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


TomJH
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Burr was sympathetic? I don't think so. I agree with Tom's take on *Pitfall* Powell was so guilt ridden from the start over his affair, he could have never had a life with Scott. He couldn't exist happily without his family. Because he was bored for a day or a week of this life, doesn't mean that he was willing to leave his comfortable life of husband and father. That's a huge jump to conclude that he wanted to leave that life forever. Of course he didn't look happy. He had just killed a man, was told had he called the police in the first place it would never had happened and now Scott's life was destroyed all because of his momentary indiscretion.

 

They were all sympathetic characters (EXCEPT for Burr) Wyatt, Powell and Scott were basically good people who didn't want anyone hurt. Scott and Powell were never going to wind up together.

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Burr was really just a sweet, vulnerable guy badly in need of a girlfriend.

 

Powell already had it all, the safe job, the wife, the son, the home in the suburbs. Now he was trying to move in on a girl that was just Raymond's type. Who can blame Burr for getting a little cranky?

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Not just a girlfriend, but quite a bit of serious therapy. Very frightening when someone is told over and over that they are not interested in someone and yet continually force their attentions on the other person. His obsessive, manupulative,self absorbed personality, was really the center of all the tragedy that befell these characters.

 

Tom, I realize you were just kidding with that last post

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Yes, lavender, I agree. Burr's obsessive character must remind many viewers of someone they may have known or heard about. Very creepy. You can never be sure how far someone like that may go.

 

And you're right. Burr's manipulative character is the reason one man died and a decent woman is going to prison. How many people would NOT sympathize with Scott when she pulled that trigger?

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I don't think it was at all vindictive...that is what makes her acting so good. She is playing the wife as a very determined woman, intent on keeping her marriage intact, despite the husband's public indiscretions. It is significant that she is driving in the last scene, not riding along as a coquettish wife. She trusts herself to keep this marriage together, not him, and she will call the shots now. It is not vindictive, because she has a sense of fair play and does love her husband-- but on some level, she will put the screws to him to make sure he does not cheat again.

 

She is a villain when we think that she is the real obstacle preventing him from happiness with Scott. As she has been all along in this story.

 

The real pitfall is the marriage he is stuck with for all eternity.

 

As for this comment: "The emphasis is really upon Burr's psychotic creepiness and sudden burst of violence upon Powell, rather than Powell's infidelity..." In a way, Burr is playing an outward manifestation of Powell's own evilness. If Powell could get away from his son and wife, he would be stalking Scott, too, because he is smitten and just as obsessed with her as Burr.

 

And the comment: "Burr was really just a sweet, vulnerable guy badly in need of a girlfriend..." We could say that about Powell, too. He was a sweet, vulnerable married guy badly in need of a girlfriend on the side.

 

The best line in the film was the one where Wyatt reminds Powell that they have to put their son first. He claims that he handled the situation with Scott's boyfriend because he was putting his son first. It seems like a rationalization of his evil, of killing another man, because it would save his son. While Powell plays this role a bit detached and smooth, it is obvious that the character is anything but detached and smooth-- he is a corrupted man easily lured into danger, putting his entire family at risk.

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TB, we definitely have different interpretations of the characters in this film. Nor do I quite understand your logic.

 

On the one hand you refer to Dick Powell as being "evil" and even, though there is absolutely no evidence of it, a wild speculation that he could be a stalker (like Burr).

 

On the other hand, you refer to wife Wyatt as being a "villain" for preventing this potential "evil stalker" from finding true happiness with Lizabeth Scott. Just who, if anyone, are your sympathies with?

 

The "villain" wife for trying to keep her marriage together or the "evil potential stalker" denied true happiness with another woman?

 

In my opinion, Dick Powell's character is no evil character or stalker. He is a flawed everyman who made a mistake and regrets it. That makes him pretty human, as far as I'm concerned.

 

Even in the scene in the bar in which Scott lets him know that she knows he's married, she beats him to the punch. It's apparent that when Powell says there's "a couple of things I should have mentioned before" that he is about to do the decent thing and finally be upfront with her about his marriage.

 

Nor is he evil for killing a poor jealous manipulated former boyfriend. Burr is the evil one for having created that scenario and confrontation in the first place. Powell made another mistake by not calling the police and, in the true tradition of film noir, events suddenly spiralled out of his control.

 

Powell is hardly trigger happy. He first confronts the boyfriend outside, getting the drop on him, and tells him to leave. It's only when the boyfriend then breaks a window that shots are fired. Yes, Powell will always feel guilt over another man's death because it could have been avoided, and, yes, he was wrong to allow himself to temporarily succumb to Scott, but that hardly makes him qualify as "evil."

 

And that comment I made about Burr being sweet and vulnerable was obviously made in jest.

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I'm glad I didn't get on this site until now since Tom saved me a lot of typing. I agree with his take on this movie especially as it relates to the husband and wife.

 

But I do agree with Finance that there was a plot hole when Powell decides to skip dinner and that bridge game and instead goes and meets Scott. Maybe I missed something but I don't remember him calling his wife to say he wouldn't make it. Missing dinner with your family is one thing but it was my understanding they invited guest also (i.e. the bridge game) Even the most trusting spouse would ask about that.

