Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Money Trap (1965) The Last Classic Studio Noir?

Directed by Burt Kennedy, written by Walter Bernstein (Kiss the Blood Off My Hands) based on the novel of the same name by Lionel White (The Killing). This film has quite the line-up of Classic Film Noir actors, Glenn Ford and Joseph Cotten ( both with 8 Classic Film Noir each), Rita Hayworth (Gilda (1946), Affair In Trinidad (1952), Lady From Shanghai ( 1948)), Ricardo Montalban (Border Incident (1949), Mystery Street (1950)), Ted de Corsia (7 Film Noir to his record) and Elke Sommer (Daniella by Night (1961)). Cinematography was by Paul Vogel  High Wall (1947),  Dial 1119 (1950), The Tall Target (1951), The Sellout (1952) the bongo/jazz/beatnik score was by Hal Schaefer.

Catching the squeal

Rainy LA

Joe Baron (Ford) Pete Delanos (Montalban)
This could be the last Studio "B" Noir. We hear a crazed bongo beat on the soundtrack. The Story: Two LAPD Homicide Detectives Joe Baron (Ford) and his Mexican partner Pete Delanos (Montalban) catch a squeal to investigate the murder of a whore at a downtown cat-house. It's pouring, it's night, it's Noir. Arriving at the address they climb a staircase and pass a landing lined with rubber necking prostitutes. The Mexican victim was secretly moonlighting as a hooker to bring in extra income. She was murdered by her enraged husband who had just found out. He hung her like a piƱata from the handiest light fixture, left her swinging, and vamoosed. This is the dark and "sleazo" underworld of our ever on call detectives.  


But Joe Baron , off the job, is living high on the hog. In bright contrast to the night before we see him drive up in a '65 Plymouth Fury to an impressive terraced hillside house, in the driveway is a '61 Jaguar XK-E. In the backyard a pool, in the pool a blonde bombshell trophy wife. Lisa Baron (Sommer) is young, 25-ish, bubbly, socialite, about half the age of hubby Joe who has a weary hangdog look that vanishes simultaneously as he sheds his hard exterior emotional armor and enters his castle. He caresses the Jag in the driveway, then lovingly embraces Lisa poolside, and they settle scandalously together she on top into a lounge chair under the bright sunshine.

Joe and Lisa's mini mansion

But their playhouse is about to come tumbling down. Lisa gets a letter from her father's estate lawyer stating that they won't be paying a dividend this year. Lisa reacts like a non comedic Lisa Douglas from TVs Green Acres (which also came out in 1965). The loss of her dividend get's a bubble head reaction.

Lisa: Well we'll have to live on our savings.
Joe: What savings?
Lisa: We have an account.
Joe: You know how much we have in it? Enough to live one month the way we live here."
Lisa: We'll have to sell more stocks.
Joe: You're not allowed too.
Lisa: Since when?
Joe: Read your father's will.

continuing in the bedroom later...

Joe: I'm happy, I have everything I want, I have this beautiful home, I have the wife I want, the job I want, a swimming pool, three cars, two servants, I'm happy.
Lisa: Does it bother you because it's my money.
Joe: I married you for your money. We bought this house with your money. The cars, we bought, now the money's going to stop, no dividends no money.
Lisa: Then we'll just live on what you make.
Joe: I make ninety-two hundred a year that just pays for the servants.
Lisa: Then we'll just get rid of the servants.

Joe asks Lisa to remember where he lived when they first met, and if she'd like living there with him. She replies that something will work out. This is the Money Trap of the title.

The wife I want
The house I want

I'm happy

Back on the case Joe and Pete question the sister-in-law of the dead hooker, she lives in a crowded Bunker Hill flop house apartment. She tells them that the wife only did it for her little girl Amaya after her husband lost his job. Joe and Pete decide to set up a continuous stake out of the house to catch the father if he shows up to see his daughter.

Flop house stakeout (the old Brousseau Mansion on S. Bunker Hill St.)
Meanwhile, shit happens and our two flatfoots catch another squeal at the home of Dr. Horace Van Tilden M.D. (Cotten). It seems the good doctor shot a house burglar in an upstairs bedroom after he broke into a safe. That safe was empty the doctor states, the one he keeps in his office downstairs has the important papers. Joe & Pete smell something rotten, the brass is there to smooth things over, the safe wasn't cracked, the perp was a small time hood. Joe makes him as Phil Kenny, a junkie not a box man, why would he go to a bedroom if he needed a hit.

Police brass Van Tilden Joe and Pete
Joe goes downtown with the ambulance. Kenny regains conscience enough to tell Joe that there was money in the safe two bags, a million bucks. When Joe asks why there were no marks on the safe Kenny pulls a paper with the combination out of his pocket and hands it to Joe.

 Kenny: two bags full one for my master, one for this dame, and none for the little boy.... (dies)

'60 Buick ambulance

"One for my master, one for the dame, one for the little boy...."
Joe now knows that Van Tilden is crooked, Kenny was set up, and with the investigation officially squashed, decides to go on, on his own, off the record, while at the same time still trying to solve the hanging hooker case for his impatient Captain (de Corsia).

A million dollars of illegal money would solve his money problems so Joe breaks bad. Later when Pete asks Joe if Kenny spilled, Joe tells him no.

