten is a
corrupt doctor and a very used looking Rita Hayworth is Ford's
ex-girlfriend from years ago.
Ford as usual, underplays but nevertheless makes you feel the cold emptiness and disillusionment of the character. Everyone else delivers well but I think we have all seen these characters, motivations and situations a hundred times before and the script does not give any room for interesting angles or surprises. We get a very dark (literally and figuratively) and gritty film but not something that is likely to grow on you. If this had been made in 1932, it would have been a far more significant film. By the mid 60s, it was tired formula.
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