This hymn to the U. S. Treasury Department just doesn't capture the department's charisma
Jun 19, 2011
"How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of `Trapped.'" That's Trey Hamlet, part-time movie critic for the Elsinore Herald-Gazette, writing his review after watching this reverential dud.
Trapped instructs us on the excellence of the U. S. Treasury Department's Secret Service, as its agents track down the near-perfect plates for bogus $20 bills, now starting to show up in circulation. The man who made the plates, Tris Stewart (Lloyd Bridges) is in prison, so he can't be the mastermind. Someone, Mr. Big, has those plates and is starting to use them. The Treasury Department works a deal with Stewart. They'll spring him from prison and make it look like a jailbreak. In return, he'll track down his former partner and find out who's responsible for the new stuff.
Stewart, however, has a different idea. He'll go along with the phony jail break, but he plans to hook up with his old girl friend, Meg Dixon (Barbara Payton), cut a deal of his own with Mr. Big, then vamoose to Mexico with Meg and as much money, good or bad, that he can fool everyone out of. Only two things stand in his way. First are the shrewd, brave and dedicated men (there are no women in the movie except Payton) of the United States Treasury. Second is the shrewd, brave and dedicated Secret Service agent John Downey (John Hoyt).
Trapped is one of those documentary-seeming paeans to the government that Hollywood produced in the late Forties. For the FBI, it was The House on 92nd Street and The Street With No Name. With Trapped, we're given a seven-minute civics lesson on the many praise-worthy activities of the U. S. Treasury, with an emphasis on the reprehensible nature of counterfeiting, At the end of this stentorian, no-nonsense, deeply respectful narration honoring our government at work, I nearly wrote a check to add to my income tax payment.
The real problem with Trapped, however, is that it is dull. There are one or two solid scenes, including a tough fist fight in a shadowy hotel room and a chase and shootout in the huge shed housing dozens of Los Angeles' electrified streetcars. In between is just one ponderous scene after another as Stewart tracks down Mr. Big and the Secret Service stays on Stewart's tail. The Secret Service may be always one step ahead of Stewart, but for most of the movie, once we catch on to how good Hollywood is going to make the Secret Service, not much suspense is left.
This was one of the first movies Richard Fleischer directed. He had a long, successful career that wasn't particularly distinguished. On the one hand he gave us such interesting or pleasurable movies as The Narrow Margin, Fantastic Voyage, 10 Rillington Place and Soylent Green. But then we have things such as Doctor Doolittle, Mandingo and The Jazz Singer.
Poignantly, we can see Barbara Payton and reflect on the lives, if they're unlucky, of lush, blonde, shallow starlets. She managed a handful of movies working with the likes of Gregory Peck, James Cagney and Gary Cooper. Within a couple of years she was enmeshed in scandal. She didn't seem to mind along as she was talked about. Another year or two and her career was over, which seemed to puzzle her. Payton's life was a sad, sordid melodrama, finishing at the age of 39 after alcoholism, public drunkenness and arrests for heroin and prostitution. She loved the attention Hollywood gives starlets, but she had little talent other than her curves.
Trapped is in the public domain. My version doesn't look so hot.