PITFALL (1948)

Pitfall 1948

Man, some girls just have something about them. Something that grabs ya by the balls and twists and you wind up loving every second of it. Case in point: Lizbeth Scott as Mona Stevens in 1948 scandalous tale of infidelity and obsession, Pitfall. This is a great noir that shines an ugly light on what boredom can do to housewives and insurance investigators. The film’s plot attacks middle class values with smoking revolvers as it barrels headfirst into the unforgiving brick wall of fate. And doom. And blondes.

John Forbes (Dick Powell) is an insurance agent sent to itemize and confiscate everything Mona Stevens was gifted by her scamming lover, Bill Smiley. This guy was skimming company funds to shower lavish presents upon Mona in an attempt to keep her caboodle at home. Now he’s simmering in a jail cell, thinking about if his lady will be faithful to him.

She won’t. Just a few minutes into his visit to Mona’s house, and she’s got Forbes out on her boat – another expensive token of Smiley’s love. Forbes feels kinda bad for the lady, so he bends the rules a bit to keep her precious boat off the list of items to repo. Then next thing ya know, he’s rolling around under the sheets with her. Never mind Forbes loving wife and son at home, he’s got Mona now to occupy his time (and pants).

Add into the mix an obsessive private investigator turned stalker who buddies up with Smiley and you’ve got a recipe for one volatile love triangle. In the end, Mona gets off the worst of all the characters. This was Hollywood back in the day, man. Seductresses couldn’t catch a break – the censor boards and decency police wouldn’t allow it.

Pitfall was directed by the mighty André De Toth, who helmed one of my favorite noir revelations thus far, Crime Wave. The film’s steeped in traditional noir visuals, including harsh shadows contrasted with bright lights. Lizbeth Scott is tremendous as Mona, the sorry sap of a woman who’s a magnet for all the wrong dicks. Dick Powell is surprisingly stiff and kinda awkward as Forbes. He doesn’t particularly add much emotion to the role. Even when he’s spilling his guts to his wife about the affair he’s been having (PS: he gets off way to easy for this martial infraction) he’s shockingly cool about it.

Pitfall is available to watch on YouTube. I recommend if you’re in the mood for a sympathetic femme fatale.

Patrick Cooper

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