Pitfall (1948 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Andre DeToth
Produced by Samuel Bischoff
Screenplay by Karl Kamb
Andre DeToth (uncredited)
William Bowers (uncredited)
Based on The Pitfall (novel)
by Jay Dratler
Starring Dick Powell
Lizabeth Scott
Jane Wyatt
Raymond Burr
Music by Louis Forbes (uncredited)
Cinematography Harry J. Wild
Edited by Walter Thompson
Regal Films
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • 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 American film noir crime film directed by Andre DeToth. The film is based on the novel The Pitfall by Jay Dratler and stars Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt, and Raymond Burr.


John "Johnny" Forbes is a middle-class husband and father who is tired of his boring routine, working for the Olympic Mutual Insurance Company in downtown Los Angeles. Private investigator and former policeman J. B. "Mac" MacDonald reports that Bill Smiley, an embezzler who had been bonded by Olympic Mutual, caught and sent to prison, had given several expensive presents - including a speedboat named Tempest - to Smiley's girlfriend, model Mona Stevens in Santa Monica.

Mac wants to stay on the case, admitting he is attracted to Mona, but Forbes goes to retrieve the gifts himself. He ends up spending the day with the sultry blonde on her speedboat, and a physical romance begins. His wife Sue has no idea what is going on; Mac, however, does. The next night, he beats Johnny up and tells him to stay away from Mona. When Mona hears that Johnny has called in "sick", she goes to visit him at home and learns at the last moment that he is married with a young son. She calls off the affair, unwilling to break up Johnny's family.

Mac keeps stalking her, both at the May Company department store where she works and at her home in Santa Monica, so Mona finally tells him bluntly that she does not like him. He goes to see Smiley in prison and informs him what is going on. Mona finds out Smiley's release date the day before he is to be released. When Smiley gives her a hostile reception, she turns to Johnny. Johnny pays back Mac for the beating he received earlier with one of his own for Mac.

When Smiley is freed, Mona tracks him down and discovers that he has been drinking, and that Mac has given 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, letting the police think Smiley was just a burglar.

Mac, feeling he has eliminated both his rivals, 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, over Sue's objections, to the district attorney. The DA reluctantly pronounces 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 lives or dies.


Hays Code[edit]

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 Hays Code, as the adulterer was insufficiently punished. When director DeToth found out, he met with two senior Hays Code members, whom he had selected with care. DeToth revealed that he knew the two were both married and both had mistresses. There were no problems after that.[2]


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.[4]

A one-time police officer sued the producers for libel claiming the film was based on him.[5]


Pitfall was released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber Studio Classics in November 2015.[6]


  1. ^ Hollywood Deals: Prospects Brighten for United Artists -Budget Runs Wild and Other Matters by Thomas F. Brady. Hollywood. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y], February 1, 1948: X5.
  2. ^ Madeleine Stowe, guest host on the May 21, 2016, Turner Classic Movies screening of the film
  3. ^ Croce, Fernando F. ''Cinepassion film review (2008); accessed February 24, 2008.
  4. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. Ozus' World Movie Reviews film review (January 26, 2001); accessed February 24, 2008.
  5. ^ "Ex-Cop Charges 'Pitfall' Mirrors Him, Sues". Variety. August 25, 1948. 
  6. ^ "Kino Lorber Studio Classics". Classic Images. January 2016. p. 36. 

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