|Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
Run time: 82 min
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Writers: Robert Thoeren, Martha Albrand
Stars: Alan Ladd, Wanda Hendrix, Francis Lederer
Webb Carey returns to Orta, near Milan, to find out who betrayed his World War II O.S.S. team and caused the death of several villagers. His old love Julie, whom he thought dead at the hands of the Nazis, is alive and married to the Barone. Written by Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Release Date: 21 February 1950 (USA)
Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
A vastly underrated movie. Not that this is "Casablanca" although there are traces of the same idea, if deliberately backward. A romance is derailed by war, a solitary American exudes indifference, foreign intrigues brew, and the Nazis roam at night causing trouble.
The setting is Italy, at first during the war, and then three years later. The man, Alan Ladd (at his best, I think), is an OSS officer and when he returns, as a civilian, you know he has an agenda and a dangerous background. And a girl he once loved who is dead.
Or so it goes. The plot is reasonable and actually fascinating. It doesn't unfold with elegance, exactly (you can see a lot of the gist coming), but it is all told beautifully and quickly. The photography is really first rate, notable on its own terms once you look, all by John F. Seitz, one of the era's greats. Between him and Ladd, and some really wonderful sets and convincing back projections, the whole experience is a thrill to inhabit, to feel. And things do happen, with caricatures that make enough sense to work–the blind musician, the rich and mysterious husband, the doctor with suspicious knowledge of everything (he calls Ladd "baby" in a nice American colloquialism).
What the movie lacks most of all is a title. I can't believe it hasn't at least been released again with something better, something that hints at the Italian post-war angst that is the meat of the movie. Because this is what makes the murderous intrigues more than just cinematic fillips. In fact, this is another parallel to "Casablanca" (that was no joke above): the movie has a hidden purpose, to help the American public reconcile with the most conspicuous of German Allies, the Italians. It is layered, interesting, and dramatic. It lurches every now and then, and I suppose Ladd, as good as he is, is no Bogart, and certainly his love interest, played by Wanda Hendrix, is no Ingrid Bergman (Hendrix is a weak link all through, actually, more girl next door than the movie needs).
Give this a whirl, and expect something quite a bit more than others, and the title, have suggested.
Most Likely if the song Mona Lisa had not been introduced in Captain Carey, USA, the film would have been listed as another of Alan Ladd's routine action/adventure films with a noir twist. However with Nat King Cole's mega-hit blaring from every other radio station and jukebox of the day the film's immortality is guaranteed.
This film's is Ladd's second excursion in the OSS as he played the lead role in an earlier film OSS. He is an OSS operative in northern Italy operating in the basement of a castle with the connivance of the daughter of the countess who owns the place. Ladd and the daughter Wanda Hendrix get a little wartime romance going between acts of sabotage. However someone betrays them and Ladd is wounded and was not summarily executed by the Nazis because in fact he is in uniform and strictly speaking not a spy. The same could not be said for 27 villagers who were killed for partisan activity. Ladd is freed by the allied advance and spends months recuperating.
Flash forward five years and he sees a painting that was stored in that basement hideout in an art gallery in New York. That renews his interest in finding out who sold him out. Back in the scene of his wartime exploits he finds Hendrix quite alive, not like he thought and married to Francis Lederer and still living at home with the regal and imperious lady of the manor, Celia Lovsky. Trying to ferret out information Ladd isn't exactly welcomed back by the townspeople as they remember those people shot in reprisal, but of course he stays the course and gets to the truth.
Not exactly an original plot and if you can't figure out who the betrayer is 20 minutes into the film you aren't a film buff. The film was directed by Mitchell Leisen who wasn't exactly at his best in the action/adventure tinged with noir adventure. But Leisen was a set designer before being a director and he does do a nice job in recreating Northern Italy without the benefit of on site location shooting.
And of course there is the song Mona Lisa which is sung in Italian as the 'cool it the Nazis are around' signal for Ladd. It got an Academy Award for Best Song in 1950 the first ever given to a non-musical film. Besides Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby sang it a lot on his radio program because it was a Paramount film and Bing always tried to use his studio's material when he could. Later on he did a tribute album for Decca records of his contemporary singing rivals and Mona Lisa was on that album for Nat King Cole.
Ladd and Wanda Hendrix didn't set the world on fire as a screen team. I have a feeling Ladd didn't want to get too close to her. At the time Wanda was married to Audie Murphy and in Tony Curtis's memoirs he relates that Murphy was a very jealous man with a hair trigger temper and lots of weaponry around. Which is why he went out of his way to be circumspect when they worked together. In fact only once in Ladd's whole career were there affair rumors about him and a leading lady and no it wasn't Veronica Lake.
Captain Carey, USA is your basic routine action/adventure film that just happened to have an Oscar winning song in it.
This is not one of Alan Ladd's best films, though it is enjoyable and worth seeing. What makes it more so is the nice Italian locale as well as the music (which, incidentally, won the Oscar).
"Captain Carey, USA" begins with a flashback to WWII. Ladd is an OSS agent sent behind enemy lines to gather information in fascist Italy. He and his friends are captured by the Nazis and apparently he's the only survivor–though he was injured and spent years in the rehabilitation. Someone must have betrayed them and when he sees a painting in a gallery that came from the home from which he was hiding during the war, he decides to return. His arrival is a surprise–partly because the people in this small town were so nasty and unwelcoming and mostly because his old girlfriend (who he thought dead) was alive and married! Ladd wants to return home as a result of all this, but a series of murders that seem linked to the betrayal convince him to stay and find out who is responsible.
The film has a few nice twists here and there and Ladd is his usual macho self. And, like most of Ladd's other films, it is filled with the shortest actors Paramount could muster–due to Ladd's diminutive size they needed to make this less apparent by pairing him with small actors! Enjoyable but far from his best.
Captain Carey,US Army (check the title) comes back to Italy to unmask an informer who gave his group away to the Germans .He thought that the Italian girl who helped him then was dead but she reappears ,à la "Laura" and she might be the one who….unless it's his husband (which is really too bad for he was in love with her of course)or some vile wop.
Ther's a good depiction of the Italian village and their hostility to the Yankee whose activities were cause for reprisals among the population.A woman is waiting for her husband 's name to be cleared ,for his young son (played by Rusty (Russ) Tamblyn oddly cast as an Italian kid) can't accept the fact that his dad was a traitor anymore.
Mitchell Leisen was in healthier shape in the precedent decade ,and "Captain Carey,US " does not compare favorably with earlier works such as "Hold back the dawn" or "to each his own" .However ,it is not as bad as the precedent user wrote .Average.
Mitchell Leisen made a volte face after this ho hum effort and gave a very good thriller "No man of her own" the best version of the William Irish novel.
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