The Steel Trap


1h 25m 1952
The Steel Trap

Brief Synopsis

A bank employee steals cash from the bank on Friday and, at the bidding of his wife, must return the money before it is discovered missing on Monday morning.

Film Details

Also Known As
Panic Stricken
Genre
Comedy
Crime
Release Date
Nov 1952
Premiere Information
New York opening: 12 Nov 1952; Los Angeles opening: 18 Nov 1952
Production Company
Thor Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Los Angeles, California, United States; New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Synopsis

James Osborne, an assistant manager at a Los Angeles bank, is bored by his staid life and wonders what it would be like to rob the bank. Jim calculates that on a Friday evening, after the Federal Reserve makes its deposit, he could steal almost a million dollars without the theft being discovered until Monday morning. Curious if there is a country that does not have an extradition treaty with the United States, Jim researches various statutes and learns that Brazil would offer a safe haven. Now obsessed with the idea, Jim lies to his devoted wife Laurie that the bank is sending him on a two-week business trip to Rio de Janeiro, and that he wants her and their daughter Susan to accompany them. Laurie is thrilled, although she protests that Susan is too young for the journey. Figuring that they can send for Susan once they get settled, Jim begins to put his plan into action. The next morning, he and Susan apply for expedited passports, and Jim visits a travel agent, who tells him that the only possible route is a Friday night flight to New Orleans, with a connecting flight to Rio on Saturday morning. Although the flight to New Orleans is full, two cancellations come through and Jim secures their seats. Jim is dismayed to learn that Laurie has told her mother, who is to care for Susan, where they are going, but quickly masks his fears. On Friday morning, Jim arrives at the bank with a large suitcase, which he hides, and confirms that the passport clerk is going to send the Osbornes' passports to the Brazilian consulate, where Laurie will pick them up with the necessary visas. After the bank closes and the tellers deposit their cash in the vault, Jim sneaks downstairs and fills his suitcase with money. Laurie telephones to tell Jim that she cannot reach the consulate in time, and Jim then calls to ask one of the clerks to stay late so that he can retrieve their passports. Jim and the bank manager, Tom Bowers, then close the vault, although Jim only pretends to spin the combination lock, hoping to return to steal more money before leaving. Jim then races to the Brazilian consulate but is delayed by traffic, and by the time he reaches the office, everyone has left. Jim asks an elevator operator for help, and while the man attempts to locate the Brazilian consul, Jim meets Laurie in the building's coffee shop and obtains seats on a later flight to New Orleans. When it appears that he is running out of time, Jim breaks into the consulate office and finds the passports. A watchman apprehends him, however, and is about to take him to the police when the elevator operator arrives with the clerk to whom Jim had spoken earlier. The clerk reluctantly vouches for Jim, and soon he and Laurie are speeding toward the airport. When the plane stops over in Amarillo, bad weather grounds them until they are in danger of missing their connecting flight. Upon their arrival in New Orleans on Saturday morning, Jim and Laurie learn that they have indeed missed the plane to Brazil, but the clerk, Briggs, assures them that because they are fourth on the waiting list for Sunday's flight, it is likely they will make it. Although Jim is overcome with worry, he is determined to treat Laurie to a grand day in New Orleans, and the couple sightsee and dine at Antoine's that night. Travel agent Valcourt, who has heard of Jim's desperation to acquire tickets for Sunday's flight, arranges for him and Laurie to be placed first on the list, and late that night, Jim hints to Laurie that their stay in Brazil may be permanent. The next morning, Jim's demeanor and heavy suitcase rouse Briggs's suspicions and he alerts customs officials, who open the suitcase to see if Jim is smuggling gold. When questioned, Jim states that he is ferrying the money on an emergency mission for the bank, although the inspector insists on calling Bowers to verify Jim's story. Bowers is away playing golf, however, and the inspector allows the Osbornes to leave when their flight is called. Unfortunately, there have been no cancellations, and Jim and Laurie are turned away. Briggs promises them seats on Monday's flight, and Jim and Laurie then check into a small hotel. Suspicious of Jim's erratic behavior, Laurie questions him and finally deduces that he stole the money. Jim admits his crime, telling her that he wanted to cram as much happiness as possible into their lives. Laurie tearfully chastises her husband and states that she could never be happy living under false pretenses, then leaves to return to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Jim's co-worker, Ken Woodley, learns from Susan where Jim and Laurie have gone, and he tries to contact Bowers, who is still playing golf. Laurie arrives home in time to deflect Ken's suspicions, while in New Orleans, Jim wanders through the streets, contemplating a bleak future without his family. Early Monday morning, Jim calls Laurie to tell her that he is going to return home and try to replace the money before the bank opens. Jim arrives just in time, and collapses with relief after successfully returning the money. As he then takes his usual route home, Jim realizes how lucky he is and gratefully embraces Laurie.

