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Saturday, December 15, 2012

MAN TRAP (1961)

A decent set up for a tight film noir goes nowhere in this story of a Korean War vet (Jeffrey Hunter) who’s dragged into a robbery-gone-wrong by the Marine Corp bud he rescued back in the day (David Janssen). But it’s lovely Stella Stevens, as Jeff’s dipsomaniac wife (and the daughter of his sleazy business partner), who gets the worst of it. She’s all over the place as a castrating shrew who digs her claws (literally) into Hunter’s weak-kneed co-dependent spouse. Trapped between Stevens high-wattage emoting and Janssen’s signature clenched-teeth mumbling, Hunter’s clean-cut personality all but makes him invisible when he should look tortured.* In theory, this doesn’t sound all that bad, but character actor Edmund O’Brien, in a rare gig directing, hasn’t a clue what to do . . . or even how to do it. Action sequences go limp (the staging for the film’s centerpiece airport robbery is particularly inept), the actors either give too much or too little (look for Bob Crane, of HOGAN’S HEROES infamy, laughing it up at the BBQ grill), and the flatly lit interiors all look like screen tests shot in model homes.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Hunter had much the same problem playing Jesus in Nick Ray’s huge production of KING OF KINGS/’61 the very same year.

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