Wednesday, February 29, 2012

CAUGHT (1949)

Working class girl Leonora (Barbara Bel Geddes) dreams of marrying a rich man and living in comfort. She goes to charm school where she learns how to act in social situations, how to make conversation, and generally how to be charming. After she gets a job as a department store model, she is approached by a slimy fellow named Franzi (Curt Bois) who is on the prowl for good-time girls for his boss, millionaire Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan). She is invited to a party on Ohlrig's yacht and hits it off with him, though we are privy to sessions with his psychiatrist in which we learn that Ohlrig has anxiety attacks he gets whenever he doesn’t get his way. He is full of self-pity, wants to destroy anyone who gets in his way, and believes that no one would love him except for his money. After a whirlwind courtship, the two marry but she quickly becomes bored and restless when Ohlrig constantly puts business first, ignoring and humiliating her, leaving her alone every evening with only the company of Franzi (coded gay because he flits instead of walks and calls everyone, women and men, "darlings"). Soon she leaves him, rents a shabby little apartment, and gets a job as a receptionist for the handsome Dr. Quinada (James Mason). He falls for her but she disappears one night to go back and give Ohlrig one more chance. They sleep together but it doesn't last and she returns to Quinada, but soon discovers she is pregnant by Ohlrig. Her husband agrees to give her a divorce but only if she gives him sole custody of the child. Leonora indeed finds herself "caught."

Director Max Ophuls uses gliding camerawork and noir shadows to give this melodrama some visual interest—there are occasional stylistic echoes of CITIZEN KANE. The character of Ohlrig is based on Howard Hughes, and Ryan gives a very good performance, capturing the neurotic darkness of the character. Even though he is the villain, he is the only character I really cared about here. Bel Geddes is fine, but I never felt there was much there beneath the unthinking desire for comfort and money. Mason is also good, but he hasn’t much to do until a confrontation scene between the three near the end. A movie with a pessimistic view of people and their motives in establishing relationships, marred a bit by an unrealistically pat and happy ending. [TCM]

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