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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Prize Sucker Powell Is How I Least Like Him


Pitfall (1948) Is Deep Fall Into Middle-Class Trap

Breadwinning Dick Powell expresses rut fatigue and that paints a target on his back for balance of this noir where fun is second to despair we know won't be relieved. Ordinary Joes on status quo chalkwalks always got it in the neck after WWII when men-folk were expected to hunker down and keep lawns mowed. We're supposed to figure Dick has disaster coming for step out of line with tempting Lizabeth Scott. I always knew men couldn't get laid for free in Code pix, but Pitfall doles out punishment to make us all stay zipped. Powell as fall guy was never a favored stance; he's too good with toss-offs and one-upping to make us like the dumbbell's plummet he takes here. Pitfall gets cultist boost precisely because it skewers postwar conformance, but that's less recipe for fun than resign to middle-class life being hell on bleak earth, then or now. Do moderns who admire Pitfall also enjoy it?




Pitfall was done independently, money being tight, and that shows. Filming was virtual tour of L.A.; we'd rather stay out of doors than suffocate on cramped sets. A best performance is Raymond Burr's, his a queasy line in heavies that made memorable a lot of thrillers that wouldn't have been so otherwise. Andre De Toth directed and co-wrote; he said later that Dick Powell snookered him into megging for free, but De Toth didn't care. He seems to have made the picture his way; maybe there was little enough at stake for no one to care. Powell produced, his radar pointed to whatever could maximize return, acting having become mere means toward that end. United Artists would release; they'd had a slew of similars to sell around a same time. How then, to tell apart Cover-Up, Jigsaw, Impact, and Pitfall, all bearing UA logo? Pie could be split but so many ways: Pitfall brought back $1.3 million, which suggests to me it got profit. Anyway, Powell kept making his home-brew, one of which, Cry Danger!, would improve on Pitfall.

5 Comments:

Blogger Neely OHara said...

I must admit I liked Pitfall, for all the reasons you mentioned; the low budget tour of LA, Powell behind the eight ball, it being the flip side of Father Knows Best, Burr as the heavy, and I always like Lizbeth Scott. Wyman was (as usual for me) the weak link. Stumbling upon it having never known of its existence, I quite enjoyed it...

11:39 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Neely, you said every thing I was thinking. I was blown away by the movie's cynicism toward the post-war's alleged good life, and wondered if it resonated with WW II vets who were thinking, "This is what we were fighting for?" Gotta admit, the older I get, the more I enjoy Powell in these noirs.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Have not seen Pitfall in a while, but is not part of the reason Noirs resonate is because the protagonists rarely get what they deserve? Their punishments almost always exceed their transgressions.

11:08 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Maybe I'm less patient with out-of-proportion suffering than I used to be. Witness recent encounters with LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, MILDRED PIERCE, and THE BREAKING POINT. The PITFALL post coming close behind them was coincidence, as I had actually written that one several years ago, but had just not gotten around to publishing it.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

John, I understand your POV. With me, if it involves kids, I don't watch. Or, in the case of Mildred Pierce, a rotten kid who essentially tortures her mother. For years, I put off watching "Scarlett Street" because I just knew that Edward G. Robinson would give such a sad, human, realistic performance. And watching it recently (for the first time) was difficult. I've read that Renoir's original version was presented as something of a dark comedy, something that 1940s Hollywood wouldn't have put up with.

SPOILER ALERT: I was impressed that "Scarlett Street" obeyed the "punish the criminal" rule by having Robinson spiritually and emotionally dying, rather than physically (or going to jail).

12:54 PM  

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