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Dick Powell plays a returning World War II veteran who at first blush would seem to have everything going his way, a good marriage with a beautiful and loving wife in Jane Wyatt and a healthy, energetic young son in Jimmy Hunt, along with a position as a Los Angeles insurance executive and a lovely home. Powell exhibits the restlessness that many returning servicemen experienced following a global military conflict. His penchant for excitement leads him into an extra-marital affair with sexy blonde model Lizabeth Scott. What propels "Pitfall" into the ranks of a chilling film noir drama is the appearance of a ruthless sociopath willing to destroy all in his path to secure his objective, which in this case is possessing Liz Scott, body and soul. Corrupt private detective Raymond Burr overlooks the unyielding rebuff of Scott, who detests him. Burr convinces himself that eventually her feelings will change. The element thrusting Powell into the combustible picture is Burr's selfish realization that Scott holds true feeling for the decent but fallible insurance executive. He believes that to have Scott all to himself he needs to destroy both Powell and her boyfriend, who is about to be released from jail, played by Byron Barr. If he can successfully play off one man against the other they will be removed from the picture, leaving him to take up romantically with Scott. "Pitfall" came along when post-World War II film noir was generating cash and artistic dividends. The French artistic wave led by the likes of Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre recognized the significance of voices interpreting a world comprised of creative voices interpreting life in Cold War society, the first to live in the new nuclear age. Mental toughness was needed and film noir was a vehicle that displayed that on screen quality. - William Hare
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This is especially unfortunate when the newest version is a dramatic improvement over the old versions.
This is the case with "Pitfall"
"Pitfall" was released in a totally new DVD / Blu-Ray transfer from Kino/Lorber on November 17, 2015.
Unfortunately the cover designs for the old "Treasure Chest" DVD and the new Kino/Lorber Blu-Ray/DVD are similar in appearance - a reproduction of the original 1948 movie poster.
- see photos below: the new Kino/Lorber Blu-Ray is on the left, the old "Treasure Chest" DVD on the right.
When I posted this review, Amazon listed it on the same page as 122 earlier reviews of the "Treasure Chest" DVD and even ancient VHS tapes.
Brand new reviews (like this one) are posted to the right of the "big four" reviews.
As more New Reviews appear, this review will be bumped to a lower slot, and in about three months it will disappear from view entirely - unless it gets thirty "helpful" reviews in that time (not likely).
VHS reviews seem to keep the top spot for eternity.
Avoid the 2012 DVD release from "Treasure Chest" - fuzzy DVD transfer, no extras. *
The new Kino/Lorber DVD/Blu-Ray features a new remastering from a 35mm dupe negative done by the UCLA Film Archive.
+ an audio commentary from reliable film noir critic Eddie Muller
+ theatrical trailers for "He Ran All the Way" (John Garfield and Shelley Winters) and "A Bullet for Joey" (Edward G. Robinson and George Raft)
This deluxe treatment is unusual for a public domain film like "Pitfall".
No subtitles is my only complaint.
Despite all the care taken by the UCLA Film Archive, the picture is not pristine.
A duplicate negative is not the original negative, but the picture is still miles ahead of the "Treasure Chest" DVD, which was copied from a print.
* BAD DVD = Pitfall (Treasure Chest)
GOOD DVD = Pitfall (1948)
GOOD BLU-RAY = Pitfall (1948) [Blu-ray ]
ANOTHER BAD DVD = Best of Film Noir Vol. 2
Three DVD set from Treasure Chest with the same inferior transfer of "Pitfall" + two additional public domain films.
Johnny has it all; a wife (Jane Wyatt and who could ask for anything more, but wait…), a kid (with great taste in comic books!), and futhermore all nestled in a loving home.
Being that this is in fact a foremost (though subtle, like I said earlier) example of Film Noir, that, will most definitely not be that, because Johnny is cynical and means well but beneath it all he feels EMPTY. A chance meeting with Lizabeth Scott starts him realizing that there is more to his life than that emptiness and all the other stuff (like human beings who love him and care about him) that he takes for granted.
Tut, tut, none of that spoiler nonsense in this review, but i will tease you a little bit by saying that Raymond Burr is the man you wanna dang here, unless you are a nogoodnik in which case you will cheer him on and that is not very nice so stop that please get ahold of yourself and don't be cruel.
Director Andre DeToth was married to Veronica Lake! Who knew (thanks Eddie)? If that isn't reason enough to to own this than there are plenty more.
Top international reviews
Do not expect to see lurid scenes of passion featuring Forbes and Stevens; in fact the portrayal of their attraction for one another is sensitively handled with few scenes of close physical contact between the two.
This is a tale of human tragedy that remains suspenseful to the very end.
Picture quality improves as the film progresses.
