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Pitfall (1948)

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Pitfall (1948)

Postby moira finnie » September 8th, 2007, 4:59 pm

"Take only good pictures and have only good dreams."

Dick Powell urges his frightened son to do the above when the boy awakens from a nightmare. If only Dick could've taken his own advice in director André De Toth's dark little crime caper, Pitfall (1948). Powell, entering his entertaining, edgier period in high gear after Murder, My Sweet (1944), Cornered (1945) and Johnny O'Clock (1947), here plays a peevish insurance investigator who is not quite living a life of quiet desperation, (he's too articulate and funny for that thanks to the film's author, Jay Dratler & the actor's own spin on salty dialogue).

More to the point, he's finding that the checklist cataloging the trappings of the American Dream may not be long enough for him.:
WIFE Image
Played by a wonderfully steely Jane Wyatt, who seems to understand the cold ways of the world better than the often childish characters around her.

CHILD Image
An apparently average and annoying boy who might sleep in his roller skates if they let him, though those pesky dreams he experiences make one wonder a bit how deep those shallow waters run.

JOB Image
At an Insurance Company, where Claims Investigator Powell thinks he knows the score of this predetermined career path, even as he shudders inwardly at his own sense that his life is apparently leading straight to a living death before the inevitable physical one. This realization makes Dick feel, well, claustrophobic, to say the least.

Powell even seems bored with the one person who must bring some tinge of sin and danger into his working life, a rather gamy private detective played by the underrated Raymond Burr during his pre-Perry Mason days. Burr often seemed engaged by film noir directors wanting to cast an actor who could imply, with only a glance or a shifting of his bulk, almost every base human fault. At the same time, there was always a tarnished and usually unhealthy longing in his characters that made them touching and repellent. I find my reactions to these types of characters all the more remarkable since, from the time that I first saw him as the only observer of the hapless Godzilla who understood the monster--and, of course as Perry Mason on tv--I thought he was a highly sympathetic actor. I wonder how Burr felt about this noir period of his career?

Powell gradually becomes rather thoughtlessly involved with a seemingly guileless semi-bad girl, played by Lizabeth Scott, who is--perhaps unwittingly--a receiver of stolen goods that Dick needs to recover for his company. It's one of Scott's most interesting roles since she seems rather nice, even vulnerable, though of course, she's also involved with a guy who showered her with the stolen worldly goods before he was sent away to the slammer. Dick Powell's character seems to find her appealing as much for her implicit promise of freedom from responsibility as for her blonde allure, which also attracts Burr at his most predatory.

Gradually, the order of the universe is restored, but jeepers, what a ride De Toth and his cohorts give us. The end is almost literally wrapped up in a big bow when Wyatt 'fesses up to Powell in their car that yeah, she sensed something was wrong, but just knew--somehow--that things would work out okay in the end. Hmmm, maybe the American Dream is just wishful thinking sometimes.:wink:

Hope that you will let me know how you liked this movie. Many thanks to Klondike for sharing this doozey with me. I loved every dark corner of this movie's wizened noir heart.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rw1DeeQjI9w[/youtube]

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Postby Mr. Arkadin » September 9th, 2007, 12:23 am

Great essay Moira! I'm really sorry I missed this one. Hopefully it will show again soon. When did it show?

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Postby moira finnie » September 9th, 2007, 7:56 am

Thanks, Ark.
As far as I recall, I've never seen TCM broadcast Pitfall (1948), though others may know better. I saw this film on a home dvd recording. A quick check of Amazon & Ebay indicates that Pitfall (1948) appears to be available commercially on vhs. To me, it's one more noir mystery why this good movie isn't on dvd!

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Postby Sue Sue Applegate » September 9th, 2007, 9:33 am

Thanks for the critique, Moira. This sounds so great. Sorry I've missed it.
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Postby vallo » September 10th, 2007, 9:56 am

Amazon only has used VHS copies, starting at $27.95 and up. Now that you piqued my interest.


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Postby moira finnie » September 11th, 2007, 3:44 pm

Amazon only has used VHS copies, starting at $27.95 and up. Now that you piqued my interest.~Vallo


Vallo,
I saw some vhs copies on ebay recently for less than $10. I've had pretty good luck buying new & used movies on there at a deep discount, though I realize that some people are understandably leery about this idea.
I'd love to hear others opinions. I didn't realize that it was such a rare movie when I began this thread.

