“Hollow Triumph” (1948) starring Paul Henreid & Joan Bennett

His scar marked them both!!! -A tagline for the film

John Muller (Paul Henreid) is an educated man-turned-criminal (he dropped out of med school yrs ago) who plans a holdup that goes wrong. Soon, he’s being followed by goons who work for a powerful/vindictive gambler (to whom he owes money). Hiding out, John stumbles onto a chance to assume a new identity, that of respected psychiatrist Victor Bartok, who happens to be his virtual double (aside from a scar on the left cheek). John gets close to Bartok’s secretary, Evelyn Hahn (Joan Bennett), in order to learn more about her employer.

[regaining her composure after mistakenly kissing Muller, thinking he was Dr. Bartok]

Evelyn: What can I do for you?

John: What more could any reasonable man ask?

I learned about this movie on the film noir pod- Out of the Podcast. This is a “Poverty Row” production; this is a slang term used to refer to Hollywood films produced from the 1920s-1950s by small B movie studios (as my noir-istas will know). While some Poverty Row studios had a brief existence, releasing ONLY a few films, others operated on more-or-less the same terms as- if on a smaller scales from- major film studios (MGM, Warner Bros, and Paramount). Though Steve Sekely is credited as the director, Henreid (uncredited) ended up directing the film mostly on his own! Director of Photography John Alton had a prolific career; he wrote one of the 1st book on cinematography. Alton worked on many noir films, incl: He Walked by Night, Witness to Murder, and The Big Combo. He collaborated w/ Spencer Tracy on several films: Father of the Bride, Father’s Little Dividend, and (most notably) The People Against O’Hara.

John: What happened? Did he hurt you?

Evelyn: Do I look hurt?

John: I should say you do.

Evelyn: Well, don’t fool yourself. You don’t get hurt these days.

John: No?

Evelyn: No. It’s very simple. You never expect anything, so you’re never disappointed.

John: You’re a bitter little lady.

Evelyn: It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises, and you don’t go around letting people hurt you.

When you imagine film noir villain, Paul Henreid is probably NOT in your list -LOL! Henreid (blonde, 6’2″ tall, and best known for Casablanca) decided to produce this film himself, so that he could play a bad guy for once. As my classic film fans will know, Henreid was an immigrant to the US who became a success in Hollywood; he was born in the Austro-Hungarian empire (now a part of northern Italy). I recently learned that his father was an aristocratic banker of Jewish heritage; he changed their last name from “Hirsch” to “Hernreid.” I was skeptical, BUT he makes a compelling character. Henreid (looking posh in his suits) reveals a cold/dangerous side, BUT also keeps some charm/sophistication. You can watch this movie free on YouTube, as it is now in the public domain; the alternative title is The Scar.

Jerry [to John at the garage re: his dream to become a ballroom dancer]: My height, right? Being short isn’t as insuperable a handicap as you might think. If your personality is powerful, you can project the illusion of height.

[1] This is a well-directed, sometimes brutal, atmospheric thriller which is something of a lost classic. It is now available on DVD under its alternative title of ‘The Scar’… Joan Bennett was really made for these films, as she proved in ‘The Woman in the Window’ and ‘Scarlet Street’ for instance. There is something ambiguous about her, something hard that is soft, you can’t quite figure her. That’s just right for noir. You should never be able to figure noir, everything should stay in the shadows where it belongs.

[2] …it sure does raise my opinion of Henreid, who I’ve seen to somewhat underwhelming effect in “Of Human Bondage,” “Casablanca,” and “Meet Me in Las Vegas.” I’ve always felt like he’s just eye candy for the ladies, but in this film he really carries the story with a lot of screen presence and authority. He’s in a very different role from some of those milquetoasts- here he’s a daring, ruthless criminal who steals another man’s identity after a botched casino robbery…

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

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