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Maybe next time I'll hold off on a reply and let you do all the typing, James.

 

And, yes, when Powell has that impulsive dinner date with Scott, he does miss an evening bridge game involving his wife and business co-hort. The film does skirt over any explanation that he undoubtedly would have had to supply. I hadn't noticed that before.

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Note that the plot hole is minor and it didn't impact my enjoyment of the movie but I did notice it and I was expecting a small breakfast scene to close that loop. Oh well.

 

One other thing I found interesting is all the guns. Everyone has access to a gun when they need one. Ok, I can see the PI having guns (but hey Marlow didn't carry one!) and thus how the x-con got one, but was it common post WWII for a family man to keep a gun in a drawer or for single gals (one that lived in a good area since she wasn't worried about break-ins), to have a gun?

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Well, James, what kind of a self respecting film noir would it be if everyone in it didn't have a gun tucked away somewhere? If Dick Powell's family had had a dog, I've sure the dog would have chewed on his bone until it was shaped like a gun.

 

tumblr_mrnmo7LFly1snoon2o1_400.jpg

 

The better to kill you with, my dear.

 

images?q=tbn:ANd9GcS7tNSCrK8iBXUn6odh_ma

 

Look, even Dick Powell's shadow had one in the publicity still!

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The reason I made my Marlow comment was because in The Big Sleep he makes fun of people for having so many guns (e.g. The Joe Brody apartment scene). In fact if the characters in Pitfall didn't have access to guns they all would have been a lot better off. (Well except Powell but only because Smiley had a gun).

 

Also, going to jail does make one a harden criminal. Smiley wasn?t a criminal before he embezzled that money. He was just a working Joe that fell hard for a gal. He didn?t get much jail time for his crime (another indication that the DA felt he was basically a good guy that just did wrong). Well he gets out of jail and just because his gal might have been stepping out with another guy, decides to kill this other guy. Does prison food really corrupt the soul that quickly?

 

Oh, and I should of said that I think Jane Wyatt did a great job with her role. Of course I?m use to her as the wife mothers since I never missed Father Knows Best.

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Well, James, prison released or not, Smiley was the jealous type. Wasn't the gun that he got given to him by Raymond Burr, who kept egging him on?

 

Burr had more to do with the events that ensued than any of those hardened shoulders Smiley rubbed up against in prison.

 

I agree with you about Jane Wyatt but then I liked all the cast in Pitfall.

 

I like Dick Powell's minimalist acting style in the film noirs he made. I don't see a lot of ego in him as an actor, trying to hog the spotlight for himself. And he could be generous, too, in letting another actor have that spotlight if the film benefited from it (I'm thinking, in particular, of Richard Erdman's supporting performance in Cry Danger, a film on which Powell was producer so he really called the shots).

 

There are few film careers that had a screen image change quite as dramatic (and effective) as Dick Powell's.

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DVR'd this movie and just finished watching it. My appraisal: A very well done film.

 

The acting was very good all around, even Lizabeth Scott's, of whom I've never thought that good an actress. The direction, cinematography capturing Mid-Century L.A., the script and dialogue, and the pacing was excellently done in my view, also.

 

The only thing I question in the storyline was near the end and when John Litel as the District Attorney "scolds" Powell by saying all this could have been avoided if he would have just called the police, as all I could think was how would the police have stopped a crazed and drunken Smiley without resorting to gunplay, or even beforehand, how would or could the police have dissuaded the stalking and obsessed MacDonald (Burr) character to cease his actions, especially because of his police connections.

 

Overall, and especially for a nourish film, which very often have holes in the plot large enough to drive a 1948 Yellow Cab through, this film seemed to have few if any of them and all the actions of the characters seemed logically driven.

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Well, Dargo, if Powell had called the police when he got the word that Smiley was on the way, they may have been able to pick him up or negotiate with him outside the house before anything happened. Either that or if Smiley spotted police cars around the house he would have taken off and probably have been picked up by them later.

 

In any event, if the police had been called instead, things couldn't have gotten any worse for Smiley than turned out to be the case.

 

Glad you enjoyed Pitfall. I believe that TCM has shown all of Dick Powell's films from his late '40s-early '50s tough guy-film noir period over the past few years. (There aren't that many of them, unfortunately). The one exception is a hunt-for-the-Nazi in the French Foreign Legion 1948 drama called Rogues Regiment.

 

The channel only showed To the Ends of the Earth once, though, to the best of my knowledge. And it is one of the best of the entire collection, as far as I'm concerned. A 1948 Columbia release, it casts Powell as a U.S. narcotics agent on an international hunt for opium smugglers. The film does a lot of fast paced world travel in that hunt, too, from the mid-East to Cuba, filmed in a semi-documentary style, and with a corker of a surprise ending. Here's hoping TCM plays this baby again some time.

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Re the John Litel scene, Tom...yeah, I suppose you have a point about the cops possibly being able to stop any bloodshed. I just thought that "scolding" scene at first thought seemed as if tacked on because of some possible Production Code requirement at that time that would've stated something to the effect of, "Even the case of justifiable homicide, the public must then listen to a speech about how our Men in Blue are here to Serve and Protect". ;)

 

(...and who better than Litel to DO that, as the guy seemed to do THAT very thing in half the movies he was ever in!) LOL

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