Friday, April 13, 2012
Max Ophuls (U.S., 1949)
Archival Preservation Print!
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.
• Written by Arthur Laurents, from the novel Wild Calendar by Libbie Block. Photographed by Lee Garmes. With James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, Robert Ryan, Ruth Brady. (88 mins, B&W, 35mm, From UCLA Film and Television Archive, permission Paramount Pictures. Preservation funded by The Film Foundation.)