Pitfall is definitely one of these. Everything about this movie works - the plot, the script, acting performances - are all completely engaging and convincing. Dick Powell stars as John Forbes, a middle manager in a large LA insurance firm who has become bored with the predictability of his daily routine and lack of adventure in his life. He seems to have everything – a well paid job with status, a loving wife who is pretty, intelligent and witty (the lovely Jane Wyatt), a spacious suburban home in the hills above the city and a young son who worships him. So what could possibly make him risk all that? The answer is Lizabeth Scott, a heartbreakingly beautiful woman he meets one afternoon spent out from the office. She is lonely because her man is in jail and his head is ready to be turned. He is immediately filled with remorse and comes to his senses, but their brief affair sets off a chain of events which ends up with two people dead and one heading for the electric chair.
Lizabeth Scott plays a women who has never set out to be a femme fatale. She seems quite guileless but just happens to attract the attention of men without really trying, unfortunately often the wrong men. Her performance is quite wonderful, effortlessly painting a portrait of a woman with a past filled with misfortune and disappointment but who has neither lost her moral compass nor completely given up all hope of happiness. It's a touching portrayal.
The principle fly in the ointment is a sinister, private detective, who has himself become utterly obsessed with Scott, played by the utterly dependable Raymond Burr, an actor who spent over a decade playing various nasty heavies before becoming Perry Mason. Burr's barely contained but relentless menace gives powerful hints of his character's underlying psychopathy.
The script is wonderful, full of details which help us understand both the characters and the plot, Jane Wyatt's witty banter with husband Powell reveal a woman who is more intelligent than him and this makes her pragmatic response to the eventual outcome entirely credible. Raymond Burr's first line in the whole movie has him unashamedly asking for praise and appreciation from Powell, almost like a child demanding approval, showing right from the start how, under all the toughness and violence, his character is insecure and emotionally needful.
There are many such little glimpses throughout this film, which is why the movie deserves to take its place among the first division of forties movies.
Das Werk des in Ungarn (bzw. im damaligen Österreich-Ungarn) geborenen André De Toth (1913-2002) ist in Deutschland bislang wenig gewürdigt worden. Seine besten Filme zeichnen sich durch Nüchternheit und Realismus aus. De Toths Credo lautete: »I don’t want to make pictures, I want to photograph life, real characters«. Die Lebenssituation der Hauptfigur John Forbes (Dick Powell) wird von Anfang an nicht idealisiert. Obwohl die äußeren Gegebenheiten dafür sprächen, handelt es sich nicht um die übliche Vorortidylle, die in anderen Filmen gerne als Ausgangspunkt präsentiert wird. Forbes ist – wie auch andere Hauptfiguren später Noir-Filme – Kriegsheimkehrer. Diese Hintergrund wird nicht weiter ausgemalt, doch Dick Powells exzellentes Spiel macht deutlich, dass Forbes Dinge gesehen und erlebt hat, die in ihm Überzeugungen und Bedürfnisse erzeugt haben, für die es in der Vorortidylle keinen Platz gibt, – obwohl Forbes andererseits ein vorbildlicher Ehemann und Vater ist.
Aus beruflichen Gründen bekommt Forbes es mit auf Mona Stevens zu tun, die jedoch ganz und gar nicht jene männerkonsumierende Femme fatale ist, die man aus anderen Film noirs kennt. Eher treffen hier zwei vom Leben Verseherte aufeinander, die die Gleichartigkeit ihrer Bedürfnisse erkennen und diese für einen glücklichen Moment lang zusammen abseits der Gesellschaft (mit dem Schnellboot auf dem Meer) ausleben können. Doch die Lebensumstände sind unentrinnbar. Am Ende gibt es zwei Tote, und Forbes lädt Schuld auf sich. Bestraft wird er mit der Rückkehr in die Idylle.
Das Drehbuch erzählt die Geschichte so schnörkellos und unpathetisch, wie es sein muss. Die Dialoge sind knapp und pointiert, lassen keinen Raum für Sentimentalitäten. Unsentimental ist auch De Toths Inszenierungsstil. Außenaufnahmen sind zumeist on location gedreht, wobei ganz und gar unspektakuläre Umgebungen ausgewählt wurden. Der Eindruck einer Jedermann-Story wird dadurch noch verstärkt.
Zur DVD: »Pitfall« scheint ein Public-domain-Film zu sein. Dementsprechend dürfte er auch im Internet kursieren. Das Ausgangsmaterial der DVD ist eine gut erhaltene Filmkopie mit geringen Abnutzungen, vor allem jeweils am Beginn und Ende der einzelnen Rollen. Das Bild könnte sicherlich schärfer sein, doch es ist allemal gut genug, um das Vergnügen am Film nicht zu trüben. Extras bietet die DVD ebensowenig wie Untertitel.
Fazit: Ein wenig bekannter, aber unbedingt sehenswerter Film noir. In Deutschland ist er nicht verliehen worden. Die Qualität der billig produzierten DVD ist gut genug für ein ungetrübtes Filmvergnügen. Angesichts der beträchtlichen Optimierungsspielräume für eine DVD-Veröffentlichung ziehe ich einen Stern ab.
Some great photography from the Director.