PITFALL: a noir thriller without a sap or a femme fatale

Elizabeth Scott and Dick Powell in THE PITFALL
Lizabeth Scott, Dick Powell and Raymond Burr in PITFALL

In the 1948 Pitfall, Dick Powell plays a bored middle class married guy who is aching for some excitement. In his humdrum job as an insurance investigator, he investigates an embezzlement and meets the captivating Lizabeth Scott, the girlfriend of the imprisoned embezzler. They fall into a torrid but short-lived affair. Just when Powell thinks that he’s back to his normal family life, both he and Scott are dragged into a thriller by two baddies – the sexually obsessed sickie of a private eye (Raymond Burr) and the nasty and very jealous embezzler (Byron Barr), just released from the hoosegow. Jane Wyatt plays Powell’s wife.

Pitfall is especially interesting because it deviates from two prototypical characterizations. Unlike the usual noir sap, Powell doesn’t fall for Scott “all in”; although he has a brief extramarital fling, he’s never going to leave his family for her. And Scott, although she allures Powell, is not the usual femme fatale. She’s not a Bad Girl, just an unlucky one. She has horrible taste in a boyfriend and the bad luck to attract a menacing stalker (Burr), but she’s fundamentally decent. Will her sexual promiscuity be punished at the end of this 1948 movie – and will his?

Pitfall plays occasionally on Turner Classic Movies and is available on DVD from Netflix.

Lizabeth Scott and Dick Powell in THE PITFALL
Lizabeth Scott and Dick Powell in PITFALL

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