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THE STEEL TRAP on this Wednesday


TomJH
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For lovers of crime dramas, with film noir elements, I highly recommend a 1952 drama, *The Steel Trap*, scheduled for broadcast this Wednesday at 2:30pm (EST). While no classic, the film is a surprisingly satisfying “will-he-get-away-with-it” crime drama. It also deserves honourable mention to be included in the “good little films you’ve never heard of” category.

 

This is a medium budgeted, tight little drama starring Joseph Cotten in one of the favorite roles of film noir culture, that of a respectable member of society who is discontented and bored, which leads to trouble. In this case he’s a long time employee of a bank who day dreams of how easy it would be to embezzle one million dollars from his bank over a weekend.

 

 

Cotten has a likable everyman quality about him, so as he decides one day to make his day dream become a reality it’s easy for the audience to identify with him. Yes, he’s breaking the law and by all the moral codes of society he is wrong to do so. Yet we can’t help but root for him because of the intelligence, audacity and, well, balls that his character displays.

 

 

This film is quite suspenseful at times and tightly paced by director Andrew Stone. It’s a short little 85 minute feature and doesn’t waste any time in telling it’s simple but involving tale, with all the unexpected complications that arise threatening to scuttle Cotten and his plans for a new life with all that loot.

 

 

Since The Steel Trap was made in the ‘50s when the Hollywood production code dictated that no film character can attempt such a plan without paying a price for it, I was pleasantly surprised at the film’s resolution, which I found to be both unexpected and satisfying.

 

 

One more thing for film noir buffs. Visually The Steel Trap has none of the chiaroscuro lighting effects that we so love about ‘40s noirs. In fact, the visuals of this film are the least of its virtues. The emphasis is upon plot development and, increasingly as the film progresses, its pacing. The film also reunites Cotten with his Shadow of a Doubt co-star, Teresa Wright. Wright gives a lovely performance (the moral conscience of the film) as Cotten’s wife who initially hadn’t got a clue as to her husband’s plans. Her character eventually turns out to play an important role in the flow of the narrative.

 

 

*A final warning:* Do *NOT* read either the TCM website plot summary of this film or Leonard Maltin’s review before seeing The Steel Trap! Both give away an unexpected twist in the story. I was glad that I saw this film without having read either because they would have partially spoiled the film for me.

 

 

Joseph Cotten was a fine actor, capable of playing a smooth talking charming psychopath (Shadow of a Doubt) as well as personifying an everyman, as an earnest, slightly awkward leading man (The Third Man). He also gets my nomination as the actor who possibly appeared in more outstanding Hollywood productions during the 1940s than any other.

 

 

While The Steel Trap hardly rates among Cotten’s best films, it does have something in common with the actor, that of being good, largely neglected and underrated.

 

 

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I like this film. I have it recorded from the last time it aired on TCM (about a year ago). It is on the same disc as SHADOW OF A DOUBT. It's interesting to see Wright and Cotten in these films back-to-back, with a decade in between the productions. They would appear on screen again about five years later in an episode of the acclaimed anthology series Playhouse 90.

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I hadn't noticed this on the schedule so thanks for mentioning it. Might record this. It is an unusual little suspense film.

 

***very small spoiler - You can see how times have changed with what happens when he's trying to get the paperwork from the office. That would be treated as a much bigger deal today, I'm sure.***

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That's the first time I saw it, Top. Never heard of it before and was pleasantly surprised. Yeah, I wound up rooting for Joe, both to get away with the money, then to get away with his attempt to resolve his problem. Hell, I would have done ANYTHING to make Teresa Wright happy!

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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Andy, Blueprint for Murder falls into the same category as The Steel Trap, both good little '50s mysteries that keep the viewers hooked to the end.

 

And both, of course, with the great Joe Cotten.

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