The Money Trap (Warner Archive) Review
Glenn Ford was an intriguing leading man. He was someone who only rarely deviated from his standard good guy performance but nonetheless seemed to often play men of questionable morals or ethics. The hero ingredient was thus implied rather than earned on many occasions. In The Big Heat, he's violent and vengeful. Human Desire has Ford play a man involved with another's wife and never too far from murder. He's downright menacing in 3:10 to Yuma and the victim of a classic femme fatale in Framed. A 1965 picture directed by Burt Kennedy called The Money Trap gave Ford a hard stone of a character to play in homicide detective Joe Baron. It's a good Ford role. He's tough, stoic, but also rather frustrated and not above succumbing to the lure of stealing a lot of dirty cash.
The plot finds Ford's cop and partner Ricardo Montalban investigating a death and potential burglary at the home of Dr. Horace Van Tilden (Joseph Cotten). Something doesn't seem right since the dead man went straight for a safe in the doctor's bedroom which Van Tilden claims he didn't use and should have been empty. Joe finds out that the safe had a couple of bags in it, containing roughly half a million dollars. He considers himself to be a good cop, a label shared by his partner, but the complication is that Joe's young wife (Elke Sommer) is having her inherited funds dry up at the moment and the luxurious home where they're living is difficult to maintain on a policeman's salary. Joe doesn't want to lose his pretty blonde plaything so he begins to gather information, including from a former girlfriend (Rita Hayworth) who was married to the dead intruder. Montalban's Pete Delanos is so frustrated with his meager paycheck that he too is looking for something quick to supplement his income. Pete follows Joe and suddenly it's a two-man operation, with Pete functioning as the encouraging devil on Joe's shoulder.
In addition to how coldly Ford plays his role, there's a good deal to like about The Money Trap. It doesn't necessarily feel like a 1965 film, instead resembling something from at least half a decade earlier and containing ideas of desperation and criminal urges that put it right at home in the realm of noir. In fact, the picture is like a noir made at the wrong time since it's still in heavily shadowed black and white, but far past the acknowledged end of the style. That it was filmed in Scope only adds to the strange and twisted anachronism of it all. Having a reunion of Ford and Hayworth, who's excellent in a part completely lacking in glamor, is just a further wrinkle in that regard. External factors prevent a pure classification of The Money Trap as film noir but most of the elements are there, and it does contain many of the same joys associated with that dark period in Hollywood.
Above all else, Ford gives excellent noir antihero in this film. He's so persuasive as to provide a conundrum of sorts for the viewer by picture's end. It's clear that he's done some unsavory things but sympathy is still generally there with him. Certainly his wellbeing is of more concern than the characters played by Montalban and Cotten. If only one man can emerge on his feet, it's easily Ford who we're behind. Likewise, the idea that Ford's character would end up either dead or behind bars is not a particularly satisfying one. In this sense, the film paints itself into a corner by having such a sympathetic protagonist act well beyond the letter of the law (while supposedly being a protector of it). Nonetheless, the wrap-up proves to be about as good as it possibly could be. It favors justice without slamming the door in the viewer's face.
The Money Trap
was, I believe, one of the initial titles included in the Warner Archive launch, back in March of 2009. All of those first releases were interlaced and my copy, which I purchased only in the past few months, is still not a progressive transfer and shows combing.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image on the DVD-R does look very good, however. It's clean and reasonably sharp. Black levels are nice and deep and inky. Nothing in the way of major or noticeable digital imperfections here.
Audio contains a not entirely enjoyable jazz score. The English mono track has no obvious technical flaws. My main complaint with the score itself is that it feels kind of cheap and imitative. The audio is otherwise strong, emitting clear sounds and dialogue without the intrusion of things such as popping or hiss. There are no subtitles.
A trailer (2:33), in letterboxed 1.33:1, has been included.