Connect with us

Video

Review: Richard Fleischer’s Trapped on Flicker Alley Blu-ray

This transfer of Fleischer’s B-film cheapie boasts a crisp image and strong contrast levels.

4

Trapped

Before going on to direct such disparate genre fare as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green, and Tora, Tora, Tora, Richard Fleischer cut his teeth directing B noirs at RKO Pictures, culminating in the 1952 classic The Narrow Margin. With 1949’s Trapped, Fleischer was loaned out as a hired gun for the Poverty Row studio Eagle-Lion Films—known primarily for producing the first four collaborations between Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton—where he was left to work his magic on an even more miniscule budget and a shooting schedule so tight, it could turn coal into a diamond.

Lacking any semblance of polished studio sheen, Trapped spins a gritty, no-nonsense yarn about a ruthless counterfeiter, Tris Stewart (Lloyd Bridges), who’s sprung from jail by the Treasury Department and tasked with hunting down his old counterfeiting plates, which are being used, after a three-year hiatus, to print fresh batches of dough. Despite working within the extreme budgetary limitations of the bargain-basement B film, Fleischer flashes some surprisingly adroit camerawork throughout, as well as an acute sense of composition that’s most prominent in the thrilling climactic sequence set in an empty trolley car station.

The characters also accrue a surprising complexity throughout, as high tensions arise from the conflicts between their aspirations and realities. Not only does Tris play both sides of the law once he’s back on the streets, but his girlfriend, Meg (Barbara Payton), is stuck working as a cigarette girl under the alias of Laurie Fredericks as she hides out from the cops. Even the seedy guy, John Downey (John Hoyt), who’s been keeping Laurie company at the club while Tris is behind bars has been working a long con as one of the numerous T-Men on hand to ensure Tris leads the way to the elusive and invaluable plates. Struggling with the challenges of balancing these dual identities, these characters’ frequently dicey attempts to play both sides of the law effectively blur the thin line between good and evil.

Trapped borrows liberally from earlier Poverty Row successes and relies on an intermittent docudrama aesthetic to lend an immediacy and authenticity to its drama. Despite being obviously indebted to T-Men, Trapped sets itself apart from Anthony Mann’s film with a series of elaborately conceived double-crossings and a brutally violent streak that Bridges, already warming up for his equally maniacal performance in Cy Endfield’s The Sound of Fury the following year, carries through the film’s first hour until his abrupt and unceremonious exit.

Tris’s quick temper and savage thirst for trouble enlivens nearly every scene he’s in. And each of the fights he’s involved in—three with T-Men and one with a former partner he roughs up just for the hell of it—play out with an exhilarating rawness as men awkwardly flail about, their every punch and kick carrying conveying a manic sense of desperation. Although the narrative’s seams begin to reveal themselves toward the end (with such details as Tris’s absence from the film’s final 15 minutes seeming less intentional than a byproduct of a script rushed into production), Fleischer and Bridges’s work gives Trapped a terse vitality that propels it through its duller, less inspired passages.

Image/Sound

Soon after its release, Trapped was, like most Poverty Row films, thoughtlessly condemned to the murky waters of the public domain, where it could only be seen in extremely poor quality. Following the recent discovery of a 35mm acetate print of Richard Fleischer’s film, the Film Noir Foundation and the UCLA Film & Television Archive went to work on producing the beautiful restoration available here. Flicker Alley’s transfer boasts a crisp image and strong contrast levels, effectively restoring the rich details of the film’s location shooting. Slight signs of dirt and debris still remain, but these minor imperfections do little to hamper just how good the image looks here. The audio is quite impressive as well, with a nicely balanced mix, clean dialogue, and a complete absence of hisses and pops.

Extras

Per usual with their Blu-ray releases of new restorations, Flicker Alley has included an informative and engaging commentary track, this time with author Alan K. Rode and film historian Julie Kirgo. The two have a charming repartee, and their affection for Trapped and many of the oft-forgotten noir cheapies churned out on Poverty Row comes through loud and clear. Along with providing ample historical background about Eagle-Lion Films, particularly head producer Bryan Foy’s legendary cutthroat cheapness and efficiency, Rode and Kirgo ably traverse Bridges and Fleischer’s careers, as well as the tragic life of actress Barbara Payton. The package also includes two featurettes—one which touches upon the film’s Los Angeles location shooting and Fleischer’s lean, economical style, and another that explores Fleischer’s rise from B-film obscurity to a dependable major studio director—as well as a 24-page booklet with storyboards and artwork from the film and brief bios of its major cast and crew.

Overall

Flicker Alley’s fantastic Blu-ray release gives Richard Fleischer’s B-film cheapie the tender, loving care typically afforded only to major studio fare or canonical classics.

Cast: Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt, James Todd, Russ Conway, Robert Karnes, Robert Carson Director: Richard Fleischer Screenwriter: Earl Felton, George Zuckerman Distributor: Flicker Alley Running Time: 78 min Rating: NR Year: 1949 Release Date: December 31, 2019 Buy: Video

“Tell the truth but tell it slant”
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
Sign up to receive Slant’s latest reviews, interviews, lists, and more, delivered once a week into your inbox.
Invalid email address

Trending