Caught Review


Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes) goes to charm school in the hope of finding a rich husband...and finds one in the shape of millionaire Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan). However, Ohlrig is only interested in her as a trophy bride. He lavishes a luxurious lifestyle on her, of mink and jewels, and expects her to be content with this. However, in seeking her own independence, Leonora takes a job in a surgery and falls for doctor Larry Quinada (James Mason). However, Ohlrig is having nothing of this…
Max Ophuls's first Hollywood film, the little-seen The Exile of 1947, had not been a success. His next film, Letter from an Unknown Woman did well critically, but did not draw an audience.

Ophuls was approached to make Caught, based on a then-popular novel Wild Calendar by Libbie Block and scripted by Arthur Laurents. However, Ophuls went down with shingles, and the film was started by John Berry. However, the film went behind schedule and Ophuls replaced Berry, reshooting most – though not all – of his scenes. The production company, Enterprise Pictures, was suffering the effects of an expensive flop, Arch of Triumph. They would go on to fold, but in the meantime Caught had its budget cut. Ophuls's trademark use of long takes – often using the newly-invented crab dolly, which DP Lee Garmes had used on Hitchcock's The Paradine Case the year before – often helped to save time and therefore money.

Ophuls's use of camera movement, and often editing within camera by moving from one shot to another without cutting, is of a high order here. He rarely resorts to conventional staging and editing, frequently using deep focus to comment on and clarify the relationships between the characters. In this film and its successor, The Reckless Moment, also with a contemporary setting, Ophuls moves towards the darker tone of film noir. His and Garmes's use of bars and pillars – both real ones and ones of shadow – emphasises the theme of entrapment. Leonora may be caught, as in the title, but so is Ohlrig: as an early scene with his psychiatrist shows, he's as much a victim of his own neuroses and his need to control. Ryan's characterisation is as close to that of Howard Hughes (owner of RKO, who had treated Ophuls badly during the shooting of Vendetta, eventually replacing him) as was legal. Ryan is fine, as is James Mason (the biggest star at the time, receiving top billing despite not appearing in the first thirty-five minutes). Barbara Bel Geddes is nowadays best known for her television work, but this is her best acting for the big screen. Her other major film role was her supporting turn in Vertigo.

Caught was completed over budget and behind schedule, due to Berry's being replaced and most of his work reshot. By then, Enterprise Pictures had gone under, and MGM (who had distributed all of Enterprise's films) were less than enthusiastic about Caught. Further problems came from both the Production Code Administration, who demanded script rewrites, as well as from the Legion of Decency, who insisted on cuts, mainly due to the subject matter of divorce. As with The Reckless Moment, Caught is not the masterpiece of the Hollywood years – that would be Letter - but it's not far behind, and it shows Ophuls's style fully formed.



The DVD


Two years ago, Second Sight released four Max Ophuls films, all of them from the last eight years of his career. Now there are two more: Caught is released simultaneously with La Ronde,. Only Lola Montès, previously available on a subpar Fox Lorber disc, remains from the directors' last seven, and most famous, films – and Second Sight are due to release that in the near future. Their edition of Caught is a DVD-5 encoded for all regions.

The DVD transfer of Caught is derived from the restoration done by UCLA, which reinstated some of the censored dialogue. As the film was shot in Academy Ratio black and white, the transfer is in a ratio of 4:3, with no anamorphic enhancement necessary. This transfer will pass muster on smaller TV sets, but more demanding equipment reveals its flaws. Its running time is almost identical to that of the cinema release, which reveals a NTSC-to-PAL standards conversion. The result lacks the worst artefacts of such a conversion, but it's overly soft and lacking in sharpness and definition.

The soundtrack is mono, as was the original, and there's nothing untoward about it. Unfortunately, Second Sight have not provided subtitles, as happens far too often on English-language DVDs.

As before, Second Sight have provided some substantial extras. First up is a commentary from Lutz Bacher, author of Max Ophuls in Hollywood. Bacher describes the background to the film's troubled production and also points out which scenes appear to be John Berry's work. He also pays considerable attention to Ophuls's sequence shots, which he divides into expressive long takes and rhythmic long takes. He does leave some gaps in his commentaries, but there's plenty for cineastes to chew on.

In a similar vein is a visual essay, “Uncaught” (14:31) by film historian Tag Gallagher. This is also a visual analysis of Ophuls's themes and styles, in particular the way he frames shots to exhibit the power relations between the characters. To illustrate his thesis, Gallagher also provides some tantalising extracts from earlier, harder-to-see work (La tendre ennemie [1936] and Werther [1938] being in sepia rather than black and white) which you hope some enterprising distributor will release on DVD some day.

The final extra is a stills gallery, many of the shots having explanatory captions.


Film
8 out of 10
Video
6 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

7

out of 10

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