Every Monday, we’ll recommend a movie. It could be a classic, an overlooked recent treasure, an unfairly maligned personal favorite or whatever the hell we feel like.
If you live in the Los Angeles area, you’ve only got till March 1st to make it to Light & Noir at the Skirball Cultural Center. This past weekend, I (along with BP contributor West Anthony) checked out the exhibit on the émigrés who came to Hollywood and helped define the film noir genre. We also took in a double feature. One of the films was Robert Siodmak’s violent and bleak (even by noir standards) Criss Cross. The other was André de Toth’s Pitfall. Both were great but it was Pitfall that surprised me and left a deeper impression. It’s the story of a smart but cynical insurance man named John (Dick Powell) whose boredom with the job/wife/kid routine leads him to stray. Complications arise, as they must. First, it turns out there’s a psychotic PI (Raymond Burr) who already has his sights set on the woman, Mona (Lizabeth Scott), with whom John dallies. Furthermore, Mona has a husband, Bill (Byron Barr). Bill’s in prison but, wouldn’t you know, he’s just about to be released. Instead of having these volatile elements carom off each other, though, de Toth throws them in the pot and lets them simmer. The dialogue is lively and cutting (“Your breakfast is on the table, dear.” “Where else would it be?”) but the pacing is naturalistic and all the more tense for it. We’re not watching an explosion; we’re watching the wick burn down to one. John’s bad decisions, one after another, play out with such realistic logic that once characters start speaking the simple truth to him at the end, it’s like being startled awake. We’ve been roused from an alluring nightmare of moral fog. What could be more noir?