Film Details

Also Known As
Panic Stricken
Genre
Comedy
Crime
Release Date
Nov 1952
Premiere Information
New York opening: 12 Nov 1952; Los Angeles opening: 18 Nov 1952
Production Company
Thor Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Los Angeles, California, United States; New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 25m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9 reels

Articles

The Steel Trap


A decade past their celebrated pairing in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright were reunited as leading man and lady for Andrew Stone's tense later noir The Steel Trap (1952). Though the pair had been cast persuasively by Hitchcock as uncle and niece (Wright was then a youthful 25 to Cotten's worldlier 38), the intervening years had allowed the actress to mature to the point at which the twelve-year difference between the stars was less jarring. Taking a tip from earlier studio noirs, which had filmed on the streets of Los Angeles as a way around wartime restrictions on set-building, Stone filmed much of The Steel Trap on location to add a level of verisimilitude to the tale of a staid assistant bank manager who breaks up the monotony of his day to day life by plotting the perfect crime. Though the film affords its stars a fresh pair of characters in which to live, The Steel Trap hews close to the Shadow of a Doubt playbook, with Cotten playing to perfection the part of the wrongdoer whose façade of normalcy crumbles in the face of unforeseeable events and Wright the faithful family member who comes to understand that there is something not quite right about her loved one.

Until Wright catches on late in the second act that their working vacation to Rio de Janeiro has been underwritten by embezzled funds, The Steel Trap belongs almost solely to Cotten, who spends much of the film performing in edgy pantomime as his voiceover relates the genesis of the perfect crime from its humble origins as "an amusing thought to dwell on while shaving or riding to work." The film could easily have been adapted from a radio play, so reliant is the narrative on spoken exposition (Cotten and Wright did in fact take the tale to the air for a September 1953 adaptation by Lux Radio Theatre); Cotten's ruminations on the relative ease with which he might get away with murder (figuratively speaking) suggest a kinship between The Steel Trap and Edgar Allan Poe's cold-blooded confessional The Tell-Tale Heart, though the first act of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) is recalled as well, reliant as it is too on ghostly voiceovers as a harbinger of conscience. No one was more urbane while breaking the law than Joseph Cotten but The Steel Trap works against the Virginia-born actor's native suavity in the service of an anti-crime tract that illustrates the death of his character's avarice by a thousand cuts of circumstance. Cotten's performance was an apt warmup for his next role, as Marilyn Monroe's psychotic husband in Niagara (1953).

Writer-director-producer Andrew Stone would bring a journalistic immediacy to many of the films he made after serving his journeyman years with Universal, Paramount, and United Artists. He was by this point crafting a run of crime films to his own taste, among them Highway 301 (1950), Confidence Girl (1952), A Blueprint for Murder (1953) - again, with Cotten - and The Night Holds Terror (1954). By his own estimate, Stone and cinematographer Ernest Lazlo (fresh from shooting the noir classic D.O.A.) shot 98% of The Steel Trap on location in Los Angeles and New Orleans. (Stone would achieve the apex of reality in 1960 with The Final Voyage, a proto-disaster film that made use of the real-life sinking of the French luxury liner SS Ile de France.) Walking a fine line between noir expressionism and the vogue for docu-drama, Stone fills his frame with faces that are less familiar than they might have been, though the eagle-eyed will recognize Walter Sande from Invaders from Mars (1953), Carlton Young from Reefer Madness (1936), and - more clearly heard than seen in a bit as a cleaning lady - Marjorie Bennett, who later played Victor Buono's blowsy mother in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).

By Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
Vanity Will Get You Somewhere by Joseph Cotten (iUniverse, 2000)
Teresa Wright obituary by Tom Vallance, The Independent, April 1, 2005
The Steel Trap

The Steel Trap

A decade past their celebrated pairing in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright were reunited as leading man and lady for Andrew Stone's tense later noir The Steel Trap (1952). Though the pair had been cast persuasively by Hitchcock as uncle and niece (Wright was then a youthful 25 to Cotten's worldlier 38), the intervening years had allowed the actress to mature to the point at which the twelve-year difference between the stars was less jarring. Taking a tip from earlier studio noirs, which had filmed on the streets of Los Angeles as a way around wartime restrictions on set-building, Stone filmed much of The Steel Trap on location to add a level of verisimilitude to the tale of a staid assistant bank manager who breaks up the monotony of his day to day life by plotting the perfect crime. Though the film affords its stars a fresh pair of characters in which to live, The Steel Trap hews close to the Shadow of a Doubt playbook, with Cotten playing to perfection the part of the wrongdoer whose façade of normalcy crumbles in the face of unforeseeable events and Wright the faithful family member who comes to understand that there is something not quite right about her loved one. Until Wright catches on late in the second act that their working vacation to Rio de Janeiro has been underwritten by embezzled funds, The Steel Trap belongs almost solely to Cotten, who spends much of the film performing in edgy pantomime as his voiceover relates the genesis of the perfect crime from its humble origins as "an amusing thought to dwell on while shaving or riding to work." The film could easily have been adapted from a radio play, so reliant is the narrative on spoken exposition (Cotten and Wright did in fact take the tale to the air for a September 1953 adaptation by Lux Radio Theatre); Cotten's ruminations on the relative ease with which he might get away with murder (figuratively speaking) suggest a kinship between The Steel Trap and Edgar Allan Poe's cold-blooded confessional The Tell-Tale Heart, though the first act of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) is recalled as well, reliant as it is too on ghostly voiceovers as a harbinger of conscience. No one was more urbane while breaking the law than Joseph Cotten but The Steel Trap works against the Virginia-born actor's native suavity in the service of an anti-crime tract that illustrates the death of his character's avarice by a thousand cuts of circumstance. Cotten's performance was an apt warmup for his next role, as Marilyn Monroe's psychotic husband in Niagara (1953). Writer-director-producer Andrew Stone would bring a journalistic immediacy to many of the films he made after serving his journeyman years with Universal, Paramount, and United Artists. He was by this point crafting a run of crime films to his own taste, among them Highway 301 (1950), Confidence Girl (1952), A Blueprint for Murder (1953) - again, with Cotten - and The Night Holds Terror (1954). By his own estimate, Stone and cinematographer Ernest Lazlo (fresh from shooting the noir classic D.O.A.) shot 98% of The Steel Trap on location in Los Angeles and New Orleans. (Stone would achieve the apex of reality in 1960 with The Final Voyage, a proto-disaster film that made use of the real-life sinking of the French luxury liner SS Ile de France.) Walking a fine line between noir expressionism and the vogue for docu-drama, Stone fills his frame with faces that are less familiar than they might have been, though the eagle-eyed will recognize Walter Sande from Invaders from Mars (1953), Carlton Young from Reefer Madness (1936), and - more clearly heard than seen in a bit as a cleaning lady - Marjorie Bennett, who later played Victor Buono's blowsy mother in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). By Richard Harland Smith Sources: Vanity Will Get You Somewhere by Joseph Cotten (iUniverse, 2000) Teresa Wright obituary by Tom Vallance, The Independent, April 1, 2005

Teresa Wright (1918-2005)


Teresa Wright, a talented, Oscar&-winning leading lady of the '40s, and in later life, a versatile character player, died on March 6 at a New Haven, Connecticut hospital of a heart attack. She was 86.

