Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Whodunnit Wednesday - Hollow Triumph (1948)

There are basically two types of film noir protagonists: the basically good person who makes a bad decision that eventually leads him into a downward spiral to trouble and usually murder or death, and the desperate bad guy who just can't leave bad enough alone and finds himself on that same downward spiral. Paul Henreid, who plays Johnny Muller in today's feature is definitely the second type.

Hollow Triumph, also known as The Scar, is the story of Johnny Muller, a man just released from prison. In the opening shots of the film we see the prison warden looking over Johnny's file, noting that he is an educated man, once convicted of practicing psyciatry without a license. The reason he has been in jail for the past two years, however, is because of a failed holdup. A job has been arranged for Johnny on the outside - a job that, though meager in pay, is meant to be a chance for a new start on life.

this new start, however, is simply not good enough for Johnny. Instead of immediately taking the bus to his intended new home, he goes to a local flop house and meets up with his old gang, eventually convincing them to pull one more job - holding up a casino run by an extremely well-connected and vengeful gangster. The rest of Johnny's gang seem afraid to cross him, but they also are afraid of the intended target, who is reputed to have once had a man who crossed him tracked down and killed in Paris. Nonetheless, Johnny seems inexorably drawn to the job and he is not going to let anything stand in his way.

The holdup of course goes wrong, and two of Johnny's men are captured. They immediately give up the goods on the rest of the gang, including Johnny. At that point the hood tells his enforcers to find them "even if it takes twenty years". Paranoid, but desperate to get out of town and find a way to lay low, Johnny decides that his best bet is to take the job that had been previously arranged for him.

Chafing at the legitimate work and low pay, Johnny still manages to persevere in his new setting until one day fate intervenes in the form of a dentist who mistakes him for a psychiatrist who works in the same office building. According to the dentist, the two men look exactly alike except for one thing: the psychiatrist has a large scar on his right, or is it his left? who can remember? cheek. Johnny then goes to the psychiatrist's office where he is immediately met and kissed by the man's secretary, played by Joan Bennett, who may very well be the lady the phrase "femme fatale" was coined for. She, too, has mistaken him for Dr. Bartok - at least until she gets a good look at him.

Back at his job, Johnny gets into an altercation with his boss which leas to fisticuffs and his firing. Johnny then receives a visit from his brother infoming him that his second-hand man has been killed in Mexico, and that men are now in town looking for him. Desperate and on the run, Johnny decides to take the place of Dr. Bartok. First however, he must learn all about him - a tactic which includes romancing his secretary. Oh, and there's also the matter of that scar.

A film of many twists, with a wonderfully dark noir atmosphere, Hollow Triumph certainly delivers on the downward spiral mentioned above. The question remains open, however, whether it is fate or simply Johnny's choices that lead him to the inevitable conclusion. During the attempted heist we learn that despite all of his careful planning, Johnny has overlooked one important detail, and it is that same lack of attention to detail that will trip him up in the end. Or perhaps, once the decision is made to stray from the straight and narrow, there is simply no other way for Johnny's story to end.

No trailer today, I'm afraid, but here's the opening moments of the film (with the alternate title) to give you a taste:

The Skinny:
Title: Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar)
Release Date 1948
Running Time: 82min
Black and White
Starring: Paul Henreid, Joan Bennett
Directed by: Steve Sekely
Produced by: Paul Henreid
Released by: Eagle-Lion Films

Hollow Triumph is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: Hollow Triumph
It does not appear to be available from Netflix.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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