“Caught” (1949) starring James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, & Robert Ryan

Maxine: [Persuading Leonora to attend a charm school] You’re not going just to get a better job. A charm school is like college and finishing school combined.

Leonora Eames: I can read, Maxine.

Maxine: Well, all I can say is, without a social education, you’re never gonna’ meet a real man.

Though she is struggling to pay bills in SoCal, an idealistic waitress from Iowa, Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes), decides to spend on a 6-wk. course at a charm school. She soon becomes a department store model like her friend/roomie (Maxine). Leonora gets noticed by a man at the perfume counter (as she’d imagined); he invites her to a party on a yacht owned by bachelor/millionaire Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan). Thinking that she’s in love, Leonora marries Smith, and begins her life on his Long Island estate. It turns out that Smith is a workaholic; he’s also a cold-hearted/controlling husband. After a year of (miserable) married life, Leonora leaves him. She answers an ad for a receptionist for a doctors’ office on the Lower East Side. One of the doctors is an obstetrician; the other, Larry Quinada (James Mason), is a pediatrician.

How do I wish to be remembered, if at all? I think perhaps just as a fairly desirable sort of character actor. -James Mason

Some classic film fans may realize that Smith is based on (another difficult millionaire) Howard Hughes. The 1992 restoration of this film at UCLA was financed by Scorsese, who later directed The Aviator (2004). For his American film debut, Mason (then 40 y.o.) was first cast as Smith; he asked to play the other male role, as he wanted to change his (villainous) screen image. The director (Max Ophuls) brings an European (German to be exact) sensibility to the melodrama/noir. The angles, lighting, and movement of the camera help in creating an unique, yet unsettling film showing the dark side of “The American Dream.” Bel Geddes does fine, but she’s not a very nuanced actress; she is known best as Ellie Ewing (matriarch) on Dallas. Ryan and Mason are the ones who shine here. They are filmed and lit in different ways; Ryan looks threatening/dangerous (shot from below or farther away) and Mason comes across as relatable/comforting (shot more close-up at eye-level). I’d like to check out more of this director’s English-language films.

[1] … it was brilliant casting: Ryan was a superb actor. He was tall and intense. …the character he plays here is withdrawn, well-spoken, and even a bit effete. It’s an exceptionally good performance that today would win an actor all sorts of awards.

[2] The messages about the state of that world are strong, indeed almost totally lacking in any subtlety… 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.

Some great camera work and all in lovely black and white makes this movie a worthwhile addition to the film-noir genre.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

2 thoughts on ““Caught” (1949) starring James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, & Robert Ryan

  1. Miss Ellie!

    Tonight I’m watching “Summer Stock” on TCM. Not sure I could watch any serious film at the moment, but interesting to read your capsule piece!

    Like

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