Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Caught (1949)

When James Mason met Robert Ryan onscreen toward the end of CAUGHT (1949), the phrase "clash of the titans" suddenly ran through my head. One almost expects to see sparks sizzling around the edges of the screen during the confrontation between two of the screen's most charismatic actors. CAUGHT is a compelling, unusual film which is highly enjoyable. I'd wanted to see this film for a long time and was not disappointed.

Barbara Bel Geddes is wonderful as Leonora Eames, a young girl from a poor background who believes she's met her Prince Charming in Smith Ohlrig (Ryan). Smith is a multimillionaire who sweeps Leonora off her feet and marries her.

Smith provides a life of luxury, with homes in Los Angeles and Long Island, but Leonora quickly discovers her husband is an emotionally abusive control freak who treats her as a possession. She struggles to make a go of her marriage, but realizes money isn't everything and flees her Long Island estate for a dingy rented room and a job as the receptionist for a pair of doctors serving an impoverished community.

Leonora falls in love with one of the doctors (Mason) and wants to divorce her husband, but discovers that a brief attempt to reconcile with Smith has left her with a problem which will complicate all their lives...

The movie is part film noir, part gothic melodrama; the mood is somewhat similar to titles like JANE EYRE, REBECCA, and DRAGONWYCK. The film's ending also called to mind Wyler's THE LITTLE FOXES (1941). It's a gripping story from start to finish. I would have liked just a bit more of a resolution at the end; the ending seemed rushed and was slightly odd, yet made sense in the context of the story.

Bel Geddes is excellent portraying her character's journey from sweet young thing to abused wife to a more mature woman with a deeper purpose in life. Mason had become famous for playing villains in British films such as THE MAN IN GREY (1943) so at this juncture of his career playing the noble hero was probably a nice change of pace. I really liked him in this film.

Bel Geddes and Mason both do well opposite Ryan, who otherwise dominates the screen with his portrayal of a very disturbed human being. One of the film's few flaws is that we never understand exactly what makes Ryan's character tick, although we're given some hints in an early scene where he visits a psychiatrist; some reviews suggest that Ryan's character was based on Howard Hughes. Despite this lack of character motivation, Ryan's performance as a man who lives for the challenge of acquiring and controlling things is fascinating.

Frank Ferguson, a wonderful character actor, has a nice slice of screen time as Mason's partner, an obstetrician who seems to live at the office. Natalie Schafer (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) is the director of a charm school Leonora attends early in the film. Curt Bois is Smith's ever-present flunky. Watch for Barbara Billingsley (LEAVE IT TO BEAVER) as a department store customer early in the film.

CAUGHT was directed by Max Ophuls, billed here as Max Opuls. The movie was superbly shot in black and white by Lee Garmes. It runs 88 minutes.

Unfortunately CAUGHT is not available on DVD in the United States. Last week I bought a Region 2 DVD on sale from Amazon UK, which I watched on my all-region player. The price including shipping from England was approximately $12; it only took five days to arrive. The print is excellent, although the final shot of Bel Geddes was curiously fuzzy. Extras include a commentary, video essay, and photo gallery.


Blogger panavia999 said...

I agree the ending seemed tacked on. But Robert Ryan and James Mason can do no wrong in my book. They could have easily switched roles in this and be just as good! (I buy a lot of DVD's and books from the UK, mostly about steeplechasing and have always been impressed with swift service. Postage is quite reasonable and delivery fast. )

9:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's fun to imagine this film with the actors flipping their roles...I agree it could have worked just as well with the actors reversed.

Things sure have changed from years ago when ordering something affordably from the UK meant the order taking weeks to travel here by boat!

Best wishes,

10:29 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Looking foward to this film Laura. I have never seen it.


11:49 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I just watched this one last night on Netflix (because of your recommendation here) and really loved it. I completely agree with your review! I've never been a fan of Bel Geddes, but she was really good here, and I actually liked her for once! Very glad I watched it. Thanks!

8:46 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so delighted to know you tried it and enjoyed it -- nothing makes me happier than someone else trying and enjoying a movie I mention here! Thanks for letting me know!!

Best wishes,

11:13 AM  

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