Caught and House Of Strangers

Written by Joe D on December 20th, 2011

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Here are two noirish films I found on Netflix streaming. Both worth watching. Caught is a sort of poor man’s Citizen Kane, being a thinly disguised story of a very rich man, in this case Howard Hughes. Robert Ryan portrays him excellently and I’m sure he had opportunity to observe Hughes during his time at RKO. But the star of the film is the lovely and talented Barbara Bel Geddes. She plays a carhop with designs on being a model and winds up married to an insane millionaire. James Mason appears as a sympathetic doctor and love interest. The ending has to be seen to be believed, if I told you what happens you wouldn’t believe it. It could never happen today.

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This film was directed by an emigre from France, fleeing Nazi persecution, Max Ophuls.  I hear tell that Robert Aldritch directed some additional scenes for this film but I don’t know which ones. I’ll look into it. Martin Scorsese restored this film at UCLA archives a few years before he made his Hughes film, The Aviator. Unlike Hearst I don’t think Hughes tried to destroy anyone’s career over this film, maybe he was too far gone in his mental illness to notice.

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The next attraction on our double bill is House Of Strangers, a study of an upwardly mobile Italian family in old New York. This clan is ruled with an iron fist by it’s patriarch, portrayed by the great Edward G. Robinson. He turns in a wonderful, if somewhat stereotyped performance. His rise to riches as a banker (shades of A.P. Gianini) destroys his family pitting brother against brother in a quest for power. The main sibling is played by Richard Conte, the only brother the father doesn’t denigrate. Conte plays a lawyer with a habit of ending his pronouncements “Period”. Like “I’m going to the theater with you. Period!” No arguments. It’s a funny bit. The thing I really like about this film is the honest portrayal of the characters, the father is a tyrant, he calls one son “Dumbhead”, he treats his oldest son like a slave, making him wash is back in the tub while he  sings opera. But in spite of his evil side, you can’t help but like Eddie G. , you know he’s bad but he’s sort of charismatic, charming. He’s always telling his sons that he built everything for them and they will get it all when he dies. A very accurate portrait of just such a person.

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The brilliant director Joseph Mankewiscz  limns his character with an unerring eye. Lest I forget Susan Hayward appears as a rich chick out for kicks and goes slumming with Conte. I am not a big fan of her work but I must say here she turns in a very good job. I like her in this movie. Flashback structure, Gothic old house, speakeasies, lots of shadows, Noir without a detective, family noir. Check it out.

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