The Steel Trap

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The Steel Trap
The Steel Trap film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Andrew L. Stone
Produced by Bert E. Friedlob
Screenplay by Andrew L. Stone
Starring Joseph Cotten
Teresa Wright
Music by Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo
Edited by Otto Ludwig
Thor Productions
Distributed by 20th Century-Fox
Release dates
  • November 12, 1952 (1952-11-12) (United States)
Running time 85 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1 million (US rentals)[1]

The Steel Trap is a 1952 thriller film noir written and directed by Andrew L. Stone, and starring Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright.[2]


Joseph Cotten plays Jim Osborne, a bank officer in Los Angeles who is tempted to steal from his own bank and flee the country before he can be caught.

His fantasy of doing this becomes a real plan when he learns that Brazil does not allow extradition; it is also an attractive destination and is close enough to reach by traveling over a weekend. If he steals the money at close of business on a Friday, he need only reach Brazil by the Sunday night to be immune to capture before the theft is even discovered.

But the season when the bank opens on Saturdays is about to begin, so he must take action the same week or else wait for months.

He tells his wife Laurie (Teresa Wright) that the bank is sending him to Rio de Janeiro on business and he wants her and their daughter to travel with him. It is a great opportunity for his career, he says, and he has been given it in preference to the officer who would normally be sent, so she should not talk to anyone at the bank about it.

Laurie is delighted with the news but insists their daughter stay at home with Laurie's mother. Jim decides he can send for her after Laurie knows they are staying in Rio, and goes ahead with the crime.

With his inside knowledge and trusted position, the theft from the bank vault is simple enough, but the travel logistics are difficult. Flights are full, passports and visas are needed on a rush basis, and the Osbornes face a series of delays and miss a connection at New Orleans. At this point an airline employee made suspicious by Jim's urgent manner and very heavy baggage tips a customs officer to check whether he is illegally exporting gold, and the money is revealed.

Unreported large cash transactions are legal in 1952, but the customs man knows it is not at all normal for a bank to send only a single employee with so much cash, and also suspects some wrongdoing. But he cannot reach Jim's boss by telephone before the Osbornes' flight is called, and there is no customs violation, so he lets them go. However, they are on standby and the flight is already full. They will not be able to reach Rio on Sunday.

Now fearing arrest, Jim checks into a hotel using a false name. Laurie overhears this, realizes the truth, and confronts him. When he admits the theft, she is shattered and will have no part in it; she leaves him and flies back to Los Angeles.

Within hours, Jim realizes that his wife and daughter are far more important to him than his dreams of wealth. But fortunately it is still possible to save the situation. Laurie was too upset to tell anyone why she had suddenly returned, and Jim has used his own money for their extravagant travel expenses, so the bank's money is intact. After phoning his wife, Jim flies to Los Angeles himself, reaches the bank as it is preparing to open on Monday, and just manages to replace the money before it is missed.



This was the second time that Cotten and Wright starred in a film together, following Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), where she played his niece.

Cotten also starred in A Blueprint for Murder (1953), with Jean Peters and Gary Merrill, a thriller noir directed by Andrew L. Stone as well.


Critical response[edit]

When the film was released, film critic Bosley Crowther, praised the film, writing, The Steel Trap which came to Loew's State yesterday, is a straight exercise in the build-up of cold, agonizing suspense ... As a purely contrived generation of runaway anxiety, this little melodrama amounts to a skillful and no-lost-motion job ... Indeed, it's an entertaining picture."[3]

Variety magazine said of the film, "Andrew Stone’s direction of his own story emphasizes suspense that is leavened with welcome chuckles of relief in telling the improbable but entertaining events."[4]


  1. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  2. ^ The Steel Trap at the TCM Movie Database.
  3. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, November 13, 1952. Accessed: July 15, 2013.
  4. ^ Variety, film review, 1952. Accessed: July 15, 2013.

External links[edit]