She was born Muriel Teresa Wright in New York City on October 27, 1918. She showed a keen interest in acting in grade school, and by the time she was 19, she made her Broadway debut in Thorton Wilder's Our Town (1938); the following year she scored a hit as Mary, the weeping ingénue in Life with Father (1939). The word was out that New York had a superb young acting talent on hand, and Samuel Goldwyn soon brought her to Hollywood for William Wyler's adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes (1941). She scored an Oscar® nomination for her film debut as Regina Giddens' (Bette Davis), honorable daughter, Alexandria.

She maintained her amazing momentum by scoring two Oscar® nominations the following year for her next two films: as Carol Miniver in Wyler's Mrs. Miniver (Best Supporting Actress Category), and as Lou Gehrig's (Gary Cooper) faithful wife Ellie in Pride of the Yankees (Best Actress Category), and won the Oscar for Miniver. Yet for most fans of Wright's work, her finest hour remains her perfectly modulated performance as young Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Wright's performance as the self-effacing, impressionable young niece who gradually realizes that her beloved uncle (Joseph Cotton) may have murdered several widows is effective since Wright's air of observation, subtly turns from idol gazing, to a watchful air of caution as the facts slowly being to unravel. 60 years on, fans of Hitchcock still acclaim Wright's performance as an integral part of the film's classic status.

She proved her talents in comedy with the delightful Casanova Brown (1944), but then saw her schedule slow down due to domesticity. After she married screenwriter Niven Busch in 1942, she gave birth to son, Niven Jr., in 1944, and took two years off to look after her family. She soon returned to film with another Wyler project, the Oscar®-winning, post war drama, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), playing Fredric March's level-headed daughter, Peggy, she again took some time off after giving birth to her daughter, Mary in 1947. On her second attempt to return to the big screen, Wright found her popularity on the wane. Her wholesome image was in sharp contrast of the tougher, more modern women in post-war Hollywood, and her stubborn refusal to pose for any swimsuit or cheesecake photos to alter her image led to her release from Sam Goldwyn's contract.

As a freelance actress, Wright still found some good roles, notably as a young widow in the thriller scripted by her husband, in The Capture; and as a faithful fiancée trying to help Marlin Brandon deal with his amputation in Stanley Kramer's The Men (both 1950). Yet within a few years, she was playing middle-aged mothers in film like The Actress (1953), and The Track of the Cat (1954), even though she was still in her early '30s. By the mid-50s she found work in live television, where she could apply her stage training, in a number of acclaimed shows: Playhouse 90, General Electric Theater, Four Star Playhouse, and The United States Steel Hour.

She took a break from acting when she married her second husband, the playwright Robert Anderson in 1959, (she had divorced her first husband, Busch, in 1952) and was out of the public eye for several decades, save for an isolated theater appearance. When she did return, it was intermittent, but she was always worth watching. In James Ivory's Roseland (1977), a portrait of the New York dancehall; she was poignant as a talkative widow obsessed with her late husband; and as an enigmatic old actress in Somewhere in Time, she nearly stole the picture from leads, Christopher Reeve and Jayne Seymour. She was still active in the '90s, appearing a few hit shows: Murder, She Wrote, Picket Fences; and a final film role in John Grisham's The Rainmaker (1997). She is survived by her son, Niven; daughter, Mary; and two grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Teresa Wright (1918-2005)

