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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

CAUGHT (1949)

After a six year hiatus, war-exiled Max Ophüls had the misfortune of having Howard Hughes as boss on his first Stateside gig in 1946. He didn’t last long, and the film went thru four more directors before its disastrous release as VENDETTA/’50. But Max never forgot the constant fear & humiliation, working up a portrait of Hughes & his experience for the ‘heavy’ of this dark women’s pic, the second of three classics he made before returning to Europe for four more masterpieces before his untimely death in 1957. Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason & a remarkable Robert Ryan are all in peak form in this unusually structured story (the script is by Arthur Laurents, but Ophüls’ input is felt everywhere) of a pretty working-class naïf who meets-cute with a Captain of Industry billionaire who proposes on a whim. Ophüls, with a willing Ryan in the Hughes spot, locates the shabby glamour, power-mad psychosis & contempt of the man in a few brief strokes. While Mason, who doesn’t show until act two, is simply devastating as the generous inner-city doctor who offers Bel Geddes a way out, if she’ll only grab at it. Their side of the story, fine as it is, is more conventional, yet Mason makes even the offer of a drab winter coat infinitely touching & deeply romantic.* The film is simply terrific, as is everyone in the superb supporting cast, along with wondrously dark lensing (with heaps of Ophüls' signature tracking shots) from Lee Garmes who may have shot MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS/’42 for Orson Welles, but here gives Ophüls a look that’s more CITIZEN KANE/’41.

DOUBLE-BILL: CAUGHT is book-ended by LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN/’48 and THE RECKLESS MOMENT/’49; Ophüls’ first US pic, THE EXILE/’47 is an outlier in his output and has always been hard to locate.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Mason would work similar magic in RECKLESS MOMENT purchasing a cigarette filter tip for Joan Bennett. And speaking of magic, watch Ophüls hold off on frame-filling close-ups of Ryan vs. Mason for maximum effect later.

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