Throughout my life, I’ve been told that it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is a poor man. No doubt an adage from a different time, I’m fairly sure it’s my mom’s ambition in life to marry me off to a rich man. Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit extreme. She also wants him to be nice and have good values and stuff. But, rich is up there…
Over this labor day weekend, I was introduced to a film that attempts to answer the question, “Does marrying rich equal happiness?” The film is Caught. Made in 1949, Caught marked the first film that James Mason made in America. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t want to see it when my dad first pitched it to me – I said “Another film noir?” I tend to get annoyed because the only thing my dad wants to watch is film noir, but this one is different and well worth the watch.
If you’re unfamiliar, Caught follows Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes), a young, idealistic, poor girl. She wants to move up in life and so, decides to go to charm school where she’ll be given the tools she need to not just have the job she wants, but the husband she wants too. She gets lucky, marrying Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan), but she quickly finds out wealth is not enough alone to make her happy. Ohlrig, who treats her like his employee, tells her to take a trip. Instead, she decides to get a job as a receptionist in a doctor’s office. It’s there that she meets Dr. Larry Quinada (James Mason) who she develops an attraction to. Only one problem – she’s still married! Let’s just say DRAMA ENSUES.
Here are just a few reasons you need to check out Caught ASAP:
The cast is everything in Caught. Although the film was marketed using James Mason, its star was really Barbara Bel Geddes. Though most know her from the long running TV soap Dallas or her small role in Vertigo, Bel Geddes had quite an impressive early career. She starred in films made by George Stevens and Elia Kazan and played opposite stars like Henry Fonda and Irene Dunne. But, this film is really her shining moment. In watching her, it’s easy to see how naturally talented she was. As my dad put it, she was not a drop-dead gorgeous beauty like Ava Gardner; instead, she was a softer beauty, the “girl next door.” In essence, she looked like someone you could actually know.
As I already said, Caught was James Mason’s first film in America. At the time, he was already known across the pond in England. I had, of course, seen James Mason in many films before this, but I’d never thought of him as a romantic lead. This film changed my mind. He was around forty at the time he made Caught and probably at his most handsome. But, really what was so attractive about him in this film is the intelligence he exudes. He’s attractive, yes. But, he also seems like a real person. He’s believable and genuine and I’m gonna say it, sexy.
Robert Ryan is also wonderful as Smith Ohlrig, the Howard Hughes-inspired millionaire Leonora marries. So easily this character could have been one note – the evil villain. But there are moments when he seems human too and that, I think, is thanks Ryan’s nuanced performance.
The script was written by Arthur Laurents, who also wrote West Side Story, Rope and The Way We Were. Though the film was adapted from Libbie Block’s book Wild Calendar, much inspiration was taken from director Ophuls experience working for Howard Hughes.
I was surprised at how frank the film was, not just in regards to marriage but also in its recognition of a woman’s position in the late 1940’s. This is from a female point of view and it recognizes that a woman’s options during that time were limited. I love that Mason’s character tells her not to make decisions because of social conventions, i.e. how it’s going to look.
I was particularly fascinated by the lack of options Leonora had. She couldn’t just get divorced from her husband. Beyond how her reputation would have been ruined (which IMHO is bullshit), there was unequal power. Her husband had immense resources at his disposal and she had none. He could ruin her and would ruin her if she crossed him.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know I’m obsessed with romance and Caught is no exception. Even though there are only a few romantic scenes in the film, I couldn’t help but ship James Mason and Barbara Bel Geddes’ affair. Their chemistry is real and understated. It kind of reminded me of the romance in Waitress or Suspicion. Get ready to swoon!
Max Ophuls, also known as Max Oppenheimer, made most of his films in France. He was only in the U.S. from 1941 to 1950. Most of the films he made were period romances. Max had been fired from Vendetta, a film which was produced by Howard Hughes. Caught is an amalgam of genres. It’s a melodrama and a thriller, but also, based on the stylistic choices and subject matter, a film noir. A famous, talented filmmaker in his own right, Jean Luc Godard called Caught,“Max’s best American film (Godard, TCM Article).”
Though this was not an A-film, the production values were high. This is especially true in regards to the cinematography. Lee Garmes, who was famous for films like Scarface (the original 30’s film) and Duel in the Sun, shot the film with subtlety, letting moments unfold organically. He worked for producer David O. Selznick quite a bit and it is rumored that shot a large portion of Gone With the Wind.
It’s a thrilling, thought-provoking melodrama with incredible performances
The world has changed quite a bit since the late 1940’s, especially in regards to the way we define traditional male and female roles in society. However, this film is still relevant. It comments on society’s expectations and also criticizes them. It’s true that with wealth comes security, but that’s only in regards to financial matters. True security comes with accepting and loving both yourself and your partner. One without the other does not equal fulfillment.
It’s always a joy when I see a wonderful film which is not as well known as the major classics. It’s like uncovering treasure. Imagine this: this film was made almost seventy years ago and yet, there’s a lot to say.
I would put a link to the trailer below, but the whole movie happens to be on Youtube. So, happy watching!