Caught

This 1949 film by Max Ophüls has a big reputation – fans and critics who love it really love it – and it seems that the key to feeling warm and fuzzy about Caught is an appreciation for the central performances, particularly that of Barbara Bel Geddes, who stars as Leonora Eames; she is a young woman fresh from finishing school who marries a controlling, narrow-minded tycoon by the name of Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan on fine, oily form). In fact Bel Geddes is extremely restrained, given all the drama that surrounds her character for much of the film, and it’s a performance of uncommon subtlety for what amounts to a romantic pulp piece with noirish leanings. Leonora eventually falls in love with James Mason’s doctor, and very quickly her character’s relationships with the two men become less interesting than the subsequent non-physical contest between her suitors, which plays out superbly in one important scene set in a billiard room. As one man verbally wrestles the upper hand from the other, Ophüls and cinematographer Lee Garmes choose to film from opposite sides of the room, the perspective alternatively making one of Leonora’s men appear much bigger than the other. Mason was a successful and popular lead, of course, so it’s a surprise to see him bested and cowed by the villain of the piece here; but then Caught is a film that repeatedly defies expectation, even though that refusal to bow to convention also makes it seem oddly coy. A thrill or two would have been nice. (***)