Monday, July 25, 2016

Streaming Streams No Mortal Ever Dared to Stream Before: Caught (1949)

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, streaming streams no mortal ever dared to stream before. --Edgar Allen Not
Welcome to what I hope will be a regular feature, to venture forth into the abyss of streaming TV to pull out something from the flotsam and expose it to the light.

I recently acquired this newfangled thingy called Fire TV at a greatly reduced price during a members-only day of being incentivized to spend money. It's a flat black box and somehow they crammed at least a bazillion different movie and TV shows into it. I don't know how they accomplished that awesome feat and I don't care. I also don't know where the Fire is, but hopefully it won't burn the house down. So far, I love this thing.

I have cruised the listings to find some interesting and obscure movies to add to my watchlist and I will be sharing my discoveries with you, for good or ill. Join me in my folly.


Today's adventure in streaming TV leads us to a film directed by Max Ophüls from 1949. This one caught my eye  because it has Barbara Bel Geddes, whose performances I enjoyed in Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Vertigo. I didn't recognize James Mason by name, but by his familiar accent as Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Philipp Vandamm from North by Northwest. Although Robert Ryan has appeared in many movies, this will be the first one in which I've seen him. Natalie Schafer, who I remember as Mrs. Howell on Gilligan's Island, plays a very small part as charm school teacher, Dorothy Dale. Also appearing briefly as a "store customer in flowered hat" is Barbara Billingsley, the well known mom from Leave it to Beaver. The picture and sound quality on this film is pretty decent, likely due to the involvement of UCLA Film Archives. I am giving this a fairly thorough treatment, which means you may not need to watch the movie if you read to the end. I'll give you fair warning before I get there. Here's the description given on Amazon:
After marrying a millionaire, a young woman eventually realizes his abuse and exploitation are symptoms of insanity. When she tries to obtain a divorce, he demands custody of their child. Desperate, she plots his murder.

We open with two girls leafing through a fashion magazine and dreaming about the lovely jewels, fashions and furs they'd like to have. Maxine (Ruth Brady) tells Maude (Barbara Bel Geddes) that she can afford to go to Dorothy Dale's school of charm if she goes without stockings, movies, magazines and spends only 25 cents on her lunches. Maxine tells her charm school is like college and finishing school combined and without a social education she'll never meet a real man. Maude dreams about graduating from charm school, doing some modeling in the store with Maxine and meeting some handsome millionaire at the perfume counter.

At charm school, Dorothy Dale (Natalie Schafer) instructs the girls on how to have confident and polite social conversations. Afterwards, Leonora's dream nearly does come true when she begins modeling a mink coat at the department store where Maxine works. She meets some "slimy little man" at the perfume counter who asks her to show him the lining of her fur and, after checking her figure, invites her to a party on the yacht of his "business associate," Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan).

Leonora gets dolled up in a cute, revealing dress, saying she's not the type to wear it, and expressing her distaste to Maxine about going to a party where the men have only one idea on their minds. Maxine tells her it's an investment and gets down on her for feeling cheap, saying she should be glad and that girls like them can't pick the way they meet decent men like Smith Ohlrig, who can take them out of the dump they live in.

She obviously gets over it and waits on the dock while a yacht sails offshore. A man shows up in a boat and she asks if he can take her out to the yacht. He says it's not a good party and he can't take her until his business is done. She decides to go with the man while he conducts business only to find out he is none other than the wealthy Smith Ohlrig. He keeps her waiting a while as he does business, and then instead of heading back to the yacht party, he asks if he can take her into town, while chatting her up about all the things she's learned at charm school. After finding out she hasn't been out to other "yacht parties" he takes her to his house and invites her in for a drink. She demands that he take her home and he does.

We then see Smith reclining on a couch, describing to his psychologist how she did the same thing a few more times and then he dropped her. The doctor suggests that she knew he only wanted to play around with her, which Smith doesn't deny. Since the doctor has stated in the past that Smith has faux heart attacks to get pity, that he must destroy everyone he can, and that he wouldn't get married because he's afraid he would only be married for his money, Smith decides to prove he's not afraid and will marry Leonora "what's her name." The doctor calls him on it saying he doesn't really want to marry her, that he's only doing it to prove that no one can have authority over him, and that it would end up ruining the girl and Smith.

Newspaper headlines announce their marriage stating, "Cinderella Gets Her Man!" and showing photos of the sprawling Ohlrig mansion. We see Maxine and Leonora being called from poolside for luncheon on the patio and waited upon by servants. Leonora bemoans how her hubby doesn't often get home until after midnight and that they don't have much time alone together. She thinks Smith wishes he hadn't married her and she doesn't know how to fit in to the lifestyle of the rich and famous. She confides to Maxine that she didn't marry him for his money as he believes, and that she truly does love him, though we can't imagine why.

