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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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
.......I might overrate this film because of her. However, there are at
least eight reviewers here who are more impartial in this matter and
you can read how highly they thought of this film.
Perhaps that is because:
1 - There are three classy actors in lead roles: Bel Geddes, James Mason and the always-evil (it seems) Robert Ryan; 2 - some really nice film-noir cinematography with a lot of dark atmospheric scenes but faces lit up so can see them clearly; 3 - a feeling of impending violence and tension in the scenes involving Ryan which keep you on the edge of your seat wondering what may happen; 4 - Mason's contrasting and soft personality, and 5 - Bel Geddes' soft voice and winsome character which makes the viewer (not just me) care about her.
The aforementioned tension is probably why this movie is labeled a film noir but it really falls into more of the melodrama category. Normally, that doesn't do much for me but not in this film. The only part that turned me off was the ending in which the principal "good guys" seemed really happy and delighted that the baby had died! Wow, does that sound like the selfish attitudes of the modern-day world? A pathetic way to end a good film.
Despicable ending or not, I'd sure like to see this on DVD with a good transfer. What's the holdup?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is a nice little melodrama about a marriage that should not
have occurred. Barbara Bel Geddes is a "hostess" who was going to be on
a yacht during a party. She is delayed, and when wondering how to get
to the party she runs into a young man, Robert Ryan. He offers her a
ride, and the two actually have a relaxed good evening together. In
fact it turns out to be more promising than Bel Geddes can hope for.
She wants to marry well, and she discovers that Ryan is a
multi-millionaire named Smith Ohlrig. When he proposes she accepts.
Lucky girl? Not quite.
Ryan is one of those fascinating actors who was good enough to handle the juiciest villains and the most compelling of sympathetic types. The same year as CAUGHT he made THE SET-UP, as a boxer in decline, who unwittingly double-crosses a mobster by winning a fight he should have thrown. In future films he would threaten Spencer Tracy in BAD DAY AT BLACKROCK, would by Ty-Ty the deluded farmer and gold seeker in GOD'S LITTLE ACRE, and would be Claggart, BILLY BUDD's evil victim. It was quite a remarkable career. Most people remember his brooding villains more than his good guys. Curiously enough, in real life he was not the clone of his anti-Semitic murderer in CROSSFIRE but a lifelong fighter for civil liberties. He also was a man with a sense of humor. When warned about black listing for his liberalism he laughed and dismissed it, suggesting that J.Edgar Hoover would not go after him - Ryan pointed out he was a good Roman Catholic and a war hero.
Ohlrig has a psychosis that makes him go after anything that initially he can't get. If he doesn't get it he has panic attacks where he collapses and can barely breath. Initially Bel Geddes rejects him, but he perseveres and she makes the mistake of saying yes. Once he has her he treats her like an adjunct to his various properties and corporations. She does break away for awhile, aided by her new romance (James Mason), but she weakens because she finds herself pregnant. Ohlrig now has her and her child in his sights as his property.
If the film was one sided (as my synopsis suggests) it would not quite as good as it is. Ryan does show other points about Ohlrig. He is showing a film of a business project to some of his executives at his mansion, and Bel Geddes is bored. She makes no effort to take an interest in the film - and Ryan pointedly lectures her that if she would just be quiet and watch she might learn something. Although such moments are rarely revealed in the script, it does suggest that a bit more work by Bel Geddes might have made the relationship somewhat more tolerable.
The film conclusion has been somewhat dismissed as too pat. Trapped by her husband's wealth and power, Bel Geddes is left as a weak, pathetic type, pregnant but non-comprehending what is around her. But Ryan has an argument with his factotum, played by Curt Bois. Bois has been a sleazy underling - quite slick and greasy in his rapid patter speech (with "darling" frequently thrown out towards Bel Geddes to get her to do what Ohlrig wants to do). But Ryan basically insults the man for no good reason. Bois suddenly turns on him in a quiet and effective manner. He says that he thinks he'd prefer returning to his old job as a maitre-d at a restaurant than continue working for Ryan. He also says that no matter what Ryan can do, he'll never win Bel Geddes' affections. It is this blow to Ryan's psyche that leads to his final collapse at the close of the film, and to Bel Geddes' release from the marriage she should have avoided.
Barbara Bel Geddes is perfect as a starry-eyes young woman who wants to
make something of herself. She goes to charm school. Who would ever
dream that a young lady in such a cloistered setting would meet and be
wooed by a fabulously wealthy eccentric!