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Postby nightwalker » September 12th, 2007, 2:23 pm

I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of the VHS tape of this film from a video store eliminating some of its stock. I believe it was released by Republic Home Video (I'm not home right now to go check), but agree that it needs to be out on DVD and could use some showings on TCM.

It certainly qualifies in the noir category. I mean, here you have a guy (played by Dick Powell) who's happily married, with an attractive wife, a child, a nice house in the suburbs, and a job, which, while it may not be the most exciting in the world, enables him to provide nicely for his family and to afford most anything he wants, and he's still not happy. In fact, when we first meet the character, even though he seems to be living the "American dream" as it was in the post World War II years, he also seems to be feeling bored and even somewhat smothered or stifled by his life.

In other words, he's a perfect noir protagonist, ripe for all sorts of noir unpleasantness to come into his life, which it will, in time-honored film
noir fashion

*****SPOILER ALERT****

so that, by the film's end, Powell's character has disgraced himself and his family, nearly been sent to prison and been involved in the possible death of sleazy private eye Raymond Burr.

In this sense, the film seems almost a noir counterpart to THE WIZARD OF OZ. There, you'll recall that Dorothy learns, by film's end, not to go looking for her heart's desire any further than her own back yard, as she says, because if it's not there, she never really lost it in the first place.

Powell's character learns the exact same lesson through a series of circumstances which will probably cost him his home, his standing in the community, and his position at the office (at film's end, it's possible he'll take a transfer and simply move himself and his family to another town). It's only because of his wife's character and willingness to forgive him that he doesn't lose her and his son as well.

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Postby vallo » September 13th, 2007, 2:37 pm

>I saw some vhs copies on ebay recently for less than $10. I've had pretty good luck buying new & used movies on there at a deep discount<


I try various DVD sites. I'm not locked in to any one. Some of the prices are ludicrous. I love Deep Discount (free shipping,you can beat that)

I was at Amazon and a seller is selling "The Sea Wolf" new for $129.00 which is way too much for a VHS. But as movie lovers I'm sure someone will pay that or any price for what they're looking for.
Good thing I taped it from TCM.

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Postby moira finnie » September 16th, 2007, 8:15 am

Vallo,
$129 for a new vhs of The Sea Wolf?

I'd only cough up that much if the shades of Julie Garfield, & Ida joined me on the couch to tell me about the making of the movie. And even then...well, maybe if Barry Fitzgerald as "Cooky" also emerged from the video to whip up some Mulligan Stew. On second thought, maybe shaky doc Gene Lockhart better stand by as well to administer to the victims of any of his adventures in haute cuisine. (I hear that all his food all has that acrid, bitter taste that comes from trying to appease Edward G. Robinson's character's Nietzschean hunger for power.)

Thanks for the reminder about other venues for finding cheaper vhs/dvds. I usually mention Amazon & Ebay, 'cause most people seem familiar with them, though I don't endorse either exclusively, of course. The Sea Wolf needs to be on dvd. As a matter of fact, shouldn't there be several Michael Curtiz boxed sets already?

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Re: Pitfall (1948)

Postby moira finnie » September 2nd, 2013, 9:54 am

Giving this thread a bump since "The Pitfall" (1948) is on TCM today at 4:15pm (ET). Great flick, good actors and an interesting mixed message about what working everyday does to a person (how ironic on Labor Day!).

What the "The"? Funny, I thought it was just Pitfall...but what"the" heck.
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Re: Pitfall (1948)

Postby Professional Tourist » September 2nd, 2013, 7:16 pm

The title is indeed just "Pitfall," according to the opening credits.

I watched it tonight. It was diverting, but to me nothing special; and predictable, although I couldn't be sure of just who would be dead/alive at the end. It seemed like a fore-runner of Fatal Attraction, although in FA the craziness of Pitfall's private detective/stalker was combined into the lover's own personality. I like FA better -- I think Pitfall dealt with some of its characters unfairly. Sure, life's not always fair, but this is a forties movie and Lizabeth Scott's character and her fiance did not deserve what they got at the end.

