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Pitfall (1948)

1948’s Pitfall  offers us a somewhat cynical and moody insurance investigator played by Noir regular Dick Powell. Who better than Lizabeth Scott to join him in this Andre de Toth thriller that also treats us to genre regular Raymond Burr once again cast as the heavy.

pitfall half sheet

Powell has Burr on the payroll as a P.I. looking into the recovery of stolen goods that have been bestowed upon a blonde beauty whose man is doing time for the thefts. Powell thanks Burr for his time and pays her a visit himself.

“Are you a prowler or do you have a search warrant?”

pitfall 2

Liz walks in to her place to find Powell snooping around and admiring her modeling photographs. Adultery is in the air when the married Powell stays a little too long getting to know the icy blonde. It seems as if men become easily infatuated with Miss Scott. She’s got one in jail played by Byron Barr, the soon to be lover Powell who easily strays from his boring marriage to Jane Wyatt while at the same time trying to let her keep some of the stolen goods and finally Burr. Burr is the one she doesn’t want lurking around but it seems he’s become somewhat of a stalker with a dangerous aura about him.

It’s like a noir version of There’s Something About Mary!

something about mary

Powell loves the fact that she has a carefree lifestyle. She’s adventurous and then of course there’s her beauty and fetching smile. He’s caught. That doesn’t sit well with Burr who lays a trap and beats the hell out of Powell and warning him to stay away.

The beating is a surprisingly violent scene that is filmed wonderfully, never actually allowing us to see the damage thrust upon Powell. The blood and bruises inflicted are rightfully left to one’s imagination. Kudos to de Toth in the staging of the scene.

Scott works as a model at a clothing store parading dresses for would be buyers. She’s about to realize just how dangerous Burr is when he takes a seat in the showroom and Scott is forced to parade outfits in front of him. It’s a risqué scene by 1940’s standards with a definite kinky side to it. It’s probably equivalent to a forced lap dance in today’s era.

The leads are all going to converge in violence by the fade out in this customary black and white Noir feature.

pitfall lobby

Pitfall seems to have come on my radar over the last couple years thanks to TCM and the recent blu ray release from Kino Lorber that I acquired. While it has a great angle with Burr’s depravity in his lust for Scott, of which he is once again excellent in delivering the goods, I am not sure if the comedy that is continually injected into the film is appropriate. I believe it created an imbalance that worked against it.

Though amusing, scenes like Powell admonishing both his son and society in general over selling comic books to kids don’t belong here. I prefer my noir dark and the core of this story is very dark. Perhaps so much so that the producers thought the injection of comedy might balance the film better.

“Terrible trash! Torturing women and men from Mars.” Powell says in reference to the comics he claims are giving his young son nightmares. Here I thought maybe Burr was lurking in the shadows outside the boy’s window.

pitfall3

By no means is this a no go, I just wish it had been harder down the stretch and less family friendly in the outcome. I much prefer the other Liz Scott feature I recently saw for the first time, Too Late For Tears.

15 Comments »

  1. I prefer Too Late for Tears as well, but I’d like to defend the ending of Pitfall, even though the Production Code no doubt dictated it. (SPOILERS) In it, Forbes and his wife *do* get back together, but I certainly wouldn’t say all is well. Forbes knows he’s screwed up big time and that look that Sue gives him at the end tells us that things will probably never be the same with their marriage. Even though she’s *verbally* forgiven him, she’ll never forget what he did. In many ways, it’s a different kind of devastating ending from what we’ve come to expect from noir. A quieter ending, but with implications of deep sadness and regret. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. Enjoyed your post as always!

    • Understood, I guess I just wanted a more definitive ending. Especially where Scott is concerned as it kind of leaves one hanging as to her outcome. She’s not the classic femme fatale of Noir. She’s more the victim here.

      • Good point. I have the new Blu-ray, but haven’t gotten to the Eddie Muller commentary yet, which I’m sure is worthwhile. It’ll be interested to see what light he sheds on the ending.

  2. I know I’ve seen this, but your Too Late For Tears referencing at the end made me think of that film and how much better it is. Alsooooo, that title is the same as a classic videogame and I was thinking about jumping over crocodiles and gigantic scorpions.

      • Raymond Burr. Heavy. I just woke up and saw that, thought of Ironsides and then William Conrad as Cannon tossing a bag of groceries aside and pulling his gun (this happened in at least one episode of that old TV show) and couldn’t stop laughing. I need a cup of coffee because I’m seriously NOT awake yet.

        • My Mom loved Cannon. Not me I just saw this seriously overweight guy solving cases. I was much more into cartoons in those days and after school specials. Back when we only had the one TV with maybe 15 channels.

          • Ha! Yeah, we only had ONE television at the time, so my parents got us to sit through Cannon, Mannix, Columbo, Perry Mason and all those other PI and law (of sorts) shows. We *did* get free reign after school and on the weekends, though. So plenty of cartoons and too many “B” movies did us some good.

            Still, without those PI shows, I wouldn’t have seen Burt Reynolds sliding on a wood floor into the camera with his fist out like a low rent Superman in Dan August (go do a search on YouTube for that show just for the opening credits – you’ll get a good laugh).

          • I’ll have a look. Anything with Burt always interests me. We were big on Baretta, Starsky, and of course Mom and Dad watched Archie Bunker though I never liked it at the time. I much preferred Sanford and Son when I was a kid. Still do I should point out. lol

  3. Heh, we caught all those shows as well, lol. I’m still amazed that we watched all that TV, but those were the days when there was more stuff worth watching as opposed t now where there’s TOO much to keep up with thanks to everyone wanting to kill off cable and become a network of some sort. I still haven’t seen anything on any streaming service other than catching stuff at a friend’s place and wishing it was on a darn disc so I wasn’t tied to a chuggy service with not so hot image quality.

  4. Not a perfect noir (for reasons already referred to) but an entertaining enough one as far as I’m concerned. I waited along time to see this and I can’t say I went away displeased when i finally got round to it.

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