A couple of days ago, we mentioned Warren Beatty’s new film about Howard Hughes, the product of the actor-producer-director’s lifelong fascination with the RKO studio boss, one of the greatest womanizers (and most eccentric figures) in Hollywood history.

He was so powerful that many in classic Hollywood overlooked his huge personal quirks. No wonder there have been so many movies made (and stories told) about Hughes.

Pianist-wit Oscar Levant recalled in his The Memoirs of an Amnesiac (1965) that he and guests were once in Chasin’s Restaurant in Hollywood when a slovenly attired man came in and said hello to me. 

I cut him dead. Someone said, ‘That was Howard Hughes.’  Just to reveal my lack of character, I got up, went to his table, and shook hands with him.

No wonder that, as a recent article in The New York Times pointed out, the billionaire recluse has often been played onscreen: by Beatty (in Rules Don’t Apply), Leonardo DiCaprio (2004’s The Aviator),  Dean Stockwell  (1988’s Tucker: The Man And His Dream) and Jason Robards (1980’s Melvin and Howard).

The only film we here at Classic Movie Chat need concern ourselves with is 1949’s Caught with a tall and slender Robert Ryan (above in foreground) silkenly playing a thinly disguised Hughes as a sadistic control freak.

Surprisingly, the movie was made by MGM, a studio not usually given to the kind of tough domestic drama that Caught turned out to be.

The movie is the product of its director Max Ophuls‘ personal experiences while working under Hughes at RKO. This is a very tough depiction of Hughes — indirectly via Ryan’s character, one ‘Smith Ohlrig’ — as a thoroughly dominant figure who regards others, even his wife bearing his child (Barbara Bel Geddes, above backround), as mere personal possessions.

James Mason shows up as the key figure of an idealistic doctor with whom Bel Geddes’ character — a former department store model who swallows whole the notion that happiness is marrying a rich man — falls in love while locked in a grueling marriage to Ryan’s Howard Hughes doppelganger. Her husband turns out to be mad and insane, she learns (the hard way.)

There is a messy resolution following the wife’s return to her abusive husband to provide financial security for their child. On several levels, the woman is “caught.”

Elements of melodrama, to be sure, but given Ophuls’ smooth way with a cast of superb actors, the picture may have perhaps turned out differently than MGM had wished. (It was not a hit at the box office.)

In any case, seek this one out — and see it.

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