ChiaroScuro presents


by Max Ophüls

USA 1949

Max Ophüls; (John Berry, uncredited)
Wolfgang Reinhardt
Production Companies:
Enterprise Productions for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Arthur Laurents (based on the novel Wild Calendar by Libbie Block)
Lee Garmes, A.S.C. (35 mm, b/w, 1.37:1)
Robert Parrish
Music Score:
Frederick Hollander
Max M. Hutchinson (Mono, Western Electric)
Art Director:
F. Paul Sylos
Set Designer:
Edward G. Boyle
Louise Wilson, Orry-Kelly
Gus Norin
Assistant Directors:
Robert Aldrich, Albert Van Schmul
James Mason (Larry Quinada), Barbara Bel Geddes (Leonora Eames), Robert Ryan (Smith Ohlrig), Ruth Brady (Maxine), Curt Bois (Franzi), Art Smith (Psychiatrist), Frank Ferguson (Dr. Hoffman), Sonia Darrin (Miss Chambers), Bernadene Hayes (Mrs. Rudecki), Ann Morrison (Miss Murray), Wilton Graff (Gentry), Jim Hawkins (Kevin), Vicki Raw Stiener (Lorraine), Natalie Schafer (Dorothy Dale)

Filming Locations:
Los Angeles: California Studios; Bel Air, Beverley Hills, Griffith Park
14 July-31 August, 30 September-5 October 1948
2408m = 88 min
17 February 1949 (Capitol, New York City)

John Berry was brought in as director when Ophüls fell ill. On July 30, Ophüls had recovered and returned on the set. Assistant Robert Aldrich recalled that Berry had not been told that he would direct the picture only during Ophüls' illness and that "he had been dealt with in a very shabby fashion" (Charles Higham, Joel Greenberg: The Celluloid Muse. Hollywood Directors Speak. Chicago 1969, p. 24sq.). From Berry's work, only the "charming school" sequence survived in the final cut.

"Caught, one of four films which the great German director Max Ophüls made in America, is an incisive and compulsively entertaining "woman's picture" about an ambitious model who aspires to marry a millionaire, only to find herself trapped in a nightmare when her tycoon husband turns out to be a sadistic megalomaniac.

[...] Caught was deemed to be "Max's best American film" by Jean-Luc Godard when he was a critic in 1958, and Pauline Kael agreed, calling it "The most interesting and emotionally complex of Ophüls's American pictures." Ophüls himself had a more modest opinion, saying in a Cahiers du Cinéma interview that "The film goes off the rails towards the end, but up to the last 10 minutes, it wasn't bad." While Godard and Kael's minority opinion may be extreme in light of Ophüls's masterly American film Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Caught is definitely a rich and highly accomplished film. It's also fairly unique in the American cinema for the critical way it examines the dark side of the American dream, the obsession with money and how it's equated with happiness, and the insidious ways that girls are indoctrinated to shape their minds and bodies to catch a rich spouse. The psychological ramifications of wealth at all costs are vividly dramatized in the scenes of the unbalanced Smith terrorizing Leonora. The depiction of verbal and mental cruelty was way ahead of its time, as is its sophisticated European attitude, in which everyone's character is flawed to some degree.

Ophüls's trademark use of elaborate crane shots and a constantly moving camera is relatively restrained here, which is appropriate for the scenes where Leonora feels trapped in the claustrophobic house, but Lee Garmes's fluid camerawork and noirish low-key lighting create an ominous mood, and there are some marvelous tracking shots to signify Leonora's happiness when she's dancing with Larry. Robert Ryan gives a superbly creepy, understated performance as the pathological Smith, making him both loathsome and pitiable. Smith's character is said to be a thinly-veiled portrait of Howard Hughes (based on Ophüls's humiliating experience on the Hughes-produced Vendetta, from which he was unceremoniously fired) which is reinforced by Ryan's longtime association with Hughes's RKO Studio. Indeed, Ophuls treats the entire story as a metaphor for prostituting oneself in Hollywood, with Smith's sycophantic German gofer Franzi (played by the wonderfully jaded Curt Bois), perhaps standing in for Ophüls himself, vis-a-vis his humiliating dealings with executives at the American studios.  
—  Michael Scheinfeld, TV Guide

"Caught, for many years a film maudit, is now considered by many critics a more interesting film than director Max Ophüls' celebrated Lola Montès.... Like Ophüls' other obscure American feature, The Reckless Moment, it is a near masterpiece in the genre of dark melodrama that best expressed the quality of domestic American life in the late Forties. Caught touches on familiar Ophülsian love themes but for the most part it focuses on the diseased ambitions and social-climbing illusions in postwar American society. In its attention to socio-psychological detail, Caught reveals the sharp eye of an astute European observer. Barbara Bel Geddes plays a charm school graduate caught between her psychotic millionaire husband (Robert Ryan in a portrayal patterned on Howard Hughes) and a struggling young ghetto doctor (James Mason). Lee Garmes' camerawork is truly Wellesian in its unusual angles, deep focus, and expressive lighting.
Pacific Film Archive

