Monday, November 14, 2022

The Pitfall

Jay Dratler (1911-1968) was a graduate of University of North Carolina and an Academy Award winning screenwriter. He also wrote six novels, including The Pitfall from 1948 which was made into a movie starring Raymond Burr called Pitfall. The paperback has been reissued by Stark House as part of the publisher’s Film Noir Classic series. 

Our narrator is Jon Forbes, a screenwriter for 20th Century Fox with an attractive blonde, pregnant wife. One day Jon is asked to meet with his friend, a police detective named Mac. The cop has a weird request for Jon. He’s become fixated on a girl named Mona and wants Jon’s help to land the dame. Mac’s plan is to have Jon ask Mona out and make the introduction when they “accidentally” run into the cop on their date. 

Jon reluctantly agrees, asks Mona on a date and immediately falls in love with her. This is problematic because Jon is happily married, his cop friend wants Mona, and Mona’s husband is in prison for purse snatching. Jon and Mona must deal with the guilt of their forbidden love, and Jon’s life is complicated by his cop friend who also wants a piece of Mona. Then there’s Mona’s husband, who won’t be in jail forever. 

Dratler is an excellent writer who conveys romantic longing as well as anyone I’ve ever read. I’m sure the impact of a love story complicated by infidelity was more impactful in 1948, but the moral dilemma remains great today. 

Jon is trapped in his own head playing chicken with the rules of marital fidelity. Once that line is crossed, the impossibility of the situation slaps him in the face with reality check after reality check until it culminates in violence. The paperback isn’t a crime novel or an action story, but can be seen as a cautionary tale about the real-world consequences of infidelity. 

The Pitfall reminded me of a more-literary version of an Orrie Hitt book where extramarital lust opens the door to criminal violence. You’ll see the twist ending coming from a mile away, but it was still a very compelling read if you’re looking for a morality melodrama for men. Recommended.

Buy the book HERE

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