The Money Trap

It isn’t the money, it never is. It’s people, the things they want…and the thing’s they’ll do to get it.

While the consensus is that film noir, weakened and wounded by a shifting media and social landscape, shuffled off into the shadows at the tail end of the 1950s, it occasionally lurched back out of the alley and onto the slick, neon-lit main streets. Wherever tough luck and the fickleness of fate hang out the dark cinema is never far off, and sightings were reported at various times throughout the 60s. The Money Trap (1965) is one of those later versions of the classic form and, to my mind, quite an effective one too.

It starts, as it ends, with the aftermath of a killing. The camera is high, observing with cool detachment, the familiar urban setting of streetlights reflecting off wet asphalt. A squad car pulls up to the curb and two detectives alight, crossing swiftly to the ramshackle tenement where the night’s latest offering awaits. Joe Baron (Glenn Ford) and Pete Delanos (Ricardo Montalban) are confronted with the dead body of a young Latino woman, lynched in a bordello by her enraged husband. Although this turns out to be no more than an incidental plot strand, it serves to introduce the seedy and morally skewed world – an “honor killing” such as this is spoken of as being at least partially understandable – where we’ll be spending the next hour and a half. We then move on to see how Baron is living an extremely luxurious existence, far beyond that which a cop’s salary could be expected to pay for. And of course it’s no such a surprise when we learn how the finances are actually down to a rich young wife, Lisa (Elke Sommer), but that supply of cash may not be unlimited. So the need for money is our hook, the line is provided by the main investigation – a burglar shot under slightly dubious circumstances by a well-off doctor (Joseph Cotten) – while the sinker will come in the form of a mini-heist that’s doomed from inception. As it all unfolds Baron, who has been treading a variety of fine lines, runs across Rosalie (Rita Hayworth), an old flame and a reminder of simpler times, and something begins to worry his conscience.

The film has two big themes at work on two levels. In a narrower and more personal sense, there is a yearning for some kind of return to innocence, a desire on Baron’s part to regain some of the purity and promise he once possessed. This plays out in the way he’s drawn repeatedly to seek out Rosalie, yet she’s been bruised and broken by the years and we (and I think the same is true of Baron too) know that he’s really just chasing rainbows on that score. The wider picture is all about front and facade, the flash appearances that ensure nothing is quite as it seems and thus nothing can be depended on. Everybody in the movie is carrying secrets and consequently tell lies to conceal them – policemen are corrupt, wives are potentially faithless, friends may be enemies in waiting and the more respectable the surface, the rottener the core. There are angles everywhere and none of them clean. Should we read something into the fact the one man who speaks of integrity and honesty is a police captain (an uncredited Ted de Corsia) who is only seen  in the morgue?

Burt Kennedy’s great strength was as a writer, especially in those films where he worked with Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher – even if he had never done anything else outside of those films his cinematic legacy would have been considerable. Nevertheless, Kennedy also worked as a director, albeit with less satisfying results. In that capacity his work tended to be what we might term entertaining without being all that distinguished. A lot of his films have a certain flatness to the visuals, something of the made-for-TV look, although this doesn’t apply to all of them. The Money Trap does suffer from this a little but cameraman Paul Vogel had a sound enough pedigree in classic era noir (High Wall, Dial 1119, Black Hand, A Lady Without Passport, Lady in the Lake etc.) to ensure the right kind of mood was struck when required. Still, I feel there’s some indecisiveness in the overall style of the movie, it’s not a fatal flaw or anything but it is noticeable.

Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth made five films together, with Gilda probably being the most famous of those. Naturally, both stars had aged in the two decades which had passed but Ford was in better shape, his features reflecting a man with a bit of living behind him and about the appropriate level of weariness for a man who sees the less savory side of life on a daily basis. Hayworth was playing a woman worn down by years of bad luck and booze, and she looked like she knew the feeling only too well. I understand she had something of a drink problem in reality and there’s a degree of authenticity in her performance.