The Captain (de Corsia)

Detective Wolski (James Mitchum)
Joe begins his missing millions investigation by tracking down Kenny's wife Rosalie (Hayworth). She's working as a cocktail waitress in a downtown grill. Be prepared for a shock, Hayworth looks terrible, frumpy and overweight, age, smoking, bad marriages, Hollywood and alcoholism have taken a heavy toll and she's only 47 in this flick, but looks twenty years older, the Hayworth of Gilda is a long faded memory.  I hope that part of her look was just makeup for the role, if it is it's very convincing.

Rosalie Kenny (Hayworth)
Rosalie turns out to be Joe Baron's old flame Rosie, he lost his virginity to her on top of the roof of their apartment house back in the old neighborhood. He's a bit shocked to find out she married a junkie. When Baron asks her questions Rosie clams up. After a confrontation with a patron at the bar Joe leaves for home. Outside the bar we see that Joe is being followed by Pete who suspects his partner of six years is up to something. Pete is overworked and underpaid. As a Mexican American he feels as if his piece of the pie is slipping away, if it was ever there in the first place.

bar confrontation

Pete suspects Joe is holding out
When Joe gets back home he finds Lisa there entertaining a smarmy neighbor and suspects that he's trying to make time with his wife. Angry, Joe goes off half cocked. He ends up back at the grill at closing time and offers to take Rosie home. Up at her flop Rosie tells Joe that Phil was working on and off for  Dr. Van Tilden.

One thing leads to another and Joe and Rosie end up in the sack, for old times sake.

You would have been a lawyer if you married me
When Joe gets up to leave Rosie tells him you would have been a lawyer if you married me by now." Joe kisses her off saying "go back to sleep, Rosie."

The next day at the gym Pete gets right in Joe's face and tells he wants in on the money. Joe is pissed that Pete has followed him. Pete tells Joe that not putting down interviewing Rosalie in his report is falsifying evidence. But he won't report it if they split the money, and besides who is Van Tilden going to go to, the police?

I want in, I want to be rich
Meanwhile,  Joe, back on the Hanging Hooker Case is staking out the Bunker Hill house with detective Wolski (Mitchum) it's little Amaya's birthday and Joe suspects they'll see the father. The aunt leaves the house with Amaya, Joe follows.

The next sequence is very interesting for film Noir fans. The flop house where Amaya lives is the old run down Brousseau Mansion at 238 South Bunker Hill Avenue. By 1965 the Bunker Hill redevelopment had cleared out most of the houses. That's why the house is surrounded by empty lots. Ford then tails the aunt and Amaya to Third & Olive and rides with them down Angels Flight, which is also surrounded by empty lots, the end of an era along with the end of a Classic Noir location.

The aunt and Amaya board a bus and Joe and Wolski follow them with their car out to the Santa Monica Pier where Amaya meets her father. Joe let's Amaya spend her birthday with him before they arrest him.

Joe tailing Amya sequence

Third & Olive, Amaya and her aunt
Angles Flight on Bunker Hill

Bottom of Angels Flight

Bus to the Santa Monica Pier

Joe (Ford) on Hill Street
Joe and Wolski at Santa Monica Pier
Joe and Pete plan to crack Van Tilden's safe and make off with the two bags of moola. They find out that he's taking off for a week of fishing in Acapulco and go for it. But Van Tilden is a step ahead of them faking the trip and catching them in the act. There's a shootout in the dark and Pete is hit but they get the loot. Joe brings Pete to his house where they find that one of the bags has a half a million the other bag has a half million in heroin.

Pete needs a doctor and the only crooked doctor Joe knows is Van Tilden. He'll trade the dope for Pete's life. Of course it all goes Noirsville.


I look at Films Noir and Neo Noir like you would a combination lock. If you get all the tumblers lined up it works, sometimes they all align perfectly enough to shine a bright light through the hole and you get a 10/10, others you get one component off a bit and it's a 9/10, and so on and so forth down the line. Sometimes a production will just get just enough of components into wack to see some light and you still have a barely Noir Noir, but it's a dim light.

So why isn't this film better known or talked about, why has it dropped off the radar?

A few guesses.

It's a partial throwback to the early part traditional Classic Noir Era period the 1941-1946 before the lighter cameras made location shooting more feasible. Half the film is shot on back lot and looks it. This gives it a dated feel which is in direct contrast to it's modern look of being shot in widescreen. It has a jazzy bongo beatnik score when the country was getting its rock and roll funk on. The Pawnbroker (1964) (which I consider a Noir BTW) was among the first American movies to feature nudity during the Production Code, i.e bare breasts and it received Production Code approval.

This film, had it had Elke Sommer go topless like she already had appeared in Daniella by Night (1961) would have brought it some notoriety and a hook. As it is, it's in the rearview mirror of the general Zeitgeist of the culture that was speeding towards the Age of Aquarius. Finally, most of the great later Noirs the 8-9-10s/10 had memorable shots or iconic sequences, I can rattle some off:

The old lady in the wheelchair that Richard Widmark pushes down the stairs in Kiss Of Death.
Cloris Leachman running down the highway in Kiss Me Deadly.
Ted de Corsia falling off the Williamsburg Bridge in The Naked City.
Joseph Cotten going over Niagara Falls in Niagara.
Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte blowing themselves up on a gas tank in Odds Against Tomorrow.
The finale of Down Three Dark Streets at the Hollywood Sign.

The Money Trap does have a memorable opening sequence, but it never quite tops it. It sort of just idles along. It could have shown Rosalie spectacularly going off the roof, now that that would have been memorable. A last Noir call for Noir greats Ford, Hayworth, Cotton, de Corsia, Montalban. It's entertaining nevertheless, DVD from Warner Archive Collection. 7/10

No comments:

Post a Comment