Caught (1949)

“You don’t want me — not really; you just want me to want you!”

Synopsis:
Cynical, controlling millionaire Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan) marries a poor model (Barbara Bel Geddes) to spite his psychoanalyst. When Leonora (Bel Geddes) realizes her marriage is a sham, she leaves to go work for a doctor (James Mason), but Ohlrig will stop at nothing to get his “possession” back.

Genres:

Review:
Both Bel Geddes and Ryan (whose character is based on Howard Hughes) turn in stellar performances in this melodramatic American noir film by Max Ophuls. Unfortunately, the script isn’t up to their standards, with key dramatic scenes seemingly missing, and certain characters’ motivations not fully fleshed out. Leonora in particular (despite Bel Geddes’ best efforts) isn’t consistent: she scrimps and saves to attend “charm school”, yet once she’s achieved a coveted position as a high-end model, inexplicably resists an invitation to a fancy shindig on Ohlrig’s yacht; despite her romantic notions, she marries Ohlrig without a second thought about what kind of person he may be; and she continues to hold on to idealistic notions about marriage (advising a patient’s daughter on how to snag a wealthy man in order to have a “happy” life) even after learning how empty her own is. Nonetheless, the compelling performances — and Ophuls’ brilliance, which shines through at key moments — make this film worth watching once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bel Geddes’ sympathetic performance as Leonora
  • Robert Ryan as the ruthless millionaire Ohlrig
  • James Mason in his American film debut
  • Winning performances by supporting characters — including Curt Bois as Ohlrig’s effeminate assistant (who calls everyone “darling”) and Frank Ferguson as Mason’s colleague
  • Atmospheric cinematography and framing

Must See?
No, though fans of Ophuls and/or Bel Geddes will want to check it out.

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2 Responses to “Caught (1949)”

  1. Not a must.

    Odd little film.

    And the assessment pretty much nails it.

    It’s all served up well: looks great, directed and acted as well as it can be.

    But, pretty much aside from the (always wonderful) Mason and the down-to-earth Ferguson, there are major motivation problems running amok; kind of like watching erratic mood swings. Of course, they’re orchestrated by Ryan’s character – so there’s a reason – but that doesn’t make them interesting to watch.

    Mixed in are elements that make little sense – i.e., Bel Geddes’ claim that “he wasn’t like that before we were married.” ~He was *exactly* like that! He was like that from his first entrance! Wasn’t she watching the movie??? (There’s also a large gap in the film when it’s convenient for Ryan not to be in the storyline – when that wouldn’t be the case. He has Bel Geddes followed the first time she leaves him; why then is she later gone for months without so much as a peep out of him? I’m not sure if key scenes are missing; it just looks like a structure problem to me.)

    And ya gotta ‘love’ the opportunists on board: Bel Geddes’ best friend (who thankfully leaves the picture not a minute too soon) serves the one-dimensional purpose of showing what money does to shallow people. ~as is also the case with the gay guy Ryan has in his house as His Girl Friday. What’s up with that? And what’s ‘her’ story?: no life outside of playing piano in Ryan’s home practically 24/7 – when not being a yes-‘man’? (Well, at least he finally grows some balls near the conclusion.) [Side note: screenwriter Arthur Laurents wrote ‘Rope’ for Hitchcock the year before. I guess he figured he was doing his best to spotlight gay characters.]

    The tendency, for large sections, is to just not care. Basically, anytime Mason isn’t around, it all seems so…whiny.

  2. Speaking of the gay guy…what’s with the Tallulah Bankhead “dahling” bit? Would he really call Ryan “dahling” openly in front of about five other straight business associates? Hmm…an awfully bold display in 1949, I suppose.

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