The Trap (1959)
In the course of one afternoon, Richard Widmark returns to the small town he grew up in and drastically changes the lives of the loved ones he left behind ten years ago after having a falling out with his father portrayed by Carl Benton Reid. A sappy soap opera rears it’s ugly head in the back story of this Norman Panama written and directed tale but thankfully, it has a gangland flavor attached to it that keeps the plot moving and the added bonus of Lee J. Cobb as mobster number one.
Widmark is a jaded lawyer who has found himself in the pocket of Cobb’s organization overseen by Lorne Greene. With pressure mounting on Cobb, he has decided to flee the country and sends Widmark back to the home and family he turned his back on years ago. Widmark is to convince his sheriff/father Reid and deputy/brother Earl Holliman to turn their backs on the local airstrip for one afternoon so that the public enemy number one can take refuge elsewhere.
Cue the melodrama please. In the course of a two hour stop over, Widmark instantly finds himself at odds with his father who has disowned him for a past offense while Holliman is the drunken weak son with Tina Louise for a trophy wife. Care to guess who the future castaway was once romantically involved with? Even more convenient is the fact that she isn’t happy in her marriage and still pines for her first love.
I think you get the picture.
Surprisingly, Reid agrees to turn his back though makes it clear he never wants to see Widmark again. On the flip side, Holliman is trying to save his marriage and become a man in the eyes of those around him. The fifteen grand reward money for Cobb’s capture is just enough for him to take a chance resulting in some major gunfire and ultimately the death of of his and Widmark’s father.
Now it’s time for Widmark to stand up and get out from under his demons. It’s Widmark vs. Cobb down the stretch and neither disappoints as they take center stage. This modern day western takes on an almost 3:10 to Yuma feel as Cobb begins poking and prodding at both Widmark and Holliman whom he finds himself a prisoner of in the dry desert area where the film takes place.
When Cobb can’t buy off the stoic Widmark he begins to focus on the greedy Holliman and makes it known that he has an envelope with twenty five thousand dollars in his jacket pocket. This only adds to the tension and just how far good ole boy Earl is willing to go to save his marriage with Louise. He’s got a gun and Cobb wants him to use it.
Released through Paramount in technicolor, this gangster flavored western set in modern times culminates in an action packed showdown as Cobb makes his play at the airstrip with Widmark standing firm.
This is a rather tight knit affair that continued to allow leading man Widmark to vary his roles between good and evil. Something he seemed to do with ease and quite convincingly when called upon. Earl Holiman is an actor I’ve always appreciated and this is probably due to the fact that I’d spot him in various westerns growing up while at the same time seeing him in Police Woman reruns that my folks were always watching.
It’s Cobb that has the fun role and he makes the best of it. One could argue it’s an extension of his Johnny Friendly characterization from the classic On The Waterfront film just a few years previously. I actually had the opportunity to watch this last week with my father while visiting him and that is an experience I still treasure and am thankful for. He loves to chirp out one liners and laugh at the tough guy heroics and grandstanding of both Cobb and Widmark. “That Richard was always tough and knew how to handle himself.” Dad had the whole wrap up figured out about an hour before the fade out confirming this is a by the numbers programmer.
I love it.
As for the film, worth a look.