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Lawyer Ralph Anderson arrives in Tula, an amazingly remote town in the desert, as reluctant emissary of mob chief Victor Massonetti...
For more about The Trap and the The Trap Blu-ray release, see the The Trap Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 19, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Richard Widmark, Earl Holliman, Tina Louise, Lee J. Cobb, Carl Benton Reid, Lorne Greene
Director: Norman Panama
» See full cast & crew
The Trap Blu-ray Review
A different kind of road picture for Frank and Panama.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 19, 2012
Melvin Frank and Norman Panama were one of the oddest couples in Hollywood history in terms of their writing and producing (and occasionally directing) efforts. Not for any purported strangeness between the two men, mind you. They were evidently virtually lifelong friends who managed to forge a long and incredibly successful career through several decades of the maelstrom that is known as filmmaking. But the projects they chose were a rather bizarre assortment, at least when taken as a whole. The biggest bulk of Frank – Panama films were light comedies, including several Bob Hope vehicles, among them a couple of the comedian's famous Road pictures with Bing Crosby. They partnered on a couple of Danny Kaye comedies as well, the beloved by many The Court Jester as well as the less kindly recalled Knock on Wood, and even essayed the occasional musical, like their fun film adaptation of the Broadway hit Li'l Abner. But tucked into their oeuvre are a handful of straight dramatic films, often quite peculiar little dramatic films at that, including Above and Beyond, the supposed biography of the man who piloted the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, The Jayhawkers, a 1959 Western also released by Olive Films on Blu-ray which is perhaps most notable for its Jerome Moross score, part of which was later recycled into the long running television series Wagon Train, and another 1959 opus, The Trap, a lurching melodrama which explores some simmering family dysfunction which surrounds another kind of family—namely, The Mob.
Richard Widmark's early career was marked by a number of turns which at their most villainous were creepy portrayals of psychopathic tendencies and at their most quasi-heroic were shaded at best. The Trap finds him precariously perched somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, albeit probably leaning toward the heroic side, at least as the film progresses. Widmark portrays attorney Ralph Anderson who has found himself ensnared in defending members of the Massonetti crime syndicate. Anderson now finds himself in the unhappy predicament of being forced to get Massonetti (Lee J. Cobb), who has been accused of murder and is wanted by the FBI, out of the country. Though it's never really explained how this comes to pass, evidently The Mob knows that Anderson's father (Carl Benton Reid) is the Sheriff of a tiny backwater called Tula, a place that just happens to have an airstrip. Ralph shows up unannounced to beg his father for a favor, only to run smack dab into a long running sibling rivalry with his alcoholic younger brother, Tippy (Earl Holliman), who perhaps should have been named Tipsy considering his penchant for the hard stuff.
Playing into this triangle of competing loyalties is another complication. Ralph had long ago wooed a local beauty named Linda (Tina Louise), but the two had never ended up together. Somewhere along the line after Ralph got the heck out of Dodge (and/or Tula), Tippy proposed to Linda and she rather inexplicably accepted, though she makes a passing comment to Ralph at their reunion that she has an "irresistible attraction to Anderson men". Tippy gets the bright idea that it would be better to turn Massonetti in for the rather sizable ransom, but a tragic set of circumstances puts him in a more undecided and jittery state, especially when Masonetti offers him considerably more than the reward to help him get out of the country once Ralph decides to do the right thing and turn his former boss in to the Feds.
The Trap works in fits and starts, but it piles on too many trials and tribulations that its flimsy foundation can't support. First we get the roiling family dynamic of the Andersons. Then we get the shifting loyalties of the Anderson brothers vis a vis Masonetti. We also have the death of a major character, and the kidnapping of Linda. By the time the film cartwheels to its climax, things have gotten so ridiculous that we have Masonetti henchmen impersonating police, replete with their own cruiser, as they attempt to spirit their crime lord to that ever elusive airstrip to get him out of the country. The swath of death and destruction is so wide that it's a wonder the National Guard isn't called in, let alone the poor hapless FBI.
