Jim Osborne (Joseph Cotten, Citizen Kane) is an all-American, suit-and-tie family man who commutes to work, where he’s the assistant manager of a bank. To get into the vault, he and his fellow execs take turns entering safe codes as a safety measure … but he’s smart enough to memorize the others’ numbers.
That’s because he has plans to rob the place of $1 million. After researching extradition treaties —they involve “too much red tape,” he’s told — he has his sights set on early retirement in Brazil. This being the early ’50s, of course he wants to take his family with him. Framing it to the Mrs. (Teresa Wright, reunited with Cotten from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Shadow of a Doubt) as a “very important” conference in Rio, his plot is in place.
The theft is easy; what makes The Steel Trap intriguing and suspenseful is Jim’s problematic travel arrangements — the inconvenience of getting a passport on short notice, annoying employees, flight delays, waiting lists … it all reminds me how much I hate to travel. That amplifies when, with 15 minutes left to go before the end, he tells all, and his wife implores him to put the cash back before the bank notices.
Cotten, who looks really guilty from the start, is a pleasure to watch, berating everybody in his presence and coming off like a misogynistic pig:
• to his boss: “Oh, you know women: They get upset over the least little thing!”
• to his wife: “Please, lay off, will ya?”
• to the flight attendants: “Can you please shut up and close that door?”
So why, then, do we care? Because his other half is clearly his better half: the sweet-as-pie, virginal Wright, playing not only his spouse, but America’s voice of reason … even if she looks far too young and petite to be the former. In Shadow, after all, Cotten portrayed her uncle. For all of 80 minutes, however, I was willing to suspend the ick in order to enjoy the crime time. —Rod Lott