It was her childhood dream come true. She had married a man worth millions. But her innocent dream became a tormented nightmare once she realized the truth about her husband. He was more than a millionaire, he was absolutely power mad and insane! Since he will not give her a divorce, she leaves a life of luxury and goes to work as a receptionist in an impoverished doctor's office in NYC's lower east side.
After a temporary reconciliation (one night) with the rich husband, She conceives a child. By the time she finds out she is pregnant, she and one of the doctors (James Mason) have fallen in love but but she goes back to the mad husband so the child will have a wealthy background. Her sadistic husband is hell-bent on keeping her prisoner and keeping the child. The mad husband has a heart attack and she chooses not to help him, then suffers a miscarriage because of the shocking events. This movie is one of the few "code" movies in which the death of an unborn fetus (the miscarriage) is seen as a way out for the heroine.
James Mason ... Larry Quinada
Barbara Bel Geddes ... Leonora Eames
Robert Ryan ... Smith Ohlrig
Frank Ferguson ... Dr. Hoffman
Curt Bois ... Franzi Kartos
Ruth Brady ... Maxine
Natalie Schafer ... Dorothy Dale
Art Smith ... Psychiatrist
Max Ophüls - (as Max Opuls)
Robert Aldrich - (uncredited)
John Berry - (uncredited) (some scenes)
Of the many European emigres who helped shape American cinema, especially film noir, Max Ophuls brought one of the subtlest, most elusive sensibilities. Caught reflects this elusiveness: Part melodrama, part romance, part film noir, it's an unsettling film that burrows into complacent assumptions about freedom and success.
Department-store model Barbara Bel Geddes buys the notion that snagging a rich husband is the key to happiness. Once wed to disgustingly wealthy tycoon Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan), however, she finds herself a bird in a gilded cage whose owner is increasingly jealous, abusive and frightening. (The rumors are that Ohlrig was modelled on Howard Hughes, much as Charles Foster Kane was on William Randolph Hearst.) Finally she leaves him to work in the office of a poor pediatrician (James Mason), with whom she falls in love. But she and Ryan keep drifting back together, in a love-hate relationship that grows ever more doomed and desperate (there's a virtuoso scene in Mason's offices, at night, centering on her ominously empty desk)....
This is certainly Bel Geddes' most complex and fleshed-out screen performance, but the script suggests dimensions that she only hints at; though the part wouldn't work with a tigress like that other Barbara, Stanwyck, taking on Ryan in an equal grudge-match, an actress with a mite more edge might have shown how the caged wife came to draw courage and defiance precisely from her position as a powerful man's wife. (Bel Geddes is just too wholesome and likeable to bring off this ambiguity.) And the heavy paw of the studio descends as Caught comes to a close: The conclusion is too quick, loose ends flap in the breeze, and satisfaction remains incomplete. Ryan's dynamo performance -- he could really make the flesh crawl -- and Ophul's elegant direction compensate for a half-baked denouement imposed by a craven studio, lest anybody take personal or political offense.
This is a curiously interesting movie for three reasons: first, it has a chilling performance from Robert Ryan as Smith Ohlrig (what an odd name) whose persona in this narrative is apparently based on the very eccentric – and fabulously wealthy – recluse, Howard Hughes; second, it has James Mason – with still a very British accent – as poor doctor Larry Quinada, on the East Side of New York, tending to the poor of that area; and third, there is the radiant Barbara Bel Geddes as Leonora Eames, caught between the two men, trying to decide who to choose...
So, it's a rags to riches to rags story about Leonora who, after a brief -- rocket-like, you might say – courtship with Smith, decides to accept his marriage offer for a life of luxury – but after the honeymoon, she finds that, well, the honeymoon is over: she may as well be a wall-flower for all the interest that Smith shows towards her. Why is that? You see, Smith, being the mighty merchandising mogul he is, is a very acquisitive person and whatever he sees that he wants, he gets. Once he's got it, however, he tends to lose interest... Leonora thinks she loves him, but what she really loves is money and wealth.
Tiring of her eventually, Smith allows her to leave when her boredom reaches volcanic proportions: she's just too much trouble to be troubled with. So, searching for something useful to do, she takes a job as a receptionist in Doctor Quinada's office – and, of course, she and he eventually fall in love. All the while, of course, Smith has his agents watch Leonora 24/7, without her knowledge.
Eventually, the pot boils, the three confront each other at Smith's incredibly, disgustingly rich mansion where Smith succumbs to his own psychopathology (that's as much as I'll tell you --- when you see it, you'll know what I mean), leaving Leonora – sadder but wiser – free to take up the socially good life with the good doctor. As the world turns, all is well with the world, sort of...