On a snowy night, Franzi (Curt Bois), the man she met at the perfume counter, is playing the piano while Leonora sits unhappily on the couch, complaining about waiting around for Smith to come home and pay attention to her. Franzi suggests she should be happy with the jewels and money, asking why else marry a madman like that, and she says it's not enough. He says she's a greedy little girl, which pushes her over the edge, leading her to smack him across the face a few times. She apologizes, but he says it saves Smith from getting hit, which is what he's paid for.

Smith finally arrives home after three in the morning with a bunch of guys to show them one of his movies. When she decides to go to bed, he declares she is his wife and hostess of the house and is expected to stay up. During the movie, she starts laughing at something one of his gentlemen friends said to her, which prompts Smith to stop the movie and proceed to humiliate her while asking the offending gent to leave. When she storms out of the theater, he goes nuts and sends everyone home. He calls her back down, and on his way out Franzi warns her she might get slapped this time.

She comes down to have it out with him and asks if he wants a divorce. He tells her she probably expects a big settlement. He then brags about how he built the fortune left to him by his father and that she's just another one of his well paid employees. He suggests she go away awhile. She says she's going to get a job. He says she'll be back. When she leaves he has one of his attacks.

Leonora gets a job as a receptionist for handsome Dr. Larry Quinada (James Mason). Leonora seems overwhelmed in the busy office and when the good doctor finds out she's been telling a mother that her little girl should learn to speak well and walk well to marry well, he gives her a talking to, asking if she truly believes that and if it's her desire to marry rich, obviously unaware of the fact that she is already married. He suggests she improve her skills if she wants to keep her job. She cries and quits the job.

Smith has been having her watched, so he knows the time is ripe to show up on her doorstep and see if she's alright. He says he's missed her and wants her to come back. She admits she's glad to see him, but she wishes she weren't. He promises her they'll make a fresh start and says all the things he thinks she wants to hear. He asks her to go out for coffee and promises he'll bring her back when she asks him to.

Whatever he told her over coffee works because we then see Franzi bringing a breakfast tray to Leonora in bed. He tells her she needs to get up because Smith and all the guy gang are going on a trip, and not on the honeymoon he promised her. She tells him she no longer needs her mink and calls up Dr. Quinada and asks if she can have her job back.

Leonora and Dr. Quinada get a chance to bond over an emergency with a girl who has botulism poisoning. After staying up all night doing so, she decides to consult with Quinada's partner and obstetrician in the office, Dr. Hoffman (Frank Ferguson), over a little health matter, and has a test performed. We can assume it has to do with the night she spent reconciling with Smith.

Dr. Quinada and Leonora go out to dinner and he tells her his parents wasted their lives pretending to be rich. He suggests one needs to care about money to the extent that you've got to be able to provide for yourself. She finally admits to him that she was out at Long Island as a sort of paid companion to someone who was very rich. They get cozy dancing together on a crowded dance floor, which prompts him to propose marriage. She says she wants to marry him but has to straighten something out first.

The next day, he finds out she's moved back to Long Island. When he tells Dr. Hoffman he proposed to her and is considering looking her up in Long Island, Hoffman suggests he forget her. He doesn't take the advice and shows up at Smith Ohlrig's place only to find out that Leonora is married to Smith. He takes that as his cue to leave and Smith decides to play pinball. Leonora catches Larry on his way out and asks him to meet her in the garage.

She tells him she went back to Long Island because she's going to have Ohlrig's baby and wants to have financial security for the baby. Larry warns her to leave him, not because he loves her but because in the three minutes he spent with him, he knows Smith is dangerous. Smith finds them and interrupts the conversation. Larry says she has to decide how important money is to her. She remains silent and Larry tells her to call if she makes up her mind.

Leonora tells Smith she doesn't want his money but does want a divorce. He agrees to the divorce only if he gets the child. He threatens to get the child anyway by suing for divorce and naming Quinada as the correspondent. Smith goes on to tell her how much he hates her and is willing to use the child to break her. He goes back to his pinball while she begs him to let her keep the baby.

The newspapers announce that Leonora has locked herself up in the Long Island mansion and Smith says he can't even reach her by phone. It's unclear exactly what is happening to her, though she seems dazed and incoherent. He arrives late at the house and demands to see her. She has pulled the phone wires out of the wall. When Franzi knocks on the door, she tells him she won't come down and see Smith. In her delirium she cries out for Larry saying they won't let her sleep. When Smith tells Franzi to go back and get her, Franzi decides he can no longer participate in her mistreatment, especially in her condition, and he quits.