"A key American melodrama: draw a line between Citizen Kane and Written on the Wind, and you'll find Ophüls' noir classic at the heady mid-point. [...] Ophüls holds back his camera to frame the sour domstic nightmare, but gloriously equates motion with emotion when Bel Geddes takes solace with James Mason's virtuous doctor. The alluring web of hearts and dollars has rarely looked so deadly, and only the studio spared us the sight of the kill."
— Paul Taylor, TimeOut

"[...] More subdued and elegant than most of the melodramas of the decade, the work of a civilized miniaturist. [...] Lee Garmes' camera tracks constantly and with magical suppleness and fluency, across a darkly shining cocktail bar and round a dance band to rejoin a couple on the floor without a break, down a staircase as the doctor makes a dash to a late-night telephone, across a desk as two men talk in a room at night, the hum of an electric razor cutting across the conversation. [...] It is a film shot almost entirely at night, quiet in tone, notable for its romantic softness and subtlety."
— Charles Higham, Joel Greenberg: Hollywood in the Forties. London-New York 1968, p. 41sq.

"From its opening scene, Max Ophüls' Caught concentrates on the sharp—and often tragic—difference between dream and reality. Opening on a shot of a woman's hands languidly turning the pages of a slick fashion magazine while a disdainful voice declares that 'mink is so everyday', Ophüls' mobile camera swiftly pulls back to reveal a shabby flat peopled by two ordinary shopgirls with dreams of marrying 'a handsome young millionaire'. With graphic strength, Ophüls and scenarist Arthur Laurents demonstrate what might happen if that dream came true. ..."
Film Noir. An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. Edited by Alain Silver, Elizabeth Ward. Woodstock N.Y. 1992, p. 54.

"Obwohl nichts davon nach Ophüls aussieht, sind wir doch – durch das Genre der Schwarzen Serie hindurch – bei einem Ophüls-Thema schlechthin: bei der immer schärfer, genauer und auch bitterer geführten Ausdifferenzierung der Geschlechterrollen. [...] Mit der Inszenierung des Dekors – von fern tauchen Erinnerungen auf an Orson Welles, an Citizen Kane so gut wie an Magnificent Ambersons – gewinnt Ophüls seinem Œuvre eine Dimension hinzu, die er in späteren Filmen dynamisieren wird."
— Peter W. Jansen: Max Ophüls. München-Wien 1989 (Reihe Film 42), p. 196-198.

Film Reviews | DVD Reviews

Collection Les introuvables


Wild Side Vidéo / Universal Pictures Vidéo
Region 2
88:15 min (PAL Speedup + 4% = 92 min)
1.32:1/4:3 FullScreen
Average Bitrate: 6.12 mb/s, 3.96 GB
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s
• English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
• Français Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
Français (non-removable)
• Documentary: Max Ophüls ou le plaisir de tourner (Cinéastes de notre temps). Produced by Janine Bazin and André S. Labarthe, directed by Michel Mitrani. French TV station ORTF 1ère chaîne, 16 October 1965 (51:04 min)

• Filmographies for Barbara Bel Geddes, James Mason, Robert Ryan and Max Ophüls.
• Theatrical Trailer (02:14 min)
• Weblinks
• 12-pages Booklet with Liner Notes by Philippe Garnier

DVD Release Date: 3 June 2003
Digipack Case
Chapters: 12
DVD Encoding: PAL Region 2 (EU/France)
1xSS-DL/DVD-9 (6.65 GB)

The print was taken from the UCLA collection and is generally in good condition, only in some sequences a bit too contrasty with little greytones. The encoding is smooth without artifacts, but once again, there is an overuse of digital noise reduction. The result is a very soft, "digital" picture with no film grain and reduced detail, but fortunately free from distracting digital edge enhancement. French Subtitles are not removable on the English soundtrack. The rare documentary Max Ophüls ou le plaisir de tourner from the famous TV series Cinéastes de notre temps contains interviews with actors, friends and relatives of Max Ophüls.

Film: **** out of *****
***1/2 out of *****


Frame 1
(PAL 768x576)

Frame 2
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Frame 3
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Frame 4
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Frame 5
(PAL 768x576)

Average Bitrate :
6.12 mb/s

The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes

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Last update: 3 February 2004