Performances are at least slightly all over the map as well. This is actually a superb showcase for Holliman, who gets to do a slow burn of resentment through the early part of the film and then some nicely nuanced ambiguity as things progress. Widmark has always been kind of an interesting actor, and his kind of likable but tough guy persona is well on display here. Tina Louise starts out okay, but there are a number of scenes where she over emotes rather markedly, including a couple of scenes where you swear she's looking at the camera, asking "is that thing still on"?, and then reinforcing her scared or scowling demeanor as the case may be. Cobb is vicious, imperious and conniving by turns and is always riveting to watch.
There's a kind of unseemly subtext, in fact an almost Freudian tone, to the dynamic between Ralph, Tippy and Linda, one which makes yet another tragic death and a rather unlikely "happy ending" seem all the more inconsistent. A lot of this film plays out in cars traveling through the vast expanses of a somewhat unlocalized American southwest. That old adage "getting there is half the fun" isn't particularly applicable to a film this melodramatic and soap operatic. What's really notable about The Trap is how the film spends a lot of time trying to get somewhere, only to figure out it's arrived back to where things were long before it even began.
The Trap Blu-ray, Video Quality
Olive has gone an unusual route with their release of The Trap, offering it in both a 1.78:1 and a 1.34:1 aspect ratio, both evidently culled from the same source materials. (I tried to duplicate screenshots at more or less the same moments from both versions.) Both framings look rather good, although there's an awful lot of headroom at times on the 1.34:1 version. The color here has weathered the intervening decades since the film's release very well for the most part, although flesh tones are just slightly brown at times. The film has a lot of rear projection and some of those elements look fairly ragged and soft, as do a couple of second unit shots that capture such things as cars moving across a deserted landscape. Close-ups reveal nice fine detail, and contrast remains strong throughout this enterprise. As with most Olive releases, no digital tweaking appears to have been done on The Trap, and it retains a very natural and healthy layer of grain. There is some occasional very slight age related wear and tear in the form of tiny scratches or other blemishes, but it's not very much of an issue.
The Trap Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Quick! Name a film with a score by Bernard Herrmann, Alex North, Miklox Rozsa, Franz Wxxman and Victor Young (just to name a few). That's right, it's The Trap (at least according to IMDb, which has a pretty good track record with these sorts of credits). The music here is awfully hodgepodge, which tends to support the thesis that it's culled from some anonymous music library (as is the fact that no composer is credited in the film, only "music supervisor" Irvin Talbot). All of it sounds quite good delivered via the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track featured on this disc, however, especially some dissonant brass cues that act as harbingers for various nefarious goings on. Dialogue is very cleanly presented, though there are a couple of instances of synch issues with some scenes that look like they were done on location and were probably post looped. Fidelity is very good, and dynamic range is appealingly wide, especially in the thunderous climax.
The Trap Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements of any kind are included on this disc.
The Trap Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Melvin Frank and Norman Panama were perhaps better suited for comedic Road pictures than for overly melodramatic ones like The Trap. There are some interesting elements here, but things never really gel into a completely satisfying entertainment. The best thing about The Trap is the chance to see Earl Holliman in a really nicely shaded performance that allows him to show quite a bit of range, something his career sadly didn't let him do very often. Widmark and Cobb are inherently watchable, but Louise, while lovely, seems to be an escapee from a nearby community college acting class. (Keep your eyes out for Bonanza's "Pa", Lorne Greene, as one of Cobb's henchmen.) The film has a few moments of excitement, but they're brief interruptions in an otherwise pretty turgid journey.
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The Trap Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Trap Blu-ray - September 12, 2012
Olive Films have revealed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray director Norman Panama's The Trap (1959), starring Richard Widmark, Lee J. Cobb and Tina Louise. Exact technical specs and supplemental features to be included with this release are unknown at ...
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