Caught, which plays today at BAM as part of their Max OphÃ¼ls retro, was based on a novel called called Wild Calendar, by one Libbie Block, though the finished movie bears scant resemblance to its source. Made in 1947, it was the third Hollywood film directed by OphÃ¼ls, after a five years of inactivity following his arrival in the states; somewhere in there, though, he was hired, humiliated, and fired by Howard Hughes. With Caught, he gets back at him, turning the film’s central male character into a thinly disguised version of Hughes — a mysterious millionaire who also happens to be paranoid, possibly psychotic, and who has a nasty habit of collecting kept women. According to Chuck Taylor, “OphÃ¼ls and screenwriter Arthur Laurents relied… on stories they had heard from some of Hughes’ discarded women” for the character.
And aside from being the end result of an infamous Hollywood backstory, the character “Smith Ohlrig” is also grist for a terrific Robert Ryan performance: Ryan found seemingly endless shades of insecurity, fear, and melancholy within even the most menacing characters, and as the Hughes stand-in he’s seething, indeterminately sexualized, and control-freaky. He’s a perfect Hughes — virile and dashing at first, until you realize just how weird and obsessive he is.
The movie’s pretty damn great, too: Barbara Bel Geddes plays a shopgirl who enters into what she thinks is a fairy-tale marriage with Ohlring; the movie is a tabloid expose, a cautionary tale to a nation beginning to rediscover the joys of wealth and fame, and a continental spin on noir style. This being an OphÃ¼ls movie, his focus and sympathy is squarely on the woman negotiating a malignant society, but spare a minute to note how supporting player Ryan ends up looming over the whole thing.