Max Ophuls
Max Ophuls

If TV channels were rationed and I could have access to only one, it'd be Turner Classic Movies hands down. No other station shows more movies, including vintage movies without strong marquee value but with plenty to recommend them. Like TNT before it, TCM has the Turner film library of Warner Bros., MGM, and RKO to draw from, and they run just about everything in the vault. Moreover, in recent years TCM has made long- or short-term arrangements to show titles from other Hollywood studios, too—Columbia, Fox, Universal, Paramount, you name it. Again, they show the un- or little-known pictures—often featuring stars in prestellar roles—as well as familiar classics. And they run scads of foreign classics besides (including many that come out on DVD and Blu-ray in Criterion editions). There are no commercial breaks, nothing is cut, and 99 percent of the time the movie will be shown in the correct format, from the ultra-widescreen of the 1959 Ben-Hur to the tall, 1.20:1 "Movietone" format of the late-silent Sunrise, the early-talkie musicals Ernst Lubitsch directed, and Fritz Lang's M. The channel is a cultural treasure.

This month, TCM has been reserving two evenings a week to showcase films selected by Turner employees. Some have asked to rerun the likes of The Searchers and The Wizard of Oz for the umpteenth time. Others have been more esoteric—none more so than Lee Tsiantis, a fellow I've never met yet regard as a friend. A mutual acquaintance put me in e-mail contact with him last year when I was looking for a way to complain about several Old Hollywood pictures having been shown in the modern widescreen ratio—a technical glitch, as it turned out, affecting only TCM's upconverted, quasi-HD second channel (701 on your Comcast/Xfinity dial, as opposed to the conventional cablecast at 501). Such things aren't in Lee's department; in fact, he's not, strictly speaking, a TCM employee but rather a consultant who helps sort out rights issues. Still, our mutual friend knew him to be passionate about the art and history of film, and someone who'd share my concern. We've been e-gabbing regularly ever since.

But I digress, as usual. The reason for this posting is to alert you to the Monday-night showing of Lee's selection, March 21 at 7:15 p.m. West Coast time, 10:15 p.m. back in his and TCM's hometown of Atlanta. The movie is Caught, the next-to-last of four feature films directed in Hollywood by the great Max Ophuls. The directorial credit is only the first among many reasons to find it remarkable. The picture was made for Enterprise Studios, an early independent entity co-founded by the very serious, New York stage–bred actor John Garfield after his Warner Bros. contract ended. (No, Garfield's not in this particular movie.) The story, from a novel by Libbie Block adapted for the screen by Arthur Laurents, has to do with a gentle young woman married to and swept up in the life of a fabled tycoon whose eccentricity is soon upgraded to obsession and madness. The two roles couldn't be better-cast: Barbara Bel Geddes is Leonora, and the manipulative lord of the manor is Robert Ryan at his most chilling. Leonora flees her ivory tower and fetches up as the receptionist to a pair of doctors serving a lower-class population. One of them has the oddly exotic name Quinada and is played by James Mason in his first Hollywood role. It's not surprising that a couple of these characters fall in love, but the ways in which their stories shake out will surprise you. Incidentally, Ophuls's first, abortive Hollywood effort was a project for Howard Hughes that, typically of Hughes, went through several directors over a period of years. Any resemblance between Hughes and Robert Ryan's characterization is surely coincidental.

Caught's not available on Region 1 DVD (it has been released in Europe), so this TCM presentation is especially welcome. You can read more about it, and by all means about Lee Tsiantis, in this article by Lou Lumenick in The New York Post: