Los Angeles in 1949 is seemingly unburdened by the shadow of the recent war, but brimming with a happy-go-lucky, casual consumerism. Caught is set in this optimistic milieu, and tracks the fortunes of a young, idealistic woman of little means who sets out to bag herself a rich husband in the prince charming mould.

Leonora Aimes (Barbara Bel Geddes) shares a shabby apartment with an older room-mate, and enrolls in a finishing school with the hope of becoming a model and improving her chance of moving upwards in the world. By chance, her path crosses that of renowned multi-millionaire Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan). At first suspicious that she might be a common gold-digger, Ohlrig is gradually attracted by her propriety and resistance to a casual affair. The two are quickly married and it seems that the life of Leonora’s dreams are about to be realised, but she is not prepared for her husband’s cold and domineering nature.

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Leonora may be naïve, but she’s also spirited, and smart enough to know when to cut and run. Installing herself as the secretary of a doctor’s surgery, she takes on a new identity, and a burgeoning relationship with Dr Quinada (James Mason), the principled bachelor doctor who gave her a chance, promises all the satisfaction that her marriage failed to provide. However, her possessive husband is not prepared to give her up so easily.

The oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere of the Ohlrig castle, Leonora’s home after marriage, is superbly constructed, and Ophüls’ technical skill is clearly visible in his use of camera-work to express the power relationships between the main characters. Ophüls also has an obvious sympathy for his strong-willed heroine. While both men who want to claim her, even her former room-mate (the only friend we see her with) question her motives, and would like to cast her as frivolous and materialistic, Ophüls allows her to stand her ground convincingly, and emerge the victor.

The tension sustained through the film veers towards melodrama at the end, but otherwise it’s well-paced and Ophüls has drawn visceral and very credible performances from his leading three. Bel Geddes is sincere and full of determination, and Mason provides a stern but affectionate alter-ego to Ryan’s terrifying steely demeanour. It all adds up to a tightly-wraught psychological drama with a satisfyingly strong feminist vein.

Reviewed on: 09 Sep 2008
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Tense psychological drama about a young woman whose dream of marrying into riches descends into a nightmare.
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Nicola Osborne ***

Director: Max Ophuls

Writer: Arthur Laurents, based on the book by Libbie Block

Starring: Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason, Robert Ryan, Frank Ferguson, Ruth Brady

Year: 1949

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: USA


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