Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jason goes to Noir City--Day 5

A Robert Ryan double feature, for richer and poorer

CAUGHT (1949): First, for richer, in this film where he plays...well basically Howard Hughes, although his character is actually named Smith Ohlrig. In any case, he's a wealthy industrialist. But it's really the story of Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes,) a poor little car-hop/aspiring model from Denver, caught up in the big city of L.A. Her first day of modeling lands her an invitation to a party on a private yacht, and although she doesn't quite make it there she does meet Ohlrig and falls for him before she even knows who he is. They see each other a bit, and then basically because his psychiatrist tells him it's a bad idea he decides to marry her. But shortly after the Cinderella wedding, things turn sour. He's not much of a husband, treating her more as his property. He's power-mad and above all, he hates losing (incidentally, Howard Hughes apparently had a spy in the editing department who sneaked him the dailies, and for some reason--probably admiration for Ryan--he let this film go forward.) Eventually she leaves him and his Long Island mansion to live in a small apartment and work as a secretary for Dr. Larry Quinada (James Mason, in his first Hollywood role.) They fall in love, but again Ohlrig doesn't like to lose. Which leads up to one of the strangest "happy" endings I've ever seen. SPOILER: the happy ending is a miscarriage which frees her from Ohlrig.

THE SET-UP (1949): And then there's Robert Ryan for poorer, in what Eddie Muller described as the best boxing movie ever. In a world where ROCKY exists, that's a pretty bold statement...but one I won't challenge. Ryan is over-the-hill journeyman boxer Stoker Johnson, who is always just one punch away from a big payday. His long-suffering wife Julie is played by Audrey Totter. In a taut, real-time 72 minutes we see him prepare for a fight against a young up-and-comer. The thing is, his manager has arranged for him to take a dive in the third round. He just neglected to tell Stoker (see, then he'd have to cut him in on the action.) But Stoker has just enough heart to go the distance, and maybe even take the kid down. Which would be horrible, since Little Boy (Alan Baxter) set this all up, and he's not the kind of guy you want to cross. The overall story is predictable, but under the direction of Robert Wise, the immersive cinematography and editing that takes you right into the ring and into the audience, and of course the flawless performance by Ryan, this whole thing is a thrilling treat. Allegedly both Wise and Ryan consider this their best film, and I'm not one to argue with either of them.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 380,154
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