Teresa Wright, a talented, Oscar&-winning leading lady of the '40s, and in later life, a versatile character player, died on March 6 at a New Haven, Connecticut hospital of a heart attack. She was 86. She was born Muriel Teresa Wright in New York City on October 27, 1918. She showed a keen interest in acting in grade school, and by the time she was 19, she made her Broadway debut in Thorton Wilder's Our Town (1938); the following year she scored a hit as Mary, the weeping ingénue in Life with Father (1939). The word was out that New York had a superb young acting talent on hand, and Samuel Goldwyn soon brought her to Hollywood for William Wyler's adaptation of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes (1941). She scored an Oscar® nomination for her film debut as Regina Giddens' (Bette Davis), honorable daughter, Alexandria. She maintained her amazing momentum by scoring two Oscar® nominations the following year for her next two films: as Carol Miniver in Wyler's Mrs. Miniver (Best Supporting Actress Category), and as Lou Gehrig's (Gary Cooper) faithful wife Ellie in Pride of the Yankees (Best Actress Category), and won the Oscar for Miniver. Yet for most fans of Wright's work, her finest hour remains her perfectly modulated performance as young Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece, Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Wright's performance as the self-effacing, impressionable young niece who gradually realizes that her beloved uncle (Joseph Cotton) may have murdered several widows is effective since Wright's air of observation, subtly turns from idol gazing, to a watchful air of caution as the facts slowly being to unravel. 60 years on, fans of Hitchcock still acclaim Wright's performance as an integral part of the film's classic status. She proved her talents in comedy with the delightful Casanova Brown (1944), but then saw her schedule slow down due to domesticity. After she married screenwriter Niven Busch in 1942, she gave birth to son, Niven Jr., in 1944, and took two years off to look after her family. She soon returned to film with another Wyler project, the Oscar®-winning, post war drama, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), playing Fredric March's level-headed daughter, Peggy, she again took some time off after giving birth to her daughter, Mary in 1947. On her second attempt to return to the big screen, Wright found her popularity on the wane. Her wholesome image was in sharp contrast of the tougher, more modern women in post-war Hollywood, and her stubborn refusal to pose for any swimsuit or cheesecake photos to alter her image led to her release from Sam Goldwyn's contract. As a freelance actress, Wright still found some good roles, notably as a young widow in the thriller scripted by her husband, in The Capture; and as a faithful fiancée trying to help Marlin Brandon deal with his amputation in Stanley Kramer's The Men (both 1950). Yet within a few years, she was playing middle-aged mothers in film like The Actress (1953), and The Track of the Cat (1954), even though she was still in her early '30s. By the mid-50s she found work in live television, where she could apply her stage training, in a number of acclaimed shows: Playhouse 90, General Electric Theater, Four Star Playhouse, and The United States Steel Hour. She took a break from acting when she married her second husband, the playwright Robert Anderson in 1959, (she had divorced her first husband, Busch, in 1952) and was out of the public eye for several decades, save for an isolated theater appearance. When she did return, it was intermittent, but she was always worth watching. In James Ivory's Roseland (1977), a portrait of the New York dancehall; she was poignant as a talkative widow obsessed with her late husband; and as an enigmatic old actress in Somewhere in Time, she nearly stole the picture from leads, Christopher Reeve and Jayne Seymour. She was still active in the '90s, appearing a few hit shows: Murder, She Wrote, Picket Fences; and a final film role in John Grisham's The Rainmaker (1997). She is survived by her son, Niven; daughter, Mary; and two grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of this film was Panic Stricken. Although the Copyright Catalog lists the film's copyright date as October 31, 1953, it is likely that the actual copyright date was October 31, 1952 as the film's registration number fits within the range of other films copyrighted in October 1952. Hollywood Reporter news items and production charts include Pamela Duncan, Michael Ross, Norman Budd, Barbara Horgan and Elaine Riley in the cast, but their appearance in the released picture has not been confirmed. According to a November 1952 American Cinematographer article, "almost 98 percent of [the picture] was filmed away from the studio, in actual locales." Los Angeles locations included the interior of the International Airport, the Markham Building, the Alexandria Hotel and the downtown office of TWA. New Orleans locations included the famed Antoine's restaurant and the airport. The article states that the only studio set used was for the hotel sequence in which "Laurie" discovers that "Jim" is a thief. Hollywood Reporter news items add that Motion Picture Center, the headquarters for Bert E. Friedlob's Thor Productions, was used for the studio shooting.
       Although a July 1, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that the film's world premiere would be held at Antoine's in September or Oct, a October 17, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that the premiere would be held in Pittsburgh on 31 Oct. The exact date of the premiere and its location have not been determined. Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright reprised their roles for a Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story on September 14, 1953, and on March 22, 1956, Howard Duff and Margo Lee starred in the Lux Video Theatre's production of the story.