Joseph Cotten could move easily between heroic and villainous parts; he always had a bit of stiffness about him, a distance or remoteness, which lent itself well to darker or more ambiguous roles as the years went by. As such, he was a fine fit for the doctor with connections and he looked like he was enjoying himself as his character slowly reveals himself. Ricardo Montalban had appeared in a couple of quality films noir before this – Border Incident and Mystery Street – and he brought abundant experience to the table as Ford’s partner on the lookout for any get-rich-quick opportunities. And rounding out the principal cast is  Elke Sommer, always easy on the eye and playing a role that has a touch more depth than initially looks like being the case. In fact, it’s Sommer who makes a major contribution to the resolution, which at least hints at something more positive than the build-up might suggest.

The Money Trap is available as a Warner Archive MOD disc, and there are also copies on sale in other territories. The image is generally quite pleasing, black and white CinemaScope usually is and particularly when the print used has no glaring faults. Anyway, I found this an enjoyable piece of post-noir cinema, well acted and, for the most part, nicely shot.

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63 thoughts on “The Money Trap

  1. Thanks, Colin, I’ve been exploring the origins of Noir thru the Pre-Code Gangster pics (have you seen Beast of the City and City Streets?) and into German Expressionism, but the bread crumb trail of the Post-Noir period leading into Neo-Noir is a bit more obscure so I’m keen for any recommendations!

    This film sounds terrific. Before I pop over to order a copy I’d like to repay you by mentioning a couple of other Post-Noirs I’ve come across that impressed the heck out of me.

    Johnny Cool (1963) is a slick comic booky Gangster Noir with rare star turns by Henry Silva and Elizabeth Montgomery. WA DVD is excellent. Bonnie’s Kids (1972) starts out as Exploitation, turns into a tight Noir Thriller (Ignore the sh!tty title). Australian region B blu-ray has excellent PQ and a wealth of bonus content.

    Cheers
    CB

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  2. As always, a great review. Saw it on the big screen and was also attracted by the presence of the number of veteran stars therein. Your comment on Burt Kennedy is spot on. Best regards.

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  3. Great to get your thoughts on this – caught this on the tube decades ago, in Italian, and have not seen it sense but always meant to. I don’t remember Sommer in it at all but really glad to hear she stands out because I would have assumed she would be the weak link in something like this. Definitely off to see this now – need to find an Italian version …

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  4. Hey again Colin, I know you said “It isn’t the money, it never is”, but The Money Trap is fetching $50US on Amazon – rich even by Warner Archive standards, so between your great write up and the neat trailer on Youtube this one might have to go on a few people’s Wish Lists for now.
    ;D

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      • Crazy thing, I was still tempted, so went back for another look and realised I’d missed that’s actually for a second hand DVD. Others are asking over $150US, also for second hand discs. That’s just nuts.

        Ah well, it’s not unheard of for Warners to reissue their MODs on blu-ray, so here’s hoping!

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  5. Its annoying that it increasingly seems that buying films like this on disc is the only way to catch them- they really should turn up on tv somewhere. There’s 24-hour countless channels and none of them seem interested in showing classic films (well, anything black and white). Surely old films like this are cheap to source and there is an untapped market/demand out there for a channel like that. A week of daily film noir classics at 8 pm would be wonderful.

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    • Well, from a UK perspective, I think channels like Film4 might run similar films in those morning/midday slots. And there is TPTV, though that tends to focus, as far as I can tell, primarily on British cinema.
      It’s undoubtedly easier to find films these days but, as has been stated before, you have to actively seek out a lot of stuff an/or be prepared to lay down cash. Looked at as a means of enriching cultural awareness if nothing else, there is certainly an argument to be made for some further exposure for less familiar material – the kind of approach that was common when I was growing up, for example i.e. not having the schedules awash with vintage titles but not erasing their profile either.

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  6. As you say, Colin, Talking Pictures TV channel is focused primarily on British films but not entirely exclusively. We watched Jean Renoir’s 1945 film “THE SOUTHERNER” on there last night, for instance.

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    • Ah, that’s good to know, Jerry. I suppose I’ve just noticed the British offerings in the schedules more as they’re not so common elsewhere. While I think the channel is correct to focus on those movies it’s good that they throw in a bit of more varied content too.

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  7. Cripes!!! I go off-line for a couple of days and the Whole World has changed 🙂
    More of that later.

