Beginning with a mini-documentary about the treasury department & counterfeiting, Trapped (1949) turns into an effective if sometimes stilted crime tale starring Lloyd Bridges as Tris Stewart, a counterfeit engraver serving time.
The best plates he ever made were never recovered. After three years those twenties are back in production, to Stewart's annoyance since he was counting on those plates for his own future fortune after he'd served his time.
The treasury department tries to get Stewart to turn state's witness, but he's having no part of it.
During transport between prisons, he escapes, or pretends to escape, by arrangement with the Feds. But he's only playing along for the sake of his own freedom.
After a fistfight he slips away from his handler & sets out on his own, believing he really has shaken the treasury feds.
His first stop is a club with a cigarette gal (Barbara Payton) who was once his girlfriend.
The film has a classic film noir shadowiness, but for the most part lacks a proper cynicism. The Feds are such relentless good guys they have no depth.
Trapped in no way wishes to muddle good guys vs bad guys, good government men vs bad mobsters.
Without grey areas of character, it doesn't feel like it's completely within the film noir form. The climax, however, is sufficiently grim & superbly filmed with striking light & shadow, so that I'll after all grant it full film noir status.
A treasury agent (John Hoyt) posing as a gangster pretty easily fools the bad guys, since feds are geniuses & gangsters are morons.
Even with the script's black hat/white hat mentality, the gangsters are interesting characters, & our point of view character remains for the most part Stewart the counterfeiter, not Johnny the undercover agent.
The nature of Lloyd Bridges acting persona -- a regular joe's good looks, soft spoken, intelligent demeanor -- makes him an unlikely candidate for bad-guy. Even his unusual character name Tris, suggestive of the good knight Tristan, argues against him being a stinker.
Yet the expectation that he can't possibly be 100% criminal-minded makes it more interesting that in fact he is thoroughly unrepentant.
Though not first-rate, Trapped is a more than reasonable second-string example of poverty row crime thrillers. The last twenty minutes actually get pretty intense as the federal agent risks detection under increasingly dangerous circumstances, culminating in a sprung trap followed by a suprisingly cruel shoot-out & night-time foot-chase amidst parked trollies.
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