Caught (Max Ophüls / U.S., 1949):

Max Ophüls opens with dreams of idealized romance, Letter From an Unknown Woman territory, only the European incantation has given way to the shadows of American noir. Barbara Bel Geddes pours over fashion magazines and awaits her enchanted prince while pondering her social education, ideals of femininity learned in charm school ("college and finishing school combined"). She models the mink coat she dreams of having and receives an invitation to a yacht party, where she meets Robert Ryan, a wealthy "international something"; Ryan's psychiatrist diagnoses his heart attacks as fear of weakness, and just to show he controls his destiny, Ryan weds the shopgirl. But the Cinderella ploy soon curdles, Bel Geddes finds herself just another piece of opulence stuffed in hubby's Long Island mansion -- modeled on the director's experiences with Howard Hughes, Ryan reveals a psychotic streak, so his wife trades luxury for the East Side, working as receptionist for struggling slum pediatrician James Mason. Promises of change, along with rhyming dollying and dissolves, briefly catapult Bel Geddes back to Ryan, but she's determined to make it on her own with her true love: Ophüls' trademark waltzing epiphany is here staged in a crowded prole joint, with Mason and Bel Geddes stepping on each other's toes and the curving track becoming the expression of the doctor's marriage proposal, halted cold in its rails by Bel Geddes' awareness of her pregnancy. Money is a pervasive factor, but capitalism's greatest sin to the director lies in its cheapening of emotion, marriage as ownership, a business -- Ryan declares Bel Geddes his "employee," announces his hatred, and retreats to his pinball machine. The torture becomes such that even Curt Bois, his pimp-lackey, walks out in disgust, and yet, by surveying the expansion of the heroine's notional views of love, Ophüls finds hope in tragedy. A tender and brutal work, on par with The Reckless Moment in its subversive beauties: a gossip column trumpeting the couple's parenthood becomes ominous, miscarriage becomes deliverance, love and freedom are affirmed in the back of an ambulance. With Frank Ferguson, and Ruth Brady. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home