Btw, Lizabeth Scott's character did not receive stolen goods. Her fiance bought her gifts, including a boat and her engagement ring, in the usual way. But he embezzled funds from his employer, which he used to pay for those gifts. Scott's character didn't know at first how he had paid for them. Since her fiance was sent to prison to pay for the embezzlement, she didn't think she should have to give back the items -- but his employer's insurance company saw it differently.

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Re: Pitfall (1948)

Postby moira finnie » September 3rd, 2013, 7:14 am

PT, I think that Pitfall tried to depict its characters as realistically as possible under the Production Code. It was unfair that Lizabeth Scott's character got caught up in this, but her ethical ambivalence appeared to me to be well drawn. She seemed to be a young woman who was trying to survive as best she could, not out of any master plan, but making it up as she went along, and not above a bit of manipulation. That "what's a girl to do?" passive aggressive behavior she displayed came out of a sense of weakness, and her only high cards were her good looks and innocent pose.

Perhaps it was Lizabeth Scott's lack of ability as an actress that some would ascribe to her bouts of meekness followed by enticement here, but I thought that director Andre de Toth used the mystery created by her impassive pan to enrich the story. I inferred from her sometimes awkward behavior that Scott's stalking victim with a slightly tawdry air wasn't always comfortable in her position as an object of desire, inflaming three different men but probably only liking one of them. She just didn't have a lot of choices and she was a sympathetic figure then too, but especially from today's post-feminist POV.

I like to think that the conscience-ridden Powell might discreetly seek out a lawyer to build a case for self-defense for Scott after The End scrolled by in the credits. (I think a combo of steamroller--and real life lawyer--Florence Bates and a smoothie like Edmund Lowe would fit the bill as an attorney in the relatively low budget world spun in this noir).

CineMaven has added her own interesting take on this movie here on this board.
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Re: Pitfall (1948)

Postby Professional Tourist » September 3rd, 2013, 9:56 am

The unfairness to Lizabeth Scott's character and to her fiance, as I see it, is not due to limitations imposed by the production code, but due to the plot. Neither of them deserved to be manipulated into the untenable situations that the story put them into, which is what leads to their final downfalls. They were both basically decent, working people who were human and made a couple of mistakes. But, while her fiance did embezzle funds from his employer, he had already paid his debt by spending time in prison. Their "punishments" far outweighed their "crimes."

The private investigator played by Raymond Burr was a psychopath who deserved what he got, but it's tragic who would end up paying for it. It's like a blame-the-victim situation.

I doubt that Dick Powell's character would do anything to help her after the film concludes. He's planning to move away with his family and make a clean start, so would probably wash his hands of the whole thing.

The only character I truly liked was Jane Wyatt's.

I think Fatal Attraction (1987) handles this type of scenario better.

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Re: Pitfall (1948)

Postby kingrat » September 3rd, 2013, 11:57 am

Raymond Burr was shudderingly creepy in Pitfall, especially in the scene in the pricy dress shop where he asks Lizabeth Scott to take off her wrap. How powerful, suggestive, and scary this is without any need to show overtly violent acts. I also loved the scene where he calls the police and then says quietly to Scott, "You were going to call who about what?"

This movie is like the dark side of Father Knows Best, isn't it? Dick Powell seems to have the American dream, but he's bored by it--until he finds out more about some of the alternatives. I also particularly liked Jane Wyatt, who plays the subtext of each scene precisely. There's plenty of emotion under the surface, and she knows just how to suppress it.

Wouldn't Pitfall make a good double feature with Bigger Than Life?

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Re: Pitfall (1948)

Postby Professional Tourist » September 3rd, 2013, 12:29 pm

Well, what one person may see as "powerful, suggestive, and scary" another person may see as a hideous symptom of mental illness.

I did not love the scene where he called the police from Scott's apartment. More psychopathic behavior, very unfair to Scott's character. She has done nothing to deserve what this detective is doing to her.

I don't like Bigger Than Life either. That's one double-feature I would skip.

I don't have a problem in general with films that show the darker side of the human experience, that have bad guys, but I think there should be some sense of balance. I like to see the good people (or some of them) come through it to survive and have another chance -- even in film noir. Although Dick Powell's family will survive, it's at the expense of Scott and her fiance.


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