Thursday, January 14, 2016

Trapped (1949) "The only thing better than money are the plates that make it"

Trapped has one of those dreary quasi documentary style, stentorian narrated intros with US Treasury Department stock footage showing the printing and inspection of money.  Once the propaganda sequence is over we segue nicely to a vignette between a bank teller and a matronly woman who is trying to transact with a $20 dollar bill. The vigilant teller spots the fake bill and confiscates it from the protesting woman stamping it with a large "Counterfeit". He tells her something to the effect that "if you are handling a lot of cash it's your duty to make sure it's good". I guess she goes without the groceries for a week.

A good 78 minute film noir from Contemporary Productions, by RKO contract director Richard Fleischer, who later filmed one of Noirsville's favorites The Narrow Margin (1952). The film was written by Earl Felton and, George Zuckerman. Cinematography was by Guy Roe (Armored Car Robbery, The Sound of Fury) The film stars Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt, Douglas Spencer, James Todd, and Russ Conway.

Once we get that fake $20 at the bank it is sent to the Treasury Department where the agents determine that the counterfeit was a re-emergence of the same counterfeit bills from the Stewart Case. Tris Stewart (Bridges) is doing time, 14 years, in stir. In Atlanta The Treasury agents grill Stewart about the bills he replies "what do you think I'm doing, floating them out the window?" Stewart has  been a model prisoner and is coming up for parole but the Agents tell him he'll do the rest of the 7 years if he cooperates. He tells them he's not a stoolie, but the agents are sure he'll come around. Bridges' Stewart, is handsome, smart, and suave, instead of smoking he's constantly chewing sticks of gum.  Bridges reprises the same character type in 1950's The Sound Of Fury.

We cut to Noirsville, where a cross-country bus, with Kansas City on the destination board is stabbing the desolate dark with hi-beams. Inside Stewart is handcuffed to a sleeping officer. A sedan passes but pulls momentarily alongside and the driver gives a signal to Stewart. Stewart reacts by grabbing the officer's gun and telling the driver to pull over. The Sedan does a U-ie up ahead and drives back to the bus. Stewart hops in and they speed off.

The escape was a hoax for the Newspapers, Radio, and Newsreels. The sedan's driver was also a Treasury Agent. In return, Stewart and the agent will find Stewart's former partner Sam Hooker (Spencer) and suss out who's responsible for the new dough. Stewart fakes a cut from a broken glass and sucker punches the agent then lams out on the whole scheme.

Stewart hit's smoggy Tinseltown and tracks his loser stupe of a partner Hooker to his seedy residence hotel flop. There is a great acting sequence where Douglas Spencer shows his range, his down and out wino character Hooker is in an alcoholic fog and at first doesn't recognise Stewart, then after a few slaps he does, paling up to Stewart, then breaks down in terror completely when Stewart smacks him around while bouncing him off the furniture. Hooker ran out of money blowing it on women, cards, and horses, then he sold the plates to gangster Jack Sylvester (Todd) whose legit cover is the Citrus Land & Investment Company. When Stewart asks for his cut from the plates he tells him pathetically "I lost it".

Meg Dixon (Payton) is Stewart's blonde gal pal with benefits. She's been biding her Tris down time trolling for tips by flashing her pins and breasts as a skimpily attired Chesterfield cigarette girl in the Chanteclair, an LA nightclub. Agent John Downey (Hoyt) is undercover as a dapper dan, putting the moves on her and tipping ten spots for decks of cigarettes.

He's first posing as a loaded oil man, then as really a gambler/confidence man who wants in on the deal with Stewart to buy counterfeit money. He has $30,000 (that a fake newspaper clipping claims Downey chiseled from the Mojave Club) that they will use to by the money from Sylvester. Downey has the genuine hots for Meg, but is another undercover G-Man. The treasury agents are covering all bases and also have Meg's digs bugged.

With the deck stacked against Stewart, it all comes tumbling down. One fault of the script is that at the one hour mark the script switches the action from Stewart (Bridges) who gets booked in jail to Sylvester (James Todd) in the denouement, he doesn't quite measure up. The finale at the Los Angeles Trolley Car barn is a classic. It's a second tier Noir but still a good one. 7/10

Trapped was the film that got Barbara Payton noticed, however her brief shooting star career eventually fizzled out Noirishly. Her decline started with the film Bride of the Gorilla (1951). Payton's very public displays of excessive partying, drinking, and running around with the sleazeball set destroyed her credibility as a serious actress and she was written off by Hollywood.

Eventually Payton's growing alcoholism and drug addiction led to multiple skirmishes with the law, including arrests for the passing of bad checks and eventually an arrest on Sunset Boulevard for prostitution. On May 8, 1967, Payton died of heart and liver failure at the age of 39

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