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The Money Trap is one of the last of the films noir produced in Hollywood before the industry became conscious of its own legacy of atmospheric crime thrillers. The 1965 film is a key title for screenwriter Walter Bernstein, a blacklistee who had definite grudges to air. Crime author Lionel White, the author of the source book for Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, provides the skeleton of a story of police corruption. Bernstein's screenplay adds a sour taste of seedy avarice. Most of the characters of The Money Trap see opulence all around them and find out that they'll do anything to get a piece of it.
Detective Joe Baron (Glenn Ford) sees how the law treats the poor and the rich differently, and knows he'd rather be rich. He lives happily with his wife Lisa (Elke Sommer) in the Hollywood Hills until they find out that her stock dividends will soon cease, putting an end to convertible cars and expensive parties. Lisa assumes that the money will always be there. Joe decides to go bad to get it -- he knows Lisa will leave him if he doesn't. The crooked doctor Horace Van Tilden (Joseph Cotten) shoots a burglar, but before the man dies Joe learns that he was the doctor's partner in crime, and had come for money he was owed. The dying man gives Joe the combination to Van Tilden's safe.
As Joe prepares to break into Van Tilden's house, he makes contact with Rosalie Kelly (Rita Hayworth), an old girlfriend who knows too much about Van Tilden's rackets. He's also stopped by his own partner Pete Delanos (Ricardo Montalban). Joe is concerned until Pete reveals that he is anxious for a taste of the good life to -- and demands a cut of Van Tilden's dirty money.
What we have is a potential hardboiled classic with some serious flaws. The production is good-looking but cheap. It's one of MGM's last B&W releases and appears to have been concocted to use up stars with one or two films still owed on contracts. Glenn Ford had been a top draw until his expensive double-whammy MGM flops Cimarron and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. His potential pairing with his Gilda co-star gets one's corpuscles moving until one sees what sad shape Rita Hayworth is in. Lightweight actress Elke Sommer just doesn't convince, while Joseph Cotten performs on autopilot and Ricardo Montalban is left without much direction.
The Money Trap is a perfectly acceptable bad cop story, but it doesn't distinguish itself. The fault really lies with director Burt Kennedy, a great writer whose films became less interesting when he moved behind the camera. The Money Trap plays like a movie and looks like a movie but isn't particularly well directed for camera or for actors. The acting ensemble just doesn't cohere, as if there were no time or interest in rehearsal. The suspicion is that nobody cared: a moody B&W crime film, even in Panavision, wasn't going to attract any attention in 1965.
Even though the actors are just "acting the script" instead of animating the characters, The Money Trap's strong story and script holds our attention. Everyone wants the good life clipping coupons; nobody wants to live within their means or find values beyond the material. Joe could settle for less but when he suggests a lifestyle cutback Lisa looks at him like he's an idiot. Joe's clearly in need of this woman and is upset when other men press their attentions on her. His weakness is that he doesn't see Lisa for what she is, walk away and take up with Rosalie again. Most everyone else is one-dimensional.
The Money Trap has plenty of attractive shots but none that approach the subversive imagery of other sixties' movies, such as Don Siegel's The Killers. The end of that show has a wounded Lee Marvin collapse on a beautifully manicured suburban lawn clutching his gun and his bag of stolen money; it's an iconic image. Burt Kennedy seems to want the same thing for the end of his movie, with Glenn Ford sitting unhappily beside the showcase pool and house that he'll soon lose forever. The camera has great opportunities to capture a Homes and Gardens visual from Hell, but Kennedy doesn't seem to think it's important.
The Money Trap has a nice sequence filmed at Pacific Ocean Park just a year or two before it was torn down. Joe lives in the exclusive Mt. Olympus neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills; his house looks like the same one featured in the next year's Lord Love a Duck by George Axelrod.
The Warner Archive Collection's DVD of The Money Trap is a crisp B&W enhanced transfer that makes Paul Vogel's camerawork look great. Sound is very clear as well. This is exactly the kind of picture that has solid fans but probably can't make the grade as a regular DVD release. It's recommended for fans of crime films, film noir and observers of the good work of committed blacklistees.
For an overall discussion of Warner's Archive Collection (a new way of selling DVDs) see Savant's review of The Rain People.
Help with some content of this review comes from Dick Dinman, who saw The Money Trap when it was new, tossed away on a double bill with John Ford's 7 Women.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Money Trap rates:
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