Caught (1949) Max Ophüls
Olive Films DVD (library)
Barbara Bel Geddes (left) plays a model/car hop named Leonora, a young woman who’s more interested in the good life than anything else. She ends up marrying a millionaire named Smith Ohlrig (Think about that name for a minute), played by film noir stalwart Robert Ryan (right). After awhile, she grows tired of “the good life” and finds a job as a receptionist for a doctor (James Mason in his first Hollywood film) working in a poor neighborhood. Leonora begins to fall for the doctor, but there’s a complication…
Is Caught a social commentary or a case of director Max Ophüls’s representational loathing of millionaire Howard Hughes? It really doesn’t matter because the film is both impressive (mostly visually) and tiresome (mostly thematically). Visually, Ophüls gives us a beautiful contrast of both sides of the coin, the lives of the wealthy and the lives of the impoverished. As simple as that comparison may be, simplicity can often be powerful, plus the director gives us many brilliant visual moments. (I especially appreciated the staging and composition of nearly every scene. I think I’d rewatch the film on that basis alone.) For the most part, Arthur Laurents’s script rises above the level of soap opera, but we’re certainly in the realm of some heavy melodrama.
The performances are all good and while Ryan plays his character well (as he always does), it can get predictable and wearisome. The more you think about it, you realize what a good performance we get from Bel Geddes playing a selfish, vapid young woman who learns some lessons the hard way. It’s a role that could’ve easily been overplayed.
There’s also a wonderful little joke running through the film: Smith is constantly playing a pinball machine, which I knew had to have some significance, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it, not until I started doing a little research on the film. Leonora’s job early in the film figures into this. When you get it, let me know. It’s pretty clever.
I’ve given you just the basics here, but for a more thorough (and excellent) review, I urge you to read Kristina’s thoughts on the film over at Speakeasy.
Photos: Where Danger Lives, Toronto Film Society, World Cinema, Speakeasy