Run time: 88 min | Drama, Film-Noir, Thriller
Director: Max Ophüls
Writers: Arthur Laurents, Libbie Block
Stars: James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Ryan
When a young girl marries a neurotic millionaire and subsequently seeks independence from a bad marriage, he doesn’t take it easily. Top notch acting and direction make this film a keeper.
Toronto Film Society is back in the theatre! However, we’re still pleased to continue to bring you films straight to your home! Beginning Season 73 until now we have...
Of the many European emigres who helped shape American cinema, especially film noir, Max Ophuls brought one of the subtlest, most elusive sensibilities. Caught reflects this elusiveness: Part melodrama, part romance, part film noir, it’s an unsettling film that burrows into complacent assumptions about freedom and success.
Department-store model Barbara Bel Geddes buys the notion that snagging a rich husband is the key to happiness. Once wed to disgustingly wealthy tycoon Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan), however, she finds herself a bird in a gilded cage whose owner is increasingly jealous, abusive and frightening. (The rumors are that Ohlrig was modelled on Howard Hughes, much as Charles Foster Kane was on William Randolph Hearst.) Finally she leaves him to work in the office of a poor pediatrician (James Mason), with whom she falls in love. But she and Ryan keep drifting back together, in a love-hate relationship that grows ever more doomed and desperate (there’s a virtuoso scene in Mason’s offices, at night, centering on her ominously empty desk)….
This is certainly Bel Geddes’ most complex and fleshed-out screen performance, but the script suggests dimensions that she only hints at; though the part wouldn’t work with a tigress like that other Barbara, Stanwyck, taking on Ryan in an equal grudge-match, an actress with a mite more edge might have shown how the caged wife came to draw courage and defiance precisely from her position as a powerful man’s wife. (Bel Geddes is just too wholesome and likeable to bring off this ambiguity.) And the heavy paw of the studio descends as Caught comes to a close: The conclusion is too quick, loose ends flap in the breeze, and satisfaction remains incomplete. Ryan’s dynamo performance — he could really make the flesh crawl — and Ophul’s elegant direction compensate for a half-baked denouement imposed by a craven studio, lest anybody take personal or political offense.
This is a curiously interesting movie for three reasons: first, it has a chilling performance from Robert Ryan as Smith Ohlrig (what an odd name) whose persona in this narrative is apparently based on the very eccentric and fabulously wealthy recluse, Howard Hughes; second, it has James Mason with still a very British accent as poor doctor Larry Quinada, on the East Side of New York, tending to the poor of that area; and third, there is the radiant Barbara Bel Geddes as Leonora Eames, caught between the two men, trying to decide who to choose…
So, it's a rags to riches to rags story about Leonora who, after a brief — rocket-like, you might say courtship with Smith, decides to accept his marriage offer for a life of luxury but after the honeymoon, she finds that, well, the honeymoon is over: she may as well be a wall-flower for all the interest that Smith shows towards her. Why is that? You see, Smith, being the mighty merchandising mogul he is, is a very acquisitive person and whatever he sees that he wants, he gets. Once he's got it, however, he tends to lose interest… Leonora thinks she loves him, but what she really loves is money and wealth.
Tiring of her eventually, Smith allows her to leave when her boredom reaches volcanic proportions: she's just too much trouble to be troubled with. So, searching for something useful to do, she takes a job as a receptionist in Doctor Quinada's office and, of course, she and he eventually fall in love. All the while, of course, Smith has his agents watch Leonora 24/7, without her knowledge.
Eventually, the pot boils, the three confront each other at Smith's incredibly, disgustingly rich mansion where Smith succumbs to his own psychopathology (that's as much as I'll tell you — when you see it, you'll know what I mean), leaving Leonora sadder but wiser free to take up the socially good life with the good doctor. As the world turns, all is well with the world, sort of…
The messages about the state of that world are strong, indeed almost totally lacking in any subtlety, with lines such as "He was a human being…", "nobody's poor by choice…", "money alone isn't security" and others, all of which starkly inform the viewer that the price of excessive wealth and social nihilism combined is so close to madness it's not worth chasing; far better, instead, to reject such excesses and concentrate on being a valuable member of society.
