John Forbes (Dick Powell) is an insurance agent who lives a standard suburban life. He and his wife (Jane Wyatt) are raising their son (Jimmy Hunt) in the Los Angeles area, and John makes enough money for them to live quite comfortably.
John’s not particularly happy with his life, though. He’s tired of the routine of it all, and wishes he could have fulfilled his younger dreams — his dream of sailing the world, for example.
At work one day, an private investigator named J. B. MacDonald (Raymond Burr) shows up. For the insurance company, he’s investigating Bill Smiley (Byron Barr), an embezzler who purchased presents for his girlfriend (Lizabeth Scott) with money stolen from his company.
MacDonald says he’s fallen in love with Mona Stevens, the girlfriend in question (who also happens to be a model), and hopes to see her again. He asks for John’s permission, since wooing one of his investigation subjects goes against his usual habits and ethics.
When John has to visit Mona’s apartment to speak to her about the case, he just may end up falling for her, too, leading himself into a world of trouble.
Andre de Toth directs 1948’s Pitfall, a film noir tracking the ruin of the American dream. The film is based on a novel by Jay Dratler.
The cast of this film is fantastic. Lizabeth Scott, one of my favorite noir regulars, is always enjoyable to watch and she’s in top form here. Dick Powell also does very well in his role. The level of guilt he portrays in John after things go south is particularly effective.
Jane Wyatt is also perfectly cast as John’s sweet an unassuming wife. The whole cast is well-selected and give good performances.
The story holds the viewer’s attention very easily. Three men — Smiley, Mac and John — are all in love with Mona, Mac to the level of obsession. The situation gets very complicated, and with high emotions involved. Things get even worse when Smiley is released from jail. He’s a man with a hot temper, and things are bound not to end well, especially with Mac wishing revenge on John for his relationship with Mona.
A suitably bleak tone reigns throughout the film, first due to John’s unhappiness and later due to the situation he’s gotten himself in with Mona. While it isn’t exactly satisfying for the film to end the way it does, in such an unresolved way, this ending contributes greatly to the success of the film’s mood.
Any fan of film noir is almost sure to enjoy Pitfall. I would especially recommend it for fans of the wonderful Lizabeth Scott. The score: 4/5