The Rabbit Trap
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Ernest Borgnine could have been typecast, quite profitably, as villains, for the rest of his life if he hadn't accepted a $5,000 pay check to play the title role in Marty (1955). His Oscar®-winning performance gave him a second identity on-screen as a spokesperson for the average Joe. That's exactly what he played in The Rabbit Trap, a 1959 drama about a man caught between his duty to his family and the demands of his job when his boss calls him back from vacation early. The result was a tidy little drama held together by Borgnine's natural and unpretentious performance.
Like Marty, The Rabbit Trap was an adaptation of a television drama. J.P. Miller's one-hour teleplay had aired on the Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1955, with Philip Abbott as Eddie. The medium was Miller's bread and butter at the start of his career, when he earned credits on such dramatic anthologies as Kraft Television Theatre, Producers' Showcase and Playhouse 90, the latter producing his most famous script, The Days of Wine and Roses (1958).
Writer Harry Kleiner picked up the film rights to Miller's play for his newly formed Canon Productions and was wise enough to hire Miller to expand and open it up for the screen. He engaged British director Philip Leacock, who had scored directing younger actors in his native country's The Little Kidnappers (1953) and in the U.S. Take a Giant Step (1959). Leacock would move into U.S. TV production in the '60s, with credits for such dramatic series as The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Defenders.
Borgnine and former Warner Bros. star David Brian, cast as his boss in The Rabbit Trap, were the only established film names in the movie. The rest of the actors were stage and television veterans. Bethel Leslie, who played Borgnine's wife, had been Helen Hayes' protégée in the '50s, when she appeared on Broadway with the First Lady of the American Stage in The Wisteria Trees. She had started doing television in 1950, appearing on several live drama series before making her film debut in The Rabbit Trap. Leslie is probably best remembered on TV as a member of the repertory company who appeared in most episodes of The Richard Boone Show and as Dr. Maggie Powers during a three year run on the classic soap The Doctors. On stage, she won a Tony nomination for her performance as Jack Lemmon's wife and Kevin Spacey and Peter Gallagher's mother in Long Day's Journey Into Night.
Kevin Corcoran, cast as Borgnine and Leslie's sensitive son, was already under contract to Walt Disney when he made The Rabbit Trap. Although never a Mouseketeer, he had appeared in the serial The New Adventures of Spin and Marty, which aired on The Mickey Mouse Club. Other Disney credits include Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959) and the title role in Toby Tyler (1960).
Other television regulars in the cast included character actress Jeanette Nolan, who would join Leslie on The Richard Boone Show, and comic Don Rickles in his second feature film. Rickles had labored in nightclubs for twenty years before landing a role in Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. He would continue to act in films and on TV while also building his reputation as the world's greatest insult comic. The versatile performer would move easily from strong dramatic performances in films like The Rat Race (1960) and X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) to comic work, particularly as a regular contributor to Dean Martin's celebrity roasts. Younger audiences would discover him in 1995 when he provided the voice of Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story.
As for Borgnine, small films like The Rabbit Trap would not be a part of the Hollywood landscape for long. He would continue with film work, most notably as one of the outlaws in The Wild Bunch (1969) and a retired cop in The Poseidon Adventure (1972), but would supplement that with frequent television appearances, including his hit series McHale's Navy, which ran from 1962 to1966.
Producer: Harry Kleiner
Director: Philip Leacock
Screenplay: J.P. Miller
Adapted from his teleplay
Cinematography: Irving Glassberg
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: Jack Marshall
Cast: Ernest Borgnine (Eddie Colt), David Brian (Everett Spellman), Bethel Leslie (Abby Colt), Kevin Corcoran (Duncan Colt), Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Colt), Russell Collins (Hughie Colt), Don Rickles (Mike O'Halloran).
by Frank Miller