    Firstly I tend not to comment on films that I have not seen or cannot remember from Adam….THE MONEY TRAP falls into the latter. For me,THE MONEY TRAP marked a decline in Ford.s box office power-it was as I recall the first of his films, (since TIME BOMB aka Terror On A train) to play as a second feature.
    I remember it as an unremarkable programmer,nothing more. It’s interesting regarding Ernest Borgnine’s memories of TORPEDO RUN – he recalls Ford’s attitude that he was carrying the whole film on his shoulders. Perhaps Ford guessed something the others had not-the film flopped at the box office. Borgnine later noted that when Ford was seriously ill Borgnine visited him in hospital-as soon as he walked into the ward Ford said,”I’m so,so sorry” he recalled his attitude on the film after all those years. Borgnine added this is what makes a” true star.”

    Burt Kennedy as we discussed on the previous thread never really showed the promise that we expected after his stellar writing credits. I thought HANNIE CAULDER was one of his better efforts a pretty good Euro Western-though I don’t consider Robert Culp a Western actor though he does his best in the film.
    The thus far unreleased THE KILLER INSIDE ME I recall as one of Kennedy’s very best a most interesting cast I might add. The “guys on a mission” Euro Western THE DESERTER I also remember enjoying, especially, for the most impressive cast. Again THE DESERTER has not even seen a DVD release,so far.

    Now back to my beginning statement I note that both STRAW DOGS and JUNIOR BONNER,at last, have been announced as Blu Ray releases. STRAW DOGS will be a restored Criterion version so that’s quite exciting. I am however more excited by the prospect of seeing JUNIOR BONNER, finally in high definition…very welcome news. Kino Lorber have also announced SHALAKO on Blu Ray. SHALAKO is a terrible film but as a “guilty pleasure” it is hard to top.A Euro misfire to be sure but what a cast-and any film that features Eric Sykes and Don “Red”Barry has to be worth anyone’s attention. Connery is an incredibly clunky Westerner, but then that’s just part of this truly awful films appeal.

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    • It never ceases to amaze me either, John, how many films I’d have written off as never going to show up in better condition do just that, and frequently without any warning. It’s always nice to get some pleasing news, even more so in recent times.
      Shalako is a pretty poor film by any standard but i agree there’s a lot of fun to be had in it and the casting has to be admired for its chutzpah alone.
      On Ford’s gradual decline as a star name, I think it started to slide with Cimarron and then it was just that stage when other actors were on the rise and there to take the roles he was beginning to grow out of.

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  8. Thanks,as always, for the edits…I sure need ’em…… THE MONET TRAP!!!! 🙂
    Ford still found plenty of mileage with Westerns and he enjoyed making them, but his 60’s efforts fell far below his 50’s classics.
    Totally agree with you regarding SHALAKO but for all it’s many faults it still offers a good degree of fun. Certainly the film would have fared better with the films original casting of Henry Fonda and Senta Berger.

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    • That casting would have raised the quality of Shalako somewhat but Dmytryk was no longer the director he’d once been at that point and I reckon the film was always going to be troubled one way or another. Stephen Boyd, who I’m always happy to see, isn’t at all bad though.

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  9. Havent seen this one in a long time. I’m pretty sure it was actually one of the first films I’d seen with Ford as a kid sitting alongside Dad who loved most anything with Glen which is why I do to I guess. I’s also agree that Glenn’s films declined in the sixties but that’s easy to say looking backwards. Guess I’m ready for a revisit here. Agree on Kennedy never quite being a director of note. He was a degree below many of his contemporaries. I think McLaglen was a firmer hand at a time when the two of them were kind of taking over the westerns especially.
    As for Shalako, not sure I really want to sit thru it again. Two or three times is enough.

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    • Yeah, it’s when you’ve had time to take in lots more of Ford’s movies, get a greater sense of the shape of his career, that you start to notice the downturn. I don’t feel he lost any skill as a performer or became less of an actor, just that a few less successful films meant the movies he was offered were of a different type.
      And I’d also agree that McLaglen was a better director, or maybe had stronger material to work with?
      As for Shalako, I wouldn’t try to sell it to anyone or persuade them it is anything more than it appears – if you’ve seen it and buy into its goofiness, then there’s something in it for you. On the other hand, if you’re just seeing a turkey (and I’ not going to argue with anyone that it’s not) I’d say OK. 🙂

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  10. SHALAKO would have been a far better film with say, Richard Widmark or James Garner as opposed to Connery. Connery is useless as a Westerner but then again Widmark or Garner could never have played James Bond.
    I also note that Valerie French has a minor role in SHALAKO-she became a Western Femme Fatale to be reckoned with in JUBAL, DECISION AT SUNDOWN and in particular THE HARD MAN-too bad she never had a better career-I thought that she was rather good.
    I’m a sucker for virtually any 2.35 widescreen Western in high definition-it certainly raises the game of many of them. I thought the aforementioned HANNIE CAULDER looked very impressive on Blu Ray-it came off better than I expected. Gordon Douglas’ STAGECOACH is out on Blu from several sources and the transfer is magnificent but nothing can save the film. Douglas’ handling of the action scenes is fine but the clunky miscasting scuppers the entire film. Alex Cord,Van Heflin and Keenan Wynn are fine but Ann Margaret, Bing Crosby and Red Buttons are dreadful beyond belief with Bob Cummings not much better. This is one that I’ll never watch again.

    I’ve seen quiet a few McLaglen films in high def recently and they have all stood up very well especially BANDELERO, CHISUM and SHENANDOAH. I agree McLaglen was better than Kennedy and his widescreen compositions are fine. Also pickled up McLaglen’s much maligned THE WAY WEST on Black Hill for a few Euros. The set pieces still impress and really it was the last of the epic scale Westerns.The tedious sub plot with Sally Field and Michael Witney scupper the film which is a shame because much of it is quiet stunning visually. To spend so much of the film with Field (terrible) and Witney when you have Douglas,Mitchum and Widmark on board is such a waste-especially as the latter two are on such great form.

    Collectors.like myself of high definition CinemaScope (or Panavision,or whatever) Westerns have much to celebrate these days. Kino Lorber have previewed the
    lovely artwork for De Toth’s impressive THE INDIAN FIGHTER which has a commentary from our pal Toby Roan.THE INDIAN FIGHTER has Kirk Douglas as we love to see
    him-as opposed to the stern character he played in THE WAY WEST. Also looking forward to Blu Ray editions of THE BRAVADOS, NIGHT PASSAGE, JUNIOR BONNER and RIO CONCHOS which I am told has never looked better from a brand new 4K master. It’s never been a better time to be a Western fan- well, since the Fifties at least.

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    • You’re right about Ms French, she had some memorable roles in very good movies and she should certainly have had a more noteworthy career. I’m with you too on your assessment of The Way West, there is the makings of a fine film in there but it’s overburdened with the subplots and dull material you refer to. Even so, the starring trio count for a lot and almost carry the day. I haven’t seen Bandolero in an awful long time, so thanks for mentioning it and reminding me of that fact.

      The remake of Stagecoach is very poor, isn’t it? I’ve had an old letterboxed DVD of the film for some time and toyed with the idea of getting the Blu-ray, but I doubt it’s worth the trouble or the expense.

      Great news too on The Indian Fighter, a pretty good movie, and I’m thrilled that Toby is doing an increasing number of these commentaries.

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      • I highly recommend the Explosive Media Blu Ray of BANOLERO
        a very fine transfer which can be picked up quiet cheaply now.
        Visually the film is very impressive and I’d forgotten just how
        grim and downbeat the ending was.
        I’s also forgotten Jock Mahoney’s brief cameo but I’ve no doubt
        Jocko was happy about being the lovely Raquel’s beau.
        I also highly recommend the German Black Hill Blu Ray of
        THE WAY WEST an excellent transfer available for a few Euros.
        As mentioned the Blu Ray of STAGECOACH is very good but
        the film is tough to watch-whoever thought Bing Crosby and
        Red Buttons would make a great comedy team must have been out
        of their minds…they are insufferable and totally unfunny.

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        • I bought Bandolero on DVD years ago and never watched that – I should probably give it a spin some time to see how I feel about it, and whether I want to upgrade.

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  11. Just tried to post an epic response which seems to have got lost.
    I hate it when that happens-I just cannot be bothered to type it out all again.
    This has never happened on RTHC before.

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  12. PHEW!
    Thanks Colin,
    As most of my stuff comes straight off the top of my head,
    I doubt if I could have recalled much of what I said.
    Glad you were able to salvage it though.

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