Pitfall (1948 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||André De Toth|
|Produced by||Samuel Bischoff|
|Screenplay by||Karl Kamb
André De Toth (uncredited)
William Bowers (uncredited)
|Based on||The novel The Pitfall
by Jay Dratler
|Music by||Louis Forbes (uncredited)|
|Cinematography||Harry J. Wild|
|Edited by||Walter Thompson|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Budget||nearly $1 million|
Pitfall is a 1948 American film noir crime film directed by André De Toth. The film is based on the novel The Pitfall by Jay Dratler and features Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt, and Raymond Burr.
John "Johnny" Forbes (Powell) is a middle-class husband and father who is tired of his boring routine, working for the Olympic Mutual Insurance Company in Los Angeles. Private investigator and former policeman J. B. "Mac" MacDonald (Burr) reports that Bill Smiley, an embezzler who had been bonded by Olympic Mutual, caught and sent to prison, had given expensive presents to his girlfriend, model Mona Stevens (Scott).
Mac wants to stay on the case, admitting he is attracted to Mona, but Forbes decides to try to retrieve the gifts himself. He ends up spending the day with the sultry blond on her speedboat, appropriately named "Tempest," and a romance begins brewing. His wife Sue (Wyatt) has no idea what is going on. Mac, however, does; one night, he beats Johnny up and tells him to stay away from Mona. When Mona hears that Johnny is "sick", she goes to visit him and accidentally discovers that he is married. She breaks up with him, unwilling to break up a family.
Mac keeps stalking her, both at her workplace and at home, despite Mona telling him that she does not like him. He goes to see Smiley in prison and informs him what is going on. Mona finds out the day before Smiley is to be released, and when Smiley gives her a hostile reception, she turns to Johnny. Johnny beats Mac up.
When Smiley is freed, Mona tracks him down and discovers that he has been drinking, and that Mac gave him a gun. When Smiley rejects her plea to move to another city and start a new life together, she phones Johnny to warn him. Smiley goes to Johnny's house that night. Johnny drives him away at gunpoint, but when Smiley returns and breaks in, Johnny shoots him dead. Johnny lets the police think Smiley was just a burglar.
Mac feels he has eliminated both his rivals and expects Mona to go away with him. She shoots him instead and is taken into custody. Johnny gives a full confession, first to his wife, then to the district attorney (over Sue's objections), who reluctantly says that Johnny is safe because it was justifiable homicide. Sue gives him a second chance, though she is not sure their marriage will ever be the same. The charge against Mona will depend on whether Mac will live or die.
According to Madeleine Stowe, guest host on the May 21, 2016, Turner Classic Movies screening of the film, the production was in trouble because the script violated the Hayes Code, as the adulterer was not sufficiently punished. When director De Toth found out, he met with two senior Hayes Code members, whom he had selected with care. De Toth revealed that he knew the two were both married and both had mistresses. There were no problems after that.
Film critic Fernando F. Croce wrote about the screenplay and direction,
The title's abyss, pitilessly moral, sprawls horizontally rather than vertically, a lateral track following disheveled Dick Powell bottoming out, wandering the streets after confessing murder and adultery to wife Jane Wyatt. Fate may be at play, yet André de Toth's grip is less determinist than humanist, airtight but wounded, each pawn in the grid allowed trenchant space to deepen the fallout of their own actions.
Film critic Dennis Schwartz wrote of the film,
Powell is the archetypal average American man living out the American Dream in the suburbs, where his type is viewed as the backbone of the country. This film does a good job of poking holes at that dream, showing underneath the surface all is not well.
A police officer sued the producers for libel claiming the film was based on him.
- Hollywood Deals: Prospects Brighten for United Artists -Budget Runs Wild and Other Matters By Thomas F. Brady. Hollwood. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 01 Feb 1948: X5.
- Croce, Fernando F. ''Cinepassion, film review, 2008. Last accessed: February 24, 2008.
- Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, January 26, 2001. Last accessed: February 24, 2008.
- "Ex-Cop Charges 'Pitfall' Mirrors Him, Sues". Variety. August 25, 1948.
- "Kino Lorber Studio Classics]". Classic Images. January 2016. p. 36.