(director: Max Ophüls; screenwriters: from the novel “Wild Calendar” by Libbie Block/Arthur Laurents; cinematographer: Lee Garmes; editor: Robert Parrish; music: Frederick Hollander; cast: James Mason (Dr. Larry Quinada), Barbara Bel Geddes (Leonora Eames), Robert Ryan (Smith Ohlrig), Ruth Brady (Maxine), Curt Bois (Franzi), Frank Ferguson (Dr. Hoffman), Natalie Schafer (Dorothy Dale), Art Smith (Psychiatrist), Sonia Darrin (Miss Chambers), Bernadene Hayes (Mrs. Rudecki), Ann Morrison (Miss Murray), Wilton Graff (Gentry), Jimmy Hawkins (Kevin), Vicki Raw Stiener (Lorraine); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Wolfgang Reinhardt; MGM; 1949)
“Brilliantly perceptive soap opera film noir.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The talented German-born filmmaker Max Ophüls (“La Ronde”/”Le Plaisir”), who fled the Nazis and arrived in America from France in 1941, had wasted time and energy on dumb projects when hired early on in the 1940s by delusional egotistical millionaire Howard Hughes and had been called ugly names behind his back by the reactionary studio boss of RKO. In this film, the filmmaker gets his revenge by having writer Arthur Laurents base the vile fashion-plate millionaire character of Smith Ohlrig, superbly played with a chill by Robert Ryan, on the contemptible mogul with info based on his talks with his women and from his own personal dealings with him. The brilliantly perceptive soap opera film noir is taken from the novel “Wild Calendar” by Libbie Block. It catches the differences between the dream and real world, and what might happen if your dreams are realized and they turn out to be a nightmare. In this case, a marriage from hell.
Ambitious brainwashed lower-class Denver-born car-hop Leonora Eames (Barbara Bel Geddes) is prompted by her fashion model Los Angeles roommate Maxine (Ruth Brady) to attend the charm school of Dorothy Dale in order to learn etiquette so she can get a better position and marry someone rich who could provide her material comforts. Marrying rich and wearing mink is taken by the silly empty-headed gals as their way to happiness. After the six-week course, Leonora works with Maxine as a department store model and meets the rich man of her dreams, the handsome and aloof industrial giant Smith Ohlrig. At his last session with his shrink (Art Smith), sicko Smith tells him all about how badly he treats the sweet but shallow Lee. When the shrink raises questions why he treats her with such disdain, Smith clamors that nobody tells him what to do and marries her to spite the shrink. The shrink says such a loveless marriage will never work. In any case, they marry and the newspapers call it a “Cinderella story.” But the nasty neurotic Smith neglects her for work and treats her coldly as just another hired hand, heaping on her verbal abuse and keeping her imprisoned in his cold Long Island mansion under the watchful eye of his creepy parasitic lackey employee Franzi (Curt Bois).
After almost a year of such a torturous loveless marriage, Lee walks out on the tyrant after he insults her at home in front of a group of his male executives. Lee finds work as a receptionist in the Lower East Side ghetto’s doctor office shared by mild-mannered obstetrician Dr. Hoffman (Frank Ferguson) and dedicated young bachelor pediatrician Dr. Larry Quinada (James Mason). After a two week trial at the job, Quinada is highly critical of her work and when her hubby shows up hat in hand begging to give the marriage another shot, that he will be changed man, she returns for one night. But the next morning realizes her hubby will never change and returns to work for the poor doctors. She forgets about her ideas of wealth, and her work skills improve and she falls in love with Quinada. He’s willing to marry her, even though she’s pregnant by her hubby.
Smith proves once again to be a monster by threatening not to give her a divorce unless she gives him custody of the child. He gives her no peace, calling her at all hours of the night to harass her during her pregnancy. When he can’t dominate her any more, Smith has one of his patented psychosomatic heart attacks–the reason he began seeing a shrink. The guilt-ridden Lee miscarriages and now free of any obligation to stay married, rushes off to start life over with a caring Quinada.
It’s difficult for Lee, who ever since she was a child has been told money is the root of a good life, to break away from this materialistic belief. In fact, she never does out of her own free will but only through other forces she can’t control. We are left with a pessimism about human nature, as it’s implied that most women will trade off their freedom for material security; even though, in this case, Lee got out of the trap she was “caught” in and stumbled into a marriage built on warmth and love. The Howard Hughes and his alter ego Smith Ohlrig types, we are led to believe, will always be around to tempt the most vain and shallow and beautiful women.
REVIEWED ON 1/27/2007 GRADE: A-