Pitfall (1948)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 4/3/17
Cast: Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Raymond Burr, Jane Wyatt

John Forbes (Dick Powell) is a man who has it all: a good paying job, a nice car, a house in the suburbs, a beautiful and loving wife (Jane Wyatt), and an adoring son. But his routine life as an insurance investigator leaves him unfulfilled, and his happily boring home life breeds contempt and resentment. Things change when he meets a young woman named Mona (Lizabeth Scott) whose lovesick boyfriend is in jail for theft. His normally hard exterior softens a bit as he's repossessing her stolen goods, and he decides to spend the evening with her to cheer her up. From that moment, his life goes off the rails, as a jealous and obsessive private detective named MacDonald (Raymond Burr) is determined to have the girl for himself. He relentlessly stalks her, threatens her, blackmails her, and even beats up Forbes as a warning to stay away. MacDonald's psychopathic and manipulative behavior eventually leads to a tense showdown between all the players, with no happy ending in sight.

Watching good natured people make poor life choices always makes me cringe with discomfort, and seeing John and Mona in a downward spiral is depressing. Dick Powell does a good job as the stone-faced, uptight, and upright hero who falls from grace in the arms of Lizabeth Scott. She's not a classical femme fatale, but a hapless victim who is simply cursed with being beautiful, and her beauty is the kind that attracts bad people and stirs up trouble. She's not overly convincing, but her character is pure of heart and she does manage to generate some sympathy and pity. Jane Wyatt is witty, vivacious, and gorgeous, and a wonderful complement to Powell's stiff and grouchy character. She's the only ray of light in an otherwise dark picture. However, it's Raymond Burr who steals the show as the sleepy-eyed villain. His imposing frame, menacing voice, and penetrating gaze are chilling, and his cunning mind makes him a terrifying and all too real character. He holds all the cards and pulls all the strings, but his desire for Mona becomes his undoing. The fates of the characters are uncertain by the end of the film, but there's a slight glimmer of hope than John and Sue can get their lives back on track.