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TomJH

PITFALL (1948) - Monday, Sept 2 at 4:15 pm EST

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Film noir fan alert!

 

As announced by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation on these boards during the summer, TCM is showing director Andre de Toth's Pitfall this week.

 

And this one is a goodie. Dick Powell plays an insurance investigator who has a perfect family in a perfect home in the suburbs. And he's bored. That will only lead to trouble for him, especially when he meets a film noir icon, Lizabeth Scott.

 

The real trouble for his character, however, will come in the hulking form of a private eye he periodically hires. The private dick is played by a young Raymond Burr in his pre-Perry Mason days. Burr specialized in playing villains in his early film career but he's particularly creepy in this film as a ghoul who becomes obsessed with Scott and will stop at nothing to have her.

 

Burr's role may be reminiscent to some of a similar part played by Laird Cregar in I Wake Up Screaming seven years before. The difference, though, is that while Cregar had a certain built-in sympathy when he played a psycho, Burr has none in Pitfall. Burr is every woman's worst nightmare in this film, and he's none too healthy for men to run afoul, either.

 

I take nothing away from the performances of the leads in this film but it's Burr's performance that may haunt you.

 

scott-powell-and-burr.jpg?w=610

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That still you're showing is sublime, though it looks more like a composite than an actual scene. But Burr is definitely on his game in this one, and his whole hulking persona is indeed quite reminiscent of Cregar.

 

But if you want the real counterpart to Cregar in I Wake Up Screaming, you don't need to go any further than Richard Boone's rendition of the Cornell role, in the 1953 remake of IWUS known as Vicki. I couldn't see how it could be humanly possible for anyone to match Cregar's performance, but somehow Boone pulled it off.

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Andy, the scene depicted in that photo doesn't actually occur in Pitfall, as you know. I still love that shot, however, because it beautifully captures the ominous hovering presence of Raymond Burr's character in the film.

 

Here's another shot, not quite so effective because it's a little washed out, but the creepy presence of Burr is still effectively conveyed:

 

Pitfall_1.jpg

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This was one of four consecutive noirs done by Powell in his "reincarnation" beginning with 1945's MURDER MY SWEET. He wanted the role of Walter Neff in DOUBLE INDEMNITY a year earlier, but MacMurray won out..

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I assume, finance, that the other two Powell films to which you refer are Cornered and Johnny O'Clock. Whether or not it technically falls within the defintion of film noir (probably not), To the Ends of the Earth is an excellent semi-documentary thriller with Dick Powell also in tough guy form as a U.S. narcotics agent on an international hunt after opium smugglers.

 

And another film that Powell made in 1948, Station West, could be considered a noir western.

 

Powell certainly made some fine contributions to the genre, wrapping it up with another fine effort, 1951's Cry Danger.

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In the game, does Dick Powell have to overcome obstacles to rescue Lizabeth Scott before the evil Raymond Burr gets to her. Sort of thought would make a nice game reboot. :)

 

g0212528m22.jpg

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*CHEEELDREN* OF THE NIGHT. . . WHAT SWEET *MYOOOZIK* THEY MAKE. . . DO THEY NOT. . . *MEESTER* POWELL?"

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Looking forward to watching PITFAL today TopBilled. I have never seen this movie before however, it looks like another Great 40s Movie ;)

 

Thanks for the reminder !~ :)

 

 

Twink

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Wasn't planning on sitting around watching TV today but I had to see this movie. Good all around picture. I'm not a big fan of Liz Scott since her acting is only so-so. This is the case with this film but Scott looked great and her style persona fit the character she was playing and the overall vibe of the film very well.

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While both Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott are names associated with film noir, it's interesting that in Pitfall both of them played characters that one might not quite have expected of them.

 

Scott, rather than playing a repeat of the femme fatale is, instead, surprisingly winning and sympathetic as an essentially decent sort who has had bad luck in her relationships, and here she is again, jinxing herself, by falling in love with a married man.

 

Powell also stepped away from the cool tough guy persona first established in Murder My Sweet to play an initially conservative type who could even be regarded as a bit of a stuffed shirt. He played the type of flawed character with whom many in the audience could identify.

 

Like Scott, he is essentially a decent person but he allows himself (from boredom?) to succumb into an affair, even though he has the sort of wife and child at home that many would want to have. It's the normality of Powell's family situation and how events spiral out of control for him, resulting in the possibly of the destruction of that family, that helps to make Pitfall as intriguing as it is.

 

That, plus, of course, a chilling performance by Raymond Burr.

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Loved Jane Wyatt in this film!

 

pitfall-jane-wyatt_02.jpg

 

Seemed like the kind of role that Ruth Warrick specialized in-- like in CITIZEN KANE and DAISY KENYON. These kinds of women, who will protect their children and do anything to ensure the survival of the family unit, are more desperate and threatening than any other woman or femme fatale could ever be! Really liked how she was in the driver's seat in the final shot. Powell was going to spend the rest of his life serving a sentence of punishment in the wife's prison. She's the real villain of the piece.

