Pitfall (1948 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by André De Toth
Produced by Samuel Bischoff
Screenplay by Karl Kamb
André De Toth
William Bowers
Based on The novel Pitfall 
by Jay Dratler
Starring Dick Powell
Lizabeth Scott
Raymond Burr
Jane Wyatt
Cinematography Harry J. Wild
Edited by Walter Thompson
Distributed by United Artists
Peter Rodgers Organization
Release dates
  • August 24, 1948 (1948-08-24) (United States)
Running time
86 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget nearly $1 million[1]

Pitfall is a 1948 black-and-white film noir drama directed by André De Toth. The film was based on a novel of the same name by Jay Dratler, and was titled Tragedia a Santa Monica for its Italian release. The drama features Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt, and Raymond Burr.[2]


Living in Los Angeles, John Forbes (Powell), is a bored man who works for an insurance company. He's a middle-class husband and father that craves excitement in his day-to-day life. He gets his wish when he begins investigating an embezzlement case and meets Mona Stevens (Scott), who works for a department store.

Forbes is tasked with getting hold of some expensive gifts given to Stevens, the lover of an embezzler who's serving time in prison. 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 he has been unfaithful.

MacDonald (Burr), a private detective working for the insurance company, has become obsessed with Stevens and won't take no for an answer. He stalks her and beats up Forbes. When she goes to see how he is, Stevens finds out that Forbes is a married man.

As the day of her jailbird lover Smiley's release from prison approaches, Mona fears for her safety and Forbes longs for the days before he got involved in all this trouble. MacDonald responds to a beating from Forbes by telling the jealous Smiley about him. Smiley goes to Forbes' house with a gun and is killed by Forbes, who lets the police believe he was a prowler.

MacDonald feels he has eliminated the competition and expects Mona to go away with him. She shoots him instead. While she is placed under arrest, Forbes gives a full confession, first to his wife, then to the district attorney. Mona tells the police that she had informed Forbes that Smiley was coming to kill him and the prosecutor makes a decision not to indict Forbes, as he feels that the evidence that Forbes believed his life was in jeopardy was irrefutable. He is given a second chance by Sue, who isn't sure their marriage will ever be the same. Mona is not as fortunate and will be tried, the charges depending on whether McDonald will recover or die. This outcome is not revealed by the end of the film.



Critical response[edit]

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."[3]

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. The wayward husband has fallen from his perch of bourgeois respectability in the eyes of his wife, and the materialism needed to maintain such a middle-class lifestyle is shown to be just as superfluous in attaining love as the gifts Smiley tried to bribe his girlfriend with to get her to love him. There was also one scene where Tommy had a nightmare and Powell glibly explains this away because he read a comic book with an alien story before going to sleep. But the nightmare indicates more than that, as it indicates there is something troubling even the youngsters brought up in this so-called ideal materialistic environment."[4]


Pitfall was released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber Studio Classics in November 2015.[5]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Pitfall at the Internet Movie Database.
  3. ^ Croce, Fernando F. ''Cinepassion, film review, 2008. Last accessed: February 24, 2008.
  4. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews, film review, January 26, 2001. Last accessed: February 24, 2008.
  5. ^ "Kino Lorber Studio Classics]". Classic Images. January 2016. p. 36. 

External links[edit]