The messages about the state of that world are strong, indeed almost totally lacking in any subtlety, with lines such as "He was a human being...", "nobody's poor by choice...", "money alone isn't security" and others, all of which starkly inform the viewer that the price of excessive wealth and social nihilism combined is so close to madness it's not worth chasing; far better, instead, to reject such excesses and concentrate on being a valuable member of society.
Mason and Bel Geddes are good support for Ryan who really carries this movie as the menacing, quasi-sociopath. But, I also enjoyed the very smooth performance of Curt Bois as Franzi, the sycophantic sidekick to Smith: Franzi's always too ready to please and calls everybody 'darling', even when he's treated like dirt by almost everybody – a slimy metaphor for the depths to which some go in order to survive in the world of untrammeled excess. But even Franzi has his limits, as you will find out.
Some great camera work and all in lovely black and white makes this movie a worthwhile addition to the film-noir genre. Watch particularly for the dark scenes in Smith's mansion and, later, the swiveling camera work when Doctors Quinada and Hoffman discuss Leonora's absence from their office. You just don't get shooting like that anymore...
This film is a nice little melodrama about a marriage that should not have occurred. Barbara Bel Geddes is a "hostess" who was going to be on a yacht during a party. She is delayed, and when wondering how to get to the party she runs into a young man, Robert Ryan. He offers her a ride, and the two actually have a relaxed good evening together. In fact it turns out to be more promising than Bel Geddes can hope for. She wants to marry well, and she discovers that Ryan is a multi-millionaire named Smith Ohlrig. When he proposes she accepts. Lucky girl? Not quite.
Ryan is one of those fascinating actors who was good enough to handle the juiciest villains and the most compelling of sympathetic types. The same year as CAUGHT he made THE SET-UP, as a boxer in decline, who unwittingly double-crosses a mobster by winning a fight he should have thrown. In future films he would threaten Spencer Tracy in BAD DAY AT BLACKROCK, would by Ty-Ty the deluded farmer and gold seeker in GOD'S LITTLE ACRE, and would be Claggart, BILLY BUDD's evil victim. It was quite a remarkable career. Most people remember his brooding villains more than his good guys. Curiously enough, in real life he was not the clone of his anti-Semitic murderer in CROSSFIRE but a lifelong fighter for civil liberties. He also was a man with a sense of humor. When warned about black listing for his liberalism he laughed and dismissed it, suggesting that J.Edgar Hoover would not go after him - Ryan pointed out he was a good Roman Catholic and a war hero.
Ohlrig has a psychosis that makes him go after anything that initially he can't get. If he doesn't get it he has panic attacks where he collapses and can barely breath. Initially Bel Geddes rejects him, but he perseveres and she makes the mistake of saying yes. Once he has her he treats her like an adjunct to his various properties and corporations. She does break away for awhile, aided by her new romance (James Mason), but she weakens because she finds herself pregnant. Ohlrig now has her and her child in his sights as his property.
If the film was one sided (as my synopsis suggests) it would not quite as good as it is. Ryan does show other points about Ohlrig. He is showing a film of a business project to some of his executives at his mansion, and Bel Geddes is bored. She makes no effort to take an interest in the film - and Ryan pointedly lectures her that if she would just be quiet and watch she might learn something. Although such moments are rarely revealed in the script, it does suggest that a bit more work by Bel Geddes might have made the relationship somewhat more tolerable.
The film conclusion has been somewhat dismissed as too pat. Trapped by her husband's wealth and power, Bel Geddes is left as a weak, pathetic type, pregnant but non-comprehending what is around her. But Ryan has an argument with his factotum, played by Curt Bois. Bois has been a sleazy underling - quite slick and greasy in his rapid patter speech (with "darling" frequently thrown out towards Bel Geddes to get her to do what Ohlrig wants to do). But Ryan basically insults the man for no good reason. Bois suddenly turns on him in a quiet and effective manner. He says that he thinks he'd prefer returning to his old job as a maitre-d at a restaurant than continue working for Ryan. He also says that no matter what Ryan can do, he'll never win Bel Geddes' affections. It is this blow to Ryan's psyche that leads to his final collapse at the close of the film, and to Bel Geddes' release from the marriage she should have avoided.
# The character Smith Ohlrig is based on Howard Hughes,
# The 1992 restoration of the film, done at UCLA Film and Television Archives, was financed by Martin Scorsese, who would direct a biopic of Howard Hughes -- upon whose life the film is based--The Aviator (2004) a decade later.
# Both John Berry and Robert Aldrich directed additional scenes, uncredited.