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The Steel Trap

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The Steel Trap
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndrew L. Stone
Screenplay byAndrew L. Stone
Produced byBert E. Friedlob
StarringJoseph Cotten
Teresa Wright
CinematographyErnest Laszlo
Edited byOtto Ludwig
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
Thor Productions
Distributed by20th Century-Fox
Release date
  • November 12, 1952 (1952-11-12) (New York City)
  • November 18, 1952 (1952-11-18) (Los Angeles)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1 million (US rentals)[1]

The Steel Trap is a 1952 American film noir written and directed by Andrew L. Stone and starring Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright.[2]


With a million dollars cash in the vault, Jim Osborne (Joseph Cotten), a long term bank employee who has advanced to assistant bank manager in Los Angeles, is tempted to steal from his own bank and flee the country. Doing research at the library, he learns that Brazil has no extradition treaty with the United States. If he steals the money at close of business on a Friday, he will have time to travel to Brazil before the theft is discovered on Monday's opening. But the season when the bank opens on Saturdays is about to begin, so he must take action the same week or else wait for months.

He tells his wife Laurie (Teresa Wright) that the bank is sending him to Rio de Janeiro on business and he wants her and their daughter to travel with him. It is a great opportunity for his career, he says, and he has been given it in preference over the person who would normally be sent, so he cautions her not to talk to anyone about it. Laurie is delighted with the news, but insists their daughter stay at home with Laurie's mother. Jim decides he can send for her after Laurie knows they are staying in Rio.

With his inside knowledge and trusted position, the theft from the bank vault is simple enough, though time-sensitive and stressful; but the travel logistics are difficult. Because of the late timing the direct flights are full, and passports and visas are needed on a rush basis. The Osbornes face a series of issues and delays and ultimately miss a connection at New Orleans. At this point an airline employee, made suspicious by Jim's urgent manner and very heavy baggage, tips off a customs officer. Customs checks his baggage on the possibility he is illegally exporting gold, and the $1 million in cash is discovered.

Unreported large cash transactions are not illegal in 1952, but the customs man knows it is not normal for a bank to send only a single employee with so much cash on commercial travel. Though he suspects some wrongdoing, he cannot reach Jim's boss by telephone before the Osbornes' flight is called, and as there is no customs violation and Osborne threatens to sue him personally for his business losses, the officer lets them go. However, they are on standby and the flight is full and leaves without them. They will not be able to reach Rio on Sunday. Now fearing arrest, Jim checks into a hotel using a false name. Laurie hears the desk clerk call Jim by this other name and finally realizes the truth; she confronts him. When he admits what he has done, she wants no part in it; she leaves the hotel and flies back home to Los Angeles.

Within hours Jim realizes that his wife and daughter are far more important to him than his dreams of wealth. Laurie was too upset to tell anyone why she had suddenly returned. Jim calls her with a plan to return the money before the bank opens and as he has used their money for the travel expenses the bank's money is intact. Jim flies back and just manages to replace the money in the vault before the bank opens. He is so emotionally drained that his fellow employees send him home sick where he reunites with his wife Laurie.



This was the second time that Cotten and Wright starred in a film together, following Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943), in which she played his niece. Cotten was cast after visiting an osteopath and running into producer Bert Frielob, who sent him the script. Cotten agreed to make it.[3]

The film was also known as Panic Stricken.[4]

It was shot in two weeks, in the studio and in New Orleans, in April 1952.[3][5]

Cotten also starred in A Blueprint for Murder (1953), with Jean Peters and Gary Merrill, a thriller noir also directed by Andrew L. Stone.


When the film was released, The New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther offered qualified praise, writing, "The Steel Trap, which came to Loew's State yesterday, is a straight exercise in the build-up of cold, agonizing suspense ... As a purely contrived generation of runaway anxiety, this little melodrama amounts to a skillful and no-lost-motion job—so long as the innocent observer doesn't stop to think and check up. ... Indeed, it's an entertaining picture—the entertainment, however, being of the sort enjoyed by the man who hit himself on the head with a hammer because it felt so good when he stopped."[6]

Variety magazine wrote of the film, "Andrew Stone’s direction of his own story emphasizes suspense that is leavened with welcome chuckles of relief in telling the improbable but entertaining events."[7]


  1. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  2. ^ The Steel Trap at the TCM Movie Database.
  3. ^ a b SCANNING COTTEN'S TERRITORY By HOWARD THOMPSON. New York Times 23 Nov 1952: X4.
  4. ^ ' SINGING FOOL' SET FOR DANNY THOMAS: Comedian, Now in Technicolor 'Jazz Singer,' Is Following In Footsteps of Jolson By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times 7 Aug 1952: 13
  5. ^ Pine-Thomas Will Film Story of Head Hunters; TV Beauty in Thriller Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (26 Apr 1952: 9.
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, November 13, 1952. Accessed: July 15, 2013.
  7. ^ Variety, film review, 1952. Accessed: July 15, 2013.
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