"Caught" is cast in a unique manner. Maybe it was the director's lack of familiarity with American performers. More likely, these are the people who were most eager to work under him. Whatever the reason for his choosing Robert Ryan to play the millionaire, it was brilliant casting: Ryan was a superb actor. He was tall and intense. In his most famous noirs, he plays cops or military men. Yet the character he plays here is withdrawn, well-spoken, and even a bit effete. He's in analysis, to boot! It's an exceptionally good performance that today would win an actor all sorts of awards.
James Mason is also cast very much against type: He plays a doctor who treats poor people for little or no pay. (Light years, not just a bit more than a decade, away from his Humbert Humbert!) And Ryan has a manservant who plays piano and calls everyone, male or female, "darling!" He is played to perfection by Curt Bois.
"Letter from an Unknown Woman" is a lovely film and probably Ophuls' most famous American work. It'd dreamy, romantic, heartbreaking. "Caught" is very different -- I would place it squarely as film noir. However, it does not lack for his famous shots of people ascending staircases and doing other graceful things beautifully.
If only for Ryan's performance, "Caught" is a must. And there is far more to it than that one performance.
"Caught" isn't really a film noir notwithstanding the dramatic scenes in a
darkened mansion. It's more a psychological exploration of a gold
conversion from pursuit of the rich to love of the pure. Barbara Bel
is very effective as an attractive but poor working class girl not blessed
with beauty but guided by a desire for opulence.
Before she can meet the love of her life she allows herself to be swept off her proletarian clods by Robert Ryan who once again is nearly perfect as a character exhibiting crass ruthlessness topped off by a nice dollop of madness. James Mason is a very human M.D., far more likable than the saccharine-sweet screen doctors of the past. He's a pediatrician I wouldn't have minded having when I was a kid.
What is surprising is the ending of this film, one that would be inconceivable today and must have seemed weird to many, particularly women, even then. Of course I won't reveal the resolution but "Caught" is a film very available for rental and well worth the less than ninety minutes it takes to watch an excellent cast tell a good story.
The film contains noirish elements rather actually being of the genre but it is still a most beautifully photographed b/w movie. Some Ophuls trademark shooting, particularly with regard to the wonderfully shot staircase sequences and the dance club scenes where the camera seems to glide with a life its own. Great performances are central to the film's success because we do get close to melodrama and the horrific portrayal by Robert Ryan as the ruthless, almost psychotic millionaire and the highly effective playing by Barbara Bel Geddes, keep this morality tale from becoming too sentimental. James Mason does well enough as the barely believable doctor with a heart of gold and other bit parts all help hold this raging beast together.
In 1947, in Los Angeles, an ambitious waitress from Denver dreams on
marrying a millionaire. She joins the Dorothy Dale's School of Charm
with financial difficulties and after the conclusion of the course, she
changes her name to Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes) and starts
modeling in a fancy shop. She is invited by Franzi Kartos (Curt Bois),
who is the assistant of the wealthy Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan), to go
to a party in the Ohlrig's yacht and she meets him in the harbor by
chance. She refuses a one-night stand with Ohlrig and the powerful man
decides to get married with her to have her. Sooner Leonora learns that
money does not necessarily bring happiness and love and she
unsuccessfully asks the divorce, but Ohlrig refuses. Leonora leaves
Ohlrig and the luxury life in Long Island and finds a job of
receptionist of the obstetrician Dr. Hoffman (Frank Ferguson) and the
pediatrician Larry Quinada (James Mason) in the East Side. Leonora does
not work well and she quits her job. Meanwhile Ohlrig visits her and
tells that he misses her and Leonora returns to the mansion in Long
Island. Sooner she finds that the invitation was just a notion of
Ohlrig and she returns to the East Side. Dr. Quinada and she fall in
love for each other, but Leonora finds that she is pregnant from
Ohlrig. She feels divided between her love for Quinada and the security
of her baby with Ohlrigand she needs to take a decision.
"Caught" is a melodramatic story about a woman whose dream is to get married with a wealthy man that finds that she has been bought by her husband to live as a decorative wife living like a prisoner in a golden cage. Robert Ryan performs another villain, as usual, and the cinematography in black and white and framing follow the usual standard of Max Ophüls. This film is wrongly classified as film-noir. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "Coração Prisioneiro" ("Prisoner Heart")
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