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    Sunday, July 22, 2007

    Movie: The Money Trap (1966)

    Funny how these things work. When the question of forgotten pop culture personalities was raised at Hollywood Elsewhere earlier this month, Glenn Ford was one of the first names mentioned. And not without reason. Then the other day, author George Pelecanos wrote a heartfelt tribute to him, saying that “Ford, more than any other screen actor, is the paternal stand-in for a generation of boys whose fathers served in World War II” and praising the “quiet, confident masculinity that could only have come from someone who had nothing to prove.”

    He’s ripe for reappraisal, with Russell Crowe taking over for Ford in his prime in the upcoming remake of 3:10 To Yuma. At Noir City I saw the young Ford in Framed. Time for a film from later in his career.

    The Money Trap is an unheralded noir with an offbeat pedigree. Director Burt Kennedy is better known for comic westerns. Walter Bernstein adapts a novel by Lionel White (The Killing). Ford plays a weary detective married to a wealthy younger woman (Elke Sommer). The missus begins having cash flow problems just as Ford is handed the case of a thief gunned down in front of an empty safe by connected physician Joseph Cotten. The thief’s dying words have Ford convinced that the safe wasn’t originally empty, and that if Ford can somehow steal the contents Cotten won’t be able to go to the police.

    I’m not claiming that The Money Trap is a neglected masterpiece. The plot’s a bit lumpy, and the only thing missing from the opening sequence – Ford and partner Ricardo Montalban rocketing through the rain to a murder scene at a brothel, complete with brassy jazz soundtrack – is a narrator intoning, “A Quinn Martin Production.” But it’s a good movie. More to the point, it’s a bracingly adult one, about sex and money and the need to make a name for oneself.

    It has a healthy appreciation for sleaze, always a plus in a thriller. The magnificently fleshy Sommer undressing just at the edge of the frame, loads of shots of curvy women in garter belts.

    That sleaze is tied to what drives the movie: Ford’s repressed paranoia that living off his wife’s money has diminished him as a man. At one point Ford looks up the thief’s widow, a woman from the neighborhood he has a history with, played by Rita Hayworth. Ford and Hayworth appeared together several times, most memorably in Gilda. They put that history to work for them in an extraordinary scene in which they compare how their lives haven’t matched the dreams of their youth and end up sleeping together one last time. Neither actor indulges in vanity, the weathered hunk and the ravaged beauty giving each other some small bit of comfort in the long night.

    Black-and-white films from the mid-to-late ‘60s seem to carry a sense of their own futility. You can feel history shrugging its shoulders and asking, “Why aren’t you in color?” In a film noir that feeling is only intensified, moreso one with leads in the twilight of their careers. Stumbling onto The Money Trap was like discovering ghosts struggle with their problems, certain in their belief that no one was watching.

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    I'm a big fan of Lionel White. Not so much of Glenn Ford. Money Trap is one of White's best. An excellent example of his no-nonsense style and flawless plotting. The movie has a very different feel--a late 60's vibe that's nothing like the novel. But it works for me. Both are excellent, but I believe I prefer the movie.


    I can't speak to the novel, which I haven't read. But the movie took me by surprise. It's a smart, sophisticated piece of work, with a nice sense of Los Angeles into the bargain. Let's get a cult following started, what do you say?


    I'm a Lionel White fan, too, and I think The Money Trap is his best novel. It was disguised as a Dutton hardcover but it's soul belongs to Gold Medal.


    As a devout Hawksian I hope they do something different with the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Hawks thought that a real sheriff instead of being afraid of the bad guy's gang would have told the Ford character that he would be the first to die if the gang came after them.


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