This is a good place for you to quit if you don't want to know what happens at the end of this movie, otherwise read on, but consider yourself forewarned. There's not much left.

Leonora wakes to a crash and hears Smith cry out for her. She goes downstairs and finds him lying next to the overturned pinball machine and groaning. He asks her to get him some water. She leaves the room without doing anything to help him.

We then see the house filled with medical staff and a doctor announces that he'll live. Larry comes in amidst the chaos and goes upstairs to find Leonora in a daze. She says she killed him because she left him lying on the floor and she wanted him to die. She starts having labor pains and Larry runs downstairs to call an ambulance. On the way to the hospital, Larry tells her Smith's not going to die and she didn't kill him, but now she can be free to be happy and start living.

In the last minute (literally) of the film, Dr. Hoffman informs Larry that Leonora is okay, but that it was a premature birth and the baby died. We hear Larry saying that Smith can't hold her now, that she's free, and hearing his voice outside her door, she smiles. He goes into the room. The nurse tries to bring her mink coat to her, but Dr. Hoffman says he doesn't believe she'll want it anymore.

Thoughts on this film:

Leaving her husband for dead after he had collapsed was hardly a plot for murder. I feel misled by the description given. It is beautifully filmed, and though I expected a casual romp that I would not have to take too seriously, it surprised me in that it turned out to be a thought provoking film. It is a sort of fractured fairy tale--a Cinderella gone wrong story. Instead of a wicked stepmother and stepsisters, Prince Charming turns out to be the bad guy.

We get a superficial look into Smith Ohlrig's psyche. We learn from his psychotherapy session that his heart throws a tantrum when he doesn't get his way, which leads to his attacks, though it's not clear if they are real or imagined, as his psychotherapist suggests. He's afraid to marry because he fears he will only be married for his money, even though he does not seem to desire love or friendship. People are to be used or employed by him for his own advantage. Leonora is just another employee with a job to do. While he admits he inherited his wealth, he argues that he still had to work to build up his fortune when he could have squandered it away on vices.

Leonora is the embodiment of the Cinderella fantasy. She is a car hop living on limited means who dreams of having material wealth and the security of home and husband. Like Cinderella, she has help to make herself attractive through charm school with fairy godmother figure, Dorothy Dale, and friends who loan her a gown, gloves, and jewels in order to entice the rich Prince Charming. When she achieves her dream to marry a rich husband, she discovers it is not all that she hoped for and is forced to reconsider what will bring her true happiness.

It's rather strange that the good doctor Larry is not meant to represent wealth, as doctors are commonly associated, though he offers stability and security. Money is not important to him. His work is what's important and he's dedicated himself to helping poor families. He is the Knight in Shining Armor that enables Leonora to escape the evil clutches of her wicked husband. While we can see how they bond, it seems a rather lukewarm relationship and there's not a lot of romance going on between them, though still more than she had with Smith. The scene where they're dancing in the jazz mosh pit was a cute highlight.

The mink coat reappears throughout the film as a symbol of the Cinderella fantasy. It is an artifact akin to the glass slipper. At the beginning, she wishes for a mink coat. At charm school, she has the chance to wear it, but doesn't own it. The ladies at the store indicate that they have to rely on a rich husband to provide a mink coat. When Leonora nabs her rich husband, she acquires the mink, but finds it is not enough to bring her happiness. When she first leaves Smith, she takes it with her, indicating she has still not let go of her belief in the importance of money. After she goes back to him and realizes he hasn't changed, she is willing to leave it behind, demonstrating that love and happiness have become more important to her than material wealth. At the end of the film, the coat reappears, and is turned away by the doctor, who doesn't think she'll want it now that she has chosen love over money.

The ending to this film is rushed, which is dissatisfying. While the husband appears to suffer a heart attack from not being able to exert his power over Leonora, we see no more of him after his collapse. It's somewhat disturbing that the characters seem almost cheerful over the convenient death of the baby, but it could just appear that way because they had less than 60 seconds to perform that scene. Perhaps it was rushed so that it would slip by the Motion Picture Production Code unnoticed.
I feel somewhat ambivalent about this movie, and though it has its flaws, it's not without its merits. I enjoyed the performances of the actors and adored the visual style of this movie. It left a definite impression on me. It prompted me to reflect on opportunities for women and how they have changed and not changed since 1949, as well as the pursuit and value of wealth and power and how it corrupts. I appreciate that it challenges the Cinderella fantasy, though it certainly doesn't do so for feminist purposes, as the alternative it offers depends upon the assistance of another man, which is not unexpected in 1949. At its heart it may be asking us to consider what are the qualities of a true "Prince Charming," and what are the aspects that lead to a happy marriage.

I hope you'll be inspired to watch and share your own thoughts on this film.

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