Reviewed by Jerry Renshaw, Fri., Nov. 26, 1999
PitfallD: André De Toth (1948); with Dick Powell, Jane Wyatt, Raymond Burr, Lizabeth Scott. John Forbes (Powell) has it all. He's got a house in the suburbs, a wife, a kid, a good job as an insurance adjuster, and a two-car garage. He should be happy, but instead he feels bored and stifled by his routine. He's assigned to investigate an embezzlement case and recover all the goods bought with the hot money. The trail leads him to Mona Stevens (Scott), a beautiful blonde who puts her finger on the ennui that he feels. Mona describes him to the last detail, and after Forbes asks her out for a drink, he says:
"If I were the man you just described, I'd have to shoot myself."
Mona:"I've got a gun, too."
Forbes: "Let's have that drink first, and then let's talk about the gun."
Forbes decides to have a fling with Mona, and not a very serious fling at that. Soon he finds himself neck-deep in stolen goods, trouble at work, a jealous boyfriend due for parole, and a psychotic stalker (Burr) with designs on Mona. Powell succeeded in reinventing himself with 1944's Murder My Sweet. With that film, he went from playing sappy Irish tenors and romantic leads in musicals to playing world-weary tough guys and victims of circumstance. His hangdog demeanor and rather sour outlook made him the perfect hard-bitten antihero in such films as Cornered and Cry Danger; referring to Murder My Sweet, no less than Raymond Chandler declared Powell to be his favorite screen Marlowe. Fans of Burr shouldn't miss him as the private detective Mac, stalking Mona Stevens; he's both pathetic and reprehensible in his creepy fixation on her. More importantly, though, Forbes' discontent in Pitfall pre-dates the middle-class malaise of films such as The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by several years. It dares to suggest (in Forbes' case, at least) that maybe things aren't all as they seem in postwar America's scenario of jobs, families, responsibilities, and numbing routine.