How do you fit a Cinderella story into a noir slipper? Just cast Robert Ryan as Smith Olhrig, a psychopathic Prince Charming, complete with a hectoring attendant and a baronial mansion on Long Island. His princess is Leonora (Barbara Bel Geddes), a charm-school graduate from the Midwest who hooks her dream husband, only to see the dream end and the nightmare begin. Confined within their opulent manse, Leonora waits upon Smith’s every whim, but never his whimsy. She is no trophy wife, but a thing taxidermed and hung on the wall of his will. What once promised security, the baroque manor of an industrialist, now seems like her own personal Guantanamo. No white knight himself, Max Ophuls leads Leonora out of luxury and into the Lower East Side where our forsaken wife meets a self-sacrificing doctor played by James Mason. Here, in the lower depths, Leonora leads a “shabby,” humbling life, until lured back to luxury by her megalomaniacal husband. Lensed with claustrophobic care by the great Lee Garmes, the setting for Caught is stifling in its well-detailed gloom. If there were a political allegory here, we might recall that the promises of the one percent go bad ninety-nine percent of the time. This is Max Ophuls to the max. —Steve Seid
Max Ophüls (born Maximillian Oppenheimer, 6 May 1902, Saarbrücken, Germany – 25 March 1957, Hamburg, Germany) was an influential German-born film director who worked in Germany, the United States and France. He made nearly thirty films.
He started his career as a stage actor in 1919 but moved into theatre production in 1924. Two years later, he became creative director of the Burgtheater in Vienna and, having had 200 plays to his credit, turned to film production in 1929, when he became a dialogue director under Anatole Litvak at UFA in Berlin. He worked throughout Germany and directed his first film in 1931, the comedy short Dann schon lieber Lebertran (literally In This Case, Rather Cod-Liver Oil).
Of his early films, the most acclaimed is Liebelei (1933), which included a number of the characteristic elements for which he was to become known: luxurious sets, a feminist attitude, and a duel between a younger and older man.
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Finely acted and peculiar with occasionally inventive camerawork. Begins in familiar territory and returns to touch base with the familiar from time to time, but becomes increasingly dark and transgressive. The ending would be tragic in most films, here it's played as a happy ending. Imagine a classic Hollywood romance with Wednesday Addams behind the lens.
Ophuls only made four films in Hollywood and this is the second of the four that I have seen recently which didn't quite live up to my expectations. Ryan is utterly loathsome as the millionaire who marries Bel Geddes just to spite his psychoanalyst. She turns to Mason's kindly doctor for salvation but can't escape her husband's hold on her. It starts off sombre and gripping but goes off the rails towards the end.....
The third of four films Max Ophuls directed in Hollywood before his famous run of French masterpieces in the 50's, a pseudo-noir (lit beautifully by Lee Garmes) with Robert Ryan as a tyrant refusing to let his sweet wife (Barbara Bel Geddes) off the hook to marry skinny doctor James Mason. An Ophuls trademark, the moving camera is always mesmerizing, even if the plot resolution is less than overwhelming.