“You don’t want me — not really; you just want me to want you!”
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.
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
No, though fans of Ophuls and/or Bel Geddes will want to check it out.