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Joe Baron (Glenn Ford) is a Los Angeles cop who has lived off of his wealthy wife's fortune for far too long and it's taken a toll on his male ego and his marriage. Desperate to break out of his rut, he stumbles onto a solution to his problem during an investigation of an attempted burglary that went awry. The suspect was shot and killed while trying to break into the safe of Dr. Horace Van Tilden (Joseph Cotten), a respected doctor who secretly runs a huge narcotics ring on the side. Baron discovers Van Tilden's sideline and also learns that he keeps more than a million dollars in cash in his safe, unbeknownst to the IRS. Baron's scheme to steal the loot for himself, however, is discovered by his Mexican partner, Pete (Ricardo Montalban), who also wants a piece of the action and is willing to resort to blackmail to get it. Given no choice, Baron includes Pete in the planned heist but Van Tilden proves to be a more formidable foe than either imagined.
When a good cop goes bad in the movies, it's usually due to greed or a conniving gold digger or a combination of the two. But in The Money Trap (1965), the motivation is wounded male pride which makes this late entry in the film noir genre somewhat unique. Baron's inability to succeed in the affluent California society he aspires to is used to comment on the disparity between the very rich and the very poor in Los Angeles. There are some indications, in fact, that The Money Trap was originally conceived as a social drama and not a film noir. This is spelled out more specifically in a subplot involving the murder of a Mexican prostitute by her husband. A housewife living in dire poverty with children to feed, she began turning tricks during the day for money while her husband was at work - until he caught her in the act and killed her. Though the incident has little bearing on the film's main storyline it allows Pete the opportunity to reflect on his countrymen's desperate plight to find work and survive in an Angelo culture where their best opportunities are as unskilled workers or domestics. Interestingly enough, the situation hasn't improved significantly since 1966 when The Money Trap was released but it provides a telling background to the film whose title can be taken quite literally.
The Money Trap may not qualify as an essential film noir, but it does have an impressive pedigree. The screenplay is by Walter Bernstein who based it on the novel by Lionel White, the author of A Clean Break which became the basis for Stanley Kubrick's noir classic, The Killing . The star of the film, Glenn Ford, had played conflicted, morally ambiguous characters before in such key films as The Big Heat  and Human Desire , both directed by Fritz Lang. In the former, Ford plays a revenge-obsessed cop who defies his superior officers and takes the law into his own hands; in the latter, he's manipulated by femme fatale Gloria Grahame into plotting her husband's murder. But Ford's dark side is given full reign in the perverse Gilda  which paired him opposite Rita Hayworth in the title role. The pair are reunited in The Money Trap - it was their fifth and final appearance together - and the sight of them together again is both touching and iconic. Although Hayworth's role as an aging barmaid and former lover of Baron's is merely a cameo and her scenes with Ford are brief, the two still generate an on-screen sexual chemistry (in real life, they were rumored to be off-screen lovers as well).
Joseph Cotten, another familiar face from past noirs such as The Third Man , also turns up in a pivotal role, playing the sort of smooth, sophisticated villain he perfected in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt  and later reprised for Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte . Co-star Ricardo Montalban also made his mark earlier in the genre in such memorable thrillers as Anthony Mann's Border Incident  and John Sturges's Mystery Street .
Burt Kennedy, the director of The Money Trap, is better known for his Westerns (The War Wagon , Support Your Local Sheriff! ) but he did helm a few distinctive film noirs such as Man in the Vault  or The Killer Inside Me , which was based on the novel by pulp fiction legend Jim Thompson (who also penned the screenplay to Kubrick's aforementioned The Killing). And cinematographer Paul C. Vogel had previously filmed some of MGM's more impressive entries in the noir category, specifically Lady in the Lake , High Wall  and Scene of the Crime .
During its theatrical run, The Money Trap was usually paired on a double feature with John Ford's Seven Women and generally dismissed by most critics as an unexceptional B-movie thriller, distinguished only by Hayworth and Ford in a final screen reunion. The Los Angeles Time wrote "The Money Trap has been sprung before - and far better," while Time magazine accused it of being "overburdened with social significance and sloppy syntax." Only The Hollywood Reporter offered a more accurate assessment: "There are indications that The Money Trap was intended to be more than just a crime story, perhaps a parable on a materialistic age. If so, this got lost. The script is sometimes confusing...." but it also noted it was "an offbeat drama with some exceptionally good performers..." But even if the film is an uneven blend of film noir and morality play, it's worth seeing today as a rare visual record of Los Angeles in the mid-sixties with its now vintage cars, manicured lawns, Bel-Aire mansions and smog-free vistas.
Producer: David Karr, Max E. Youngstein
Director: Burt Kennedy
Screenplay: Walter Bernstein, Lionel White
Cinematography: Paul Vogel
Film Editing: John McSweeney, Jr.
Art Direction: Carl Anderson, George W. Davis
Music: Hal Schaffer
Cast: Glenn Ford (Joe Baron), Elke Sommer (Lisa Baron), Rita Hayworth (Rosalie Kelly), Joseph Cotten (Dr. Horace Van Tilden), Ricardo Montalban (Pete Delanos), Tom Reese (Matthews).
BW-93m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford