Genre: Drama, Film-Noir
Director: Max Ophüls
Screenplay: Arthur Laurents
based on the novel WILD CALENDAR from Libbie Block
Music: Friedrich Hollaender
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Barbara Bel Geddes
The penultimate feature made in Ophüls’ transitory active stint in Hollywood (from 1947 to1049, 4 features totally), CAUGHT is an unconcealed reproach of the hidebound “marrying rich” indoctrination that poisons beautiful young women (from less affluent background) into taking it as their sole goal in life.
The specimen under analysis is an unassuming young model Leonora Eames (Bel Geddes), who admittedly isn’t cut out to be a devout gold-digger, however, by way of sheer serendipity she falls in with just the right target, the multi-millionaire Smith Ohlrig (Ryan), but their rushed matrimony doesn’t augur well, as it is Smith’s spur-of-the-moment decision to willfully contradict his headshrinker, only Leonora would have known better.
Blatantly modeled after Howard Hughes, Smith is a callous, high-handed megalomania, incessantly suffered from psychosomatic angina when he cannot get what he wants. After a fallout, Leonora strikes out on her own, leaving their august mansion and starting to work as a secretary of Dr. Larry Quinada (Mason, in his stateside debut), a man who is the antithesis of Smith, mutual attraction sizzles during their working/after-working time, but to extricate herself from an abusive marriage, she has everything to sacrifice, including an unborn baby. The film’s espousal of pro-choice is a gallant coup-de-thêàtre transpiring as the exit route to the ill-sorted nuptial pairing, yet it is so emphatically abrupt, to a point it almost demonizes Larry for semi-foisting her in such a dazed state, and foreshadows their future in the end, which is not exactly a happy one one might foresee.
Entrusted with a very sympathetic role as the gaslighted wife who is caught into a snare, objectified as a rich man’s property and agonized by his contempt and sneer, Barbara Bel Geddes handsomely struts her stuff in manifesting disparate layers of Leonora’s emotional states, to a terrific impression. Regarding to the two dichotomy of her male co-stars, James Mason looks exquisitely dashing under the noir-ish shade, but as usual, it is the villain strikes gold, Robert Ryan effectively reveals a rough edge in his character and doesn’t relent even in those tender moments, a monster crystallized by his own obstinance, vanity and oceanic ego, and he knows it too well to readdress his atrocity.
Last but definitely not the least, what leaves a viewer profoundly awestruck is Ophüls under-appreciated (at least in its time) modality in his dexterity of unspooling the story, economy is judiciously achieved by applying newspaper tidings to inform the narrative’s progression, not to mention those majestic-looking shots enriched by sublime composition, unconventional depth of field and transcendent chiaroscuro, often in gliding tracking shots meticulously choreographed by an invisible but steady hand. To all intents and purposes, CAUGHT is a neglected beauty needs to be dusted off from its ill-fated obscurity.