Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Hollow Triumph (1948) at UCLA

The second film on tonight's double bill in UCLA's Exile Noir series was HOLLOW TRIUMPH (1948), which is also known by an alternate reissue title, THE SCAR.

HOLLOW TRIUMPH was produced by star Paul Henreid and directed by Hungarian-born Steve Sekely. The excellent screenplay was by Daniel Fuchs, whose next film was the noir classic CRISS CROSS (1949). The script was based on a novel by Murray Forbes.

The biggest round of applause during the opening credits went to cinematographer John Alton, who created another black and white beauty with HOLLOW TRIUMPH. I feel very fortunate to have seen it tonight in a wonderful 35mm print.

HOLLOW TRIUMPH's additional attributes include Jack Webb in his very first screen role (as a skinny hit man!), a chase on the Angels Flight Railway, and the always-amazing Joan Bennett. What more could a noir fan ask?! This 83-minute film was fun from start to finish.

Henreid plays ex-con John Muller, whose plot to rob the gambling joint run by a bigtime mobster (Thomas Browne Henry) runs into trouble. He gets away with some cash but it's clear he's as good as dead unless he comes up with a really good plan to hide.

Muller flees the state and heads west to California, where he takes a boring job under an assumed name. And then one day Muller learns there's a psychiatrist, Victor Bartok, working in the same area who's a dead ringer, other than a scar on his cheek. Muller had once started studying to be a doctor and concocts a plan to bump off the doctor and take his place. Will anyone notice the change, such as the doctor's beautiful secretary Evelyn (Bennett), who is also his lover?

Muller takes even more of a risk getting to know Evelyn as himself, in order to pump her for information on Bartok; she thus knows there's a set of lookalikes out there. Despite her relationship with her boss, Evelyn falls for Muller, but Muller is determined to carry out his plan and tells Evelyn he's ending their romance and leaving for Paris.

This film was terrific fun, building to a pair of wonderfully ironic twists. This is great noir, from the cast to Alton's black and white cinematography to the L.A. locations to the clever script.

Every film I see cements my love for Joan Bennett. What a terrific blend of intelligence and stunning beauty. The only thing that might raise a question about the film is why such a smart and attractive woman in that era isn't married, but is willing instead to settle for an affair with her boss. Incidentally, it's interesting that she looked more worn out just a year later in THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949) -- perhaps they scaled back the makeup for that role as a worried suburban mother?

I don't have strong feelings about Henreid one way or the other but he does a great job in the role. He seems to have been a smart, business-savvy man, who developed an extensive directing career.

Leslie Brooks (BLONDE ICE) has a small but key role. The cast also includes Eduard Franz, Herbert Rudley, John Qualen, Mabel Paige, George Chandler, Henry Brandon, and Norma Varden.

HOLLOW TRIUMPH is available on DVD from VCI under its title THE SCAR; it's a double feature disc paired with THE LIMPING MAN (1953) with Lloyd Bridges. It's also on VHS and Amazon Instant Video.

Previous reviews in the Exile Noir series: JEALOUSY (1945), BLUEBEARD (1944), and CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953).

May 2017 Update: I had the chance to see this film again at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, with the screening followed by an interview with Paul Henreid's daughter Monika. This post also includes a review of a new Blu-ray edition of the film from Kino Lorber.


Blogger Jerry E said...

I'm really happy you enjoyed "HOLLOW TRIUMPH" so much, Laura. It certainly has a good beginning in the fact that it was lensed by that master of light and shade, John Alton.
Paul Henreid had the ability to come across as cold and distant which was probably just right for his role here. Joan Bennett, of course, as you say, was a beautiful and talented actress.
A successful double feature, on the whole then.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Jerry! I thought I'd answered this days ago but just realized my note didn't go through and post somehow!

Alton's work was beautiful. I think you're exactly right, probably the reason Henreid doesn't typically grab me, though I don't dislike him, is that "cold and distant" personality. But it was completely right here! Great point. :)

A very successful night at the movies, I had a thoroughly good time!

Best wishes,

11:29 AM  

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