Thursday, 19 November 2009

Hollow Triumph, Steven Szekely, USA 1948

At long last, tonight's film brought me back to what this blog is supposed to be primarily about: classic American cinema, in this case, film noir.

What's interesting about Hollow Triumph is not so much the film itself, which tells the tale of a man who assumes the identity of another, but its cast and production history as it involved a number of German-Jewish emigres, most prominent among whom is the film's lead, Paul Henreid. Henreid rose to fame as Viktor Laszlo in Casablanca (Michael Curtiz 1943) and as Bette Davis' love interest in Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper 1942). Hollow Triumph is essentially an emigre film for the director, producer, cinematographer, and lead actor were all refugees from Nazi Germany. More than this, Hollow Triumph is a bonafide film noir, a genre at which the emigres not only excelled, but which they also heavily influenced and shaped.

By 1948, the year Hollow Triumph was produced, Henreid's career had started to decline and he would soon be blacklisted, suspected of being a Communist sympathizer, which subsequently brought his career to a virtual standstill. Hollow Triumph marked his - humble and uncredited - beginnings as a director as the film's director, Steven Szekely, a refugee from Hungary, proved inappropriate and consequently, Henreid took over. Hollow Triumph is an independent, poverty row, production (Bryan Foy Productions) and has all the makings of it. Moreover, its title - presumably referring to the film's ending - is an unfortunate, misleading, choice, for given the importance of facial disfugurement in the film, Scarface (or Scarface 2) would have been more apt as a title. Nevertheless, the film's unpretentious, take-it-or-leave-it, fly-by-night approach works to its advantage as it makes the plot, which borders on the implausible, at least remotely credible. Quickly paced, the dense narrative and an almost documentary-like cinematography make Hollow Triumph although not a major, but certainly an unjustly overlooked, film noir. Best of all is the film's Macbethian-ending, reminiscent of Quai des brumes (Marcel Carne, 1939).

Paul Henreid