Web Carey (Alan Ladd) serves in the O.S.S. in Italy during the war, but his mission ends tragically when he and his partner Frank (Paul Lees) are betrayed. The Nazis kill Frank and critically wound Web; Web also has reason to believe that the Nazis murdered Giulia (Wanda Hendrix), the young Italian girl he loved.
A few years after the war circumstances lead Web to return to Italy on a hunt for the betrayer responsible for Giulia's death. But Web soon discovers that Giulia is very much alive, married to Baron de Greffi (Francis Lederer), who has political aspirations. As Web struggles to come to terms with this news and makes plans to return to the U.S., someone is murdered while attempting to give him information. As Web tries to untangle the mystery, he must also deal with resentful villagers who blame him for the deaths of over two dozen local men during the war.
Although the films are not actually related, thematically CAPTAIN CAREY, U.S.A. plays as kind of a sequel to Ladd's O.S.S. (1946); one could certainly imagine the O.S.S. man of that film returning to postwar Europe to avenge his dead love.
At times the film is also somewhat reminiscent of SINGAPORE (1947), in which Fred MacMurray believes Ava Gardner has died during a wartime bombing raid, only to receive a shock years later.
The film is strongest in its early scenes, first during the war and later as the haunted Web returns to Italy. Some of the film is uneven, with odd Hitchcockian twists (trapeze artists?!) and red herrings, but on the whole Alan Ladd fans will find it quite enjoyable, with plenty of action and suspense.
The memorable moments include the use of the Livingston-Evans song "Mona Lisa," which is repeatedly played by a friendly musician as a warning to Web, first to let him know that the Nazis are near and later in the film to tip him off to the police. Those who love this beautiful standard will appreciate the chance to hear the song as it was introduced to the world.
Having seen Wanda Hendrix as the young Mexican girl in Robert Montgomery's RIDE THE PINK HORSE (1947), it was rather interesting to see her playing another character with an accent early in her career. She was more believable as the Mexican girl than as the Italian aristrocrat, but otherwise she does a nice job; she has some moving scenes bookending the film in which she conveys her devotion to Web, and she also does an excellent job conveying unspoken thoughts with her facial expressions.
I commented in last week's post on THE MAN I MARRIED (1940) that it's interesting to see how actors criss-cross my viewing. As it happens, Francis Lederer, who played the husband-turned-Nazi in THE MAN I MARRIED, portrays someone who may or may not have been a Nazi collaborator in CAPTAIN CAREY, U.S.A., released a decade later.
The wonderful Joseph Calleia plays a doctor who may also be a suspect. The cast also includes Russ (billed as Rusty) Tamblyn, Angela Clarke, Celia Lovsky, Luis Alberni, Virginia Farmer, Jane Nigh, and Roland Winters.
The film was directed by the great Mitchell Leisen, whose work I appreciate more as I see each of his films. Leisen's prior film had been the wonderfully moody NO MAN OF HER OWN (1950) with Barbara Stanwyck and John Lund, and this film is at its best when it has some of that same lushly dark, romantic tone. UCLA will be celebrating Leisen's work this November and December, and I'll be posting more about that amazing series in the future. Alas, CAPTAIN CAREY is not going to be shown, but many more wonderful Leisen films will be screened.
CAPTAIN CAREY, U.S.A., which was titled AFTER MIDNIGHT in the UK, runs 82 minutes. It was shot in black and white by John F. Seitz. The Italian town and island estate where the film is set are obviously giant soundstage sets, but they're well done.
CAPTAIN CAREY, U.S.A. was recently released on DVD by Olive. The print is somewhat soft in spots and has other minor flaws but is certainly watchable.
It can also be watched via Netflix streaming.