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*TB wrote: Powell was going to spend the rest of his life serving a sentence of punishment in the wife's prison. She's the real villain of the piece.*

 

You have a far harsher intrepretation of Wyatt's character than do I, based on that final scene. She is hardly a villainess, ready to make her wayward husband pay for his indiscretion for all eternity. While it is obvious that the couple is in far some rocky times ahead (clearly his fault), the impression to me is that Wyatt and Powell are going to try to get past all that has just occurred and probably still make the marriage work.

 

At the end, the audience's sympathy is with Lizabeth Scott, though her exact fate, of course, is uncertain.

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I think it is too easy to label Burr's character the villain (he does not seem the only villain) because he has a showier role. Wyatt imbues her performance with some subtleties that suggests her character exerts the greatest authority over the family, not these outside characters who seem to distract her husband. With that type of power, Wyatt is going to quash any of her husband's sexual liberation.

 

This said, I do not think the marriage is going to 'work' after the final fade out. He will likely reconnect with Scott's character again. The production code forces them to have that little speech in the car at the end, but clearly the marriage to Wyatt will continue on her terms, mostly in name only, until the son is grown.

 

I think it's a perfect ending. It is far from happy, and that is how a noir should end.

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If you seriously consider Wyatt to be a villain, I can only say that you picked up on perceived subtleties in her characterization that are far from obvious to me (and many other viewers, too, I very strongly suspect).

 

As for Powell eventually reuniting with Scott, since Scott may be facing a long strength in the pen or even the death penalty, depending upon what happens to Burr and the state in which the film is set, that's quite a leap in logic.

 

I do agree, however, that the film's ending is far from happy and an appropriate one, too, I might add.

 

Pitfall's a good movie, one good enough to prompt some viewers to come up with conjectures about the future of its participants.

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I did not say Powell would reunite with Scott romantically but that he would reconnect with her. I am sure he would visit her again, even in prison. His heart is with her, not with Wyatt-- though outwardly he is promising to 'work' on the marriage.

 

The beauty of this film is all the ambiguity at the end. None of the characters have real closure. So yes, it is fun to speculate about their fates.

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I agree TopBilled, his heart is with Scott, not Wyatt. We see at the start of the film that he wants a change of life style and he finds that in Scott, his kindered spirit. It was not just a fling with them.

 

At the end of the movie, we see a determination by Wyatt to make their marriage work, a look of, "If you think you are going to get out of this marriage", if you will. However, Powell does Not look happy at all ! His mind is elsewhere. I doubt they would have 'lived happily ever after'.

 

Twink

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TB, if your idea of a reconnection with Scott is of Powell visiting her in prison, that makes perfect sense to me. He's a decent human being and undoubtedly feels a large degree of guilt, not only over having killed Scott's jealous boyfriend, but over Scott's fate, as well. He may well try to help her out financially in the future, too, if the opportunity arises.

 

But that is independent of a marriage which, while it will undoubtedly have some rocky times ahead, he will still try to make work.

 

Don't forget, after Scott found out that Powell was married and wanted to end the affair, he gave her no argument. He could have said, "To heck with that marriage. You are my kindred soul, the one I want" but he didn't. He went back to Wyatt and was soon giving his son a lecture about people not appreciating what they already have in life, of always thinking the other person has it better. The audience knows that Powell was obviously referring to the way he was before, but now he has a renewed appreciation of what a solid family life he has.

 

I see no indication that after the unexpected events of that final night, tragic as they are, that Powell would have changed his mind about his determination to make the marriage work. Those two shootings, however, and Wyatt's awareness of his infidelity, will make it harder for him, no doubt.

 

But even Wyatt in that final scene questions how much a man who has been a good husband should suffer for the one time he failed. I see a woman who is understandably angry and hurt but I do not see any sense of vindictiveness in her. I see a woman who still wants to have a marriage work but with a renewed perspective that her very human husband is not quite the all-round great guy that she thought he was before.

 

As for twinkeee's comment that Powell does not look happy in the final scene and as if he has his mind elsewhere, I guess so! He just shot a man to death hours before and has since found out that Lizabeth Scott is facing the repercussions of the law for a shooting of her own, for which he may well feel partially responsible, as well. Powell has very good reasons to not look happy in that final scene, reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with his marriage to Jane Wyatt.

 

But at least we all in agreement that Pitfall and the interrelations of its characters all captured our interest enough to make these speculations. It's a good film noir that deserves to be better known.

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Scott was not really a femme fatale. She lured men to their doom through no fault of her own She was rather a nice person.........Powell, on the day he met Scott, was supposed to be home for Dinner. Instead, he went out with Scott, and arrived home late at night, when his wife was already asleep. She apparently never questioned him about that. In fact, the film proceeded as if his late-night arrival at home had never happened.....?????

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My interpretation of Wyatt seemingly not questioning Powell about his late night is because she completely trusted him as a safe, reliable husband.

 

Lizabeth Scott's character in the film is completely sympathetic and decent. She just has a jinx in her relationships.

 

I noticed that the scene in which Scott and Powell begin their affair was really played down. Scott, not knowing that Powell is married, makes the first physical move by impulsively kissing him, to which he responds. The scene quickly fades out, with the next scene in the film the one outside Powell's garage, with Burr waiting for him in the bushes.

 

The emphasis is really upon Burr's psychotic creepiness and sudden burst of violence upon Powell, rather than Powell's infidelity.

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