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November 16, 2015

Pitfall

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Andre De Toth - 1948
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Supporting players in the late Forties, not yet the iconic television stars of Fifties, the two most interesting performers in Pitfall are Jane Wyatt and Raymond Burr. Wyatt's role as wife and mother is something of a warm-up as matriarch of the Anderson family, warm, wise and witty. What Wyatt shows in Pitfall as all of those aspects, plus a spine of steel when she discovers that husband Dick Powell is, to put it bluntly, a dick, seeing Lizabeth Scott on those late nights supposedly at work. Wyatt's clipped cadences are especially effective here in letting Powell, and the audience, know that she's nobody's fool.

Raymond Burr is seen wearing a black suit that emphasizes his bulk. With his marcelled hair and longish sideburns, Burr comes across as a self-styled Romeo, intimidating when he thinks he is being charming. De Toth films private eye Burr as a graceless elephant who barges into Powell's office or Lizabeth Scott's apartment.

Powell plays in insurance agent recovering items bought for Lizabeth Scott with embezzled money. Powell tries to keep things as business only. Scott might be famous for her low pitched voice, almost a whisper at times, but De Toth lets the audience know that Scott has a nice pair of gams as she enters wearing some stylish shorts. A ride in an old motor boat, and a couple of daytime drinks, and it's not much later when Burr, doing his own private investigation, spies Powell leaving Scott's apartment well after sunset.

The influence of Italian neorealism is felt here, with a significant portion of scenes shot in and around Los Angeles. We see the outside of the Macy's where Scott works as a model, as well as several scenes with Powell in the downtown area. There is also a nice series of tracking shots of Powell walking through downtown L.A. at night, with the reflection of the Brown Derby restaurant scene against a window.

Eddie Muller's commentary covers how the story changed from novel to film. Much of Muller's discussion is centered on the screenplay being the work of uncredited William Bowers and De Toth, rather than the screenwriter of record, Karl Kamb. Muller quotes from an interview with De Toth on the making of Pitfall, providing evidence that this was a personal project for the director. Pitfall was an independent production, as that term was understood in the Forties. One moment of cultural specificity that may raise eyebrows is when Powell and Wyatt's young son has a nightmare, blamed on the mayhem of comic books. If comic books are bad, movies are good. To shield the boy from anticipate violence, Powell announces an impromptu trip late night trip to "the movies". Wyatt talks Powell out of that plan, though the son brightly informs Dad that he's game for going to the movies anytime.

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Posted by peter at November 16, 2015 01:49 PM