Mason and Bel Geddes are good support for Ryan who really carries this movie as the menacing, quasi-sociopath. But, I also enjoyed the very smooth performance of Curt Bois as Franzi, the sycophantic sidekick to Smith: Franzi's always too ready to please and calls everybody 'darling', even when he's treated like dirt by almost everybody a slimy metaphor for the depths to which some go in order to survive in the world of untrammeled excess. But even Franzi has his limits, as you will find out.
Some great camera work and all in lovely black and white makes this movie a worthwhile addition to the film-noir genre. Watch particularly for the dark scenes in Smith's mansion and, later, the swiveling camera work when Doctors Quinada and Hoffman discuss Leonora's absence from their office. You just don't get shooting like that anymore…
Highly recommended for all you film-noir fans.
Too often "Caught" is overlooked regards film buffs in general, and noir fans specifically. The director Max Ophuls is at his best, with terrific pacing and subtlety throughout. This is far and away, Barbara Bel Geddes best film, though she has stiff competition from James Mason and Robert Ryan. In typical noir fashion, "Caught" drags the American Dream through the tar, showing the American capitalist (and other diverse values) to be not-so-darned nice. In view of what was already happening, and coming down the line (McCarthyism), "Caught" was a brave movie. Special praise should be given the brilliant German actor, Curt Bois in this movie (as "Franzi"). He’s absolutely perfect, as he was in so many roles. The ending is, to me, clearly a studio patchwork, but such is to be expected. Still, this movie is a "no-miss".
This powerful film by Max Ophuls (who was billed for this and other American films as Max Opuls, strangely enough), is all about Howard Hughes, though not by name of course. The tall, looming and psychopathic presence of a gloom-ridden Robert Ryan dominates this film. He is the multi-millionaire control freak who either has to own and control everyone or if he cannot, then he must destroy them. Ryan is totally convincing as this appalling character, but then everyone in Hollywood knew all about Howard Hughes, knew just what he was like, and gleefully knew how to portray him as devastatingly as possible. (Was there anyone who did not hate Hughes, one wonders. Here you can see why.) Into the psychotic web of the Hughes character (called here Smith Ohlrig) comes an innocent young girl with one weakness: she wants to marry somebody rich. From here on, Ophuls savagely attacks that aspect of 'the American Dream' which focuses on money. Barbara Bel Geddes, two years after her spectacular debut in 'The Long Night' (1947), here delivers another overwhelming performance as a sweet-faced and sweet-voiced innocent. And we all know what happens to them, don't we? They become victims. Here, her victimhood reaches unheard-of extremes of psychological torture and cruelty from her maniac husband. In desperation, she flees the marital mansion without a penny and finds a low-paid job as a receptionist for two doctors on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, using her maiden name. One of them is stalwart Frank Ferguson, always present in any good Hollywood movie as a support. The other is James Mason, thoroughly convincing (with the exception of his English accent) as the selfless and good healer of the sick. Mason falls in love with Barbara, not knowing she is married or who she is. The expected complications ensue, and you can imagine Robert Ryan's reaction to all of this. Things get very intense indeed in this noirish melodrama. It is very gripping stuff, well made by the brilliant Ophuls, and gets under your skin. One reason for that is it is not just a story, it is an attack on that monstrous product of materialistic obsession and passion for domination, the 'ruthless business magnate'. Having known many ruthless business magnates, I find them just as disturbing as the one shown here, even though Ohlrig is an exaggerated version. But the basics are the same. Ophuls has endeavoured to make this not so much a 'morality tale' as a 'morality attack', and he succeeds totally. The Ryan character may be exaggerated for effect, but he is in no way a caricature. They really are out there, and if you have never met one, lucky you.