Saturday, March 8, 2014

HOLLOW TRIUMPH: Henreid/Bennett starrer from Fuchs/Sekely gets a spiffy, restored look

A film of which I'd never heard till now -- despite its good cast (Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett) and a screenwriter of several other excellent films (Daniel Fuchs) but a Hungarian director (István "Steve" Székely) whose main claim to fame would be The Day of the Triffids -- HOLLOW TRIUMPH, aka The Man Who Murdered Himself aka The Scar, looks today very much like a would-be hard-boiled noir that occasionally veers perilously close to unintentional camp.

The occasion for covering it comes from its release, via Film Chest, this coming Tuesday, March 11, in a new high-definition restoration from the original 35mm film elements. The restoration looks very good -- crisp black-and-white cinematog-raphy (by the great John Alton) with few moments in which that restoration loses luster.

This was one of only two films produced by its star, Mr. Henreid, shown above. The other -- For Men Only (which he also directed) -- about a college hazing death sounds much more worthwhile, as well as, of course, ever timely. The actor went on to direct a number of other films and television shows, as well as continuing to act until the late 1970s (he died in 1992). A somewhat wooden performer, he still managed to score well in several memorable movies, including Casablanca and Now, Voyager. With his rather thick Austrian accent, he came across as alternately classy or evil, as needed.

In Hollow Triumph, however, that accent seems odd at best, and the movie attempts no explanation for it. Henreid's character, John Muller, may have a Germanic sounding name, but he's only ever been a resident of the USA, so far as we know, and his brother (played by Eduard Franz, above, left) has no accent at all. If this were the movie's biggest problem, however, we'd be lucky.

It's clear from the outset that the movie wants to be a hard-boiled noir -- the opening is a scene in the warden's office of a prison, in which we're given reams of background exposition. The cinematography and camera angles are top-notch, but the story -- one of those "doppelganger" tales that have difficulty remaining credible at best and utterly defy credibility at worst -- keeps constantly veering between "Hmmm..." and "Oy!"

Fortunately Ms Bennett (above and below) is on hand to provide some beauty and sass. She becomes the heart of the film, and it is generally a pleasure to watch her work. She's particularly good at delivering some of the film's saucier dialog, which then allows her to slowly modulate into a kinder, gentler woman.

The film's twists and turns, often pretty unbelievable, do at least allow for some fun and irony, particularly as the finale approaches, in which Henreid's wooden delivery can more easily be mistaken for subtlety.

Among the little surprises is a funny, charming performance from the always dependable John Qualen (above, left) as the dentist who works in the same building as our doppelganger doctor. You may also notice a very young Jack Webb (of Dragnet fame), below, left, making his movie debut here. Webb has no dialog (that I caught, at least) but his several short scenes let us see him visually long enough to recognize that very noticeable (as they used to call it it) kisser.

You'll also get a gander at a truly gorgeous and glamorous blond actress named Leslie Brooks, shown below, who appeared in a number of movies during the 1940s (Hollow Triumph would be her penultimate--until a final film in 1971), without her ever quite making it to stardom.

Ms Brooks looks very good here, however, and provides yet another reason for checking out this little (and little-known) B movie.

The 1948 film, in its new restoration and running 82 minutes, hits the streets this coming Tuesday, March 11, on DVD only, with a suggested retail price of just $12. It will be available for pur-chase or rental via Amazon and I hope eventually on Netflix, where there's yet no word of this title.

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