Pitfall (1948):

The title's abyss, pitilessly moral, sprawls horizontally rather than vertically, a lateral track following disheveled Dick Powell bottoming out, wandering the streets after confessing murder and adultery to wife Jane Wyatt. Fate may be at play, yet André de Toth's grip is less determinist than humanist, airtight but wounded, each pawn in the grid allowed trenchant space to deepen the fallout of their own actions. It's all set early on at the breakfast table, "average American, backbone of the country" Powell feeling menopausal calcification settling in, the Boy Most Likely to Succeed now staring at fried eggs, schedules, middle-class captivity. Revolt is sailing off to South America, a dream-call semi-answered when his insurance company duties lead him to Lizabeth Scott, an embezzler's reluctantly kept gal; tagged "little man with a briefcase," Powell shares a ride on her confiscated boat, but then back to land and reality for some petting on her sofa. No spidery noir dame, vulnerable, luckless Scott learns of Powell's family and sends him back to suburbia, though the drama has already welled waist-deep -- lovelorn shamus Raymond Burr pummels Powell outside his garage for moving in on the shapely source of his obsession, and, when Powell returns the favor, Burr takes to paying visits to Byron Barr, Scott's jailed lover, poisoning his mind with suspicion. Homes are invaded while comic books give nightmares -- De Toth's surfaces are no more stable than Lang's, and post-war domestic bliss, frustrations and anxieties beneath the sheen, is not just threatened but questioned over the course of the affair-cum-murder. Darkness is to be sealed as soon as it is exposed for the system to carry on, and Powell and Wyatt must act out a cold ritual of forgiveness and lies; Scott, meanwhile, is last seen sent to the face the law the couple has just evaded, one final glimpse burned in Powell's memory as they struggle to rebuild the illusion long imploded by the director. With John Lidel, Jimmy Hunt, and Ann Doran. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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