Classic Film Talk: ‘The Capture’ (1950)

Teresa Wright Centennial

Today we reminisce about

The Capture (1950)

Directed by John Sturges

Starring: Lew Ayres & Teresa Wright

Premise

“Hate can be sweeter than anything.”

In the heart of the Mexican Sonoran Desert, a policeman is travelling on horseback searching for a man on the run from justice. The man, who has cleverly hidden under the water of a narrow river, waits until the policeman rides away before emerging. He sets out on foot to try and seek shelter, eventually being found by a kindly priest who takes him in and cares for his wounds. After having a nightmare, the man starts confessing to the priest all about his life.

Several years before, the man – whose name is Lindley “Lin” Vanner (Lew Ayres) – was working as a manager at the Bolsa Grande oil refinery in the Mexican state of Veracruz on the coast of the Bay of Campeche. He is alerted to the fact that a vehicle carrying the company payroll was attacked, leaving all but one of the passengers dead. The lone survivor, Mr. Mahoney, also the Vice President of Finance, claims that the person responsible for stealing the money is an American who will likely try to cross the U.S./Mexican border in order to escape authorities. It is suggested that Lin himself search for the thief and bring him back, something that will earn him both recognition and a $2,000 reward from the company for his good deed. (This equates to approximately $21,500 in today’s money.) Lin is not interested in the task but is pressured to go by his demanding fiancée.

It does not take long for Lin to come upon a suspect, Sam Tevlin, whom he promptly shoots when both his hands are not put up in the air. (It turns out that one of Sam’s arms is paralysed.) Sam, who appears to be only slightly hurt from the bullet, is forced to come along with Lin back to Veracruz where he is immediately taken to see the doctor. Lin, who publicly declines receiving any reward money, greatly disappoints his fiancée who promptly breaks their engagement. As for Sam, his wound is much worse than expected due to the fact that he had massive internal haemorrhaging. He dies shortly thereafter, having been weakened by an intense session of interrogation by Mr. Mahoney who took it upon himself to act as Marshall. Sam’s death weighs heavily on Lin who accuses himself of having shot too soon. He quits his job and leaves town on the next train, ironically being given a ticket to Los Santos that had gone unclaimed by Sam.

Upon his arrival in Los Santos, Lin crosses paths with Sam’s widow, Ellen (Teresa Wright), though says nothing to her at that time. Instead, he goes to work for a few months at an oil refinery 50 km. outside of Los Santos. He grows restless with the vision of Ellen in his mind and the feeling of guilt on his heart so he once again quits and heads back to Los Santos. Posing under the name “Lindley Brown”, Lin takes a job as a co-op handyman at the Tevlin ranch in order to help with their 300-400 head of cattle. Ellen is slightly suspicious of him so she rummages through his belongings, only to find his wallet with a newspaper clipping of him being proclaimed a hero for having turned-in Sam. She does not say anything right away but harbours much inner anger against him until the day that Lin finally confronts her about what she knows. Lin explains the whole incident and also brings up the fact that Sam was not a great husband to her. Ellen and Lin both need each other and have fallen in love, getting married quite soon after.

Lin has a new life with Ellen and with her son, Michael, whom he considers to be his own child. Yet, the tragic and unjust death of Sam Trevlin still haunts him. He decides that the real killer must be found not only to avenge Sam’s name but also to bring peace to Ellen.

Background

The Capture was yet another low budget film that was distributed by RKO during the 1950’s. Financed by playwright Niven Busch’s production company Showtime Properties, Inc, it was also written and produced by the author. At the time of its release, the film received positive critical notices for the lead performances as well as for the natural, outdoorsy Mexican setting. Today it is has largely been forgotten and those who know the film seem to have mixed reactions.

In the published reference The RKO Story, writers Richard B. Jewell and Vernon Harbin describe The Capture as a “dull and morose melo(drama)” with a “pretentious script” (pg. 248). Other critics applaud the film, generously reclassifying it as a Film Noir rather than just a standard drama. In terms of restoration, a small, independent French company called Bach Films took it upon themselves to digital re-master the film in 2005 though the technology they used was limited. While they slightly improved the VHS quality, frankly you still have the impression that you are watching a direct recording from video cassette. There are even moments when the tracking is poor, making the image very unstable. Not helping matters is the fact that Bach Films has categorised this motion picture as a “Dramatic Comedy” in its archives yet has clearly marked the packaging with the bold statement that The Capture is a Masterpiece of Film Noir. Go figure on that one. In any case, Classic Film fans should be appreciative that they tried to save the film at all.

 

Thoughts

One of the first things that came to my mind while watching the film was how much the plot reminded me of Otto Preminger’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. Both films were released in 1950, with The Capture being released a mere 3 months before Preminger’s, and focused on a man who had committed an accidental murder. Interestingly enough, both men also fall in love with the deceased man’s lover/widow. It’s hard to say from where the inspiration came to have two similar films open at practically the same time and if the respective productions were aware of each other. Luckily both film work well although an unsurprising advantage goes to one of the great fathers of film noir, Mr. Preminger.

Similarly, I can think of two other film noirs that take place either wholly or partially in Mexico. The first is Out of the Past, which is set for a short period of time in Acapulco. The second is Touch of Evil, an Orson Welles-directed and -acted film that also stars Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh. A great deal of the action takes place in a seedy Mexican border town just over the U.S.-Mexico international border.

I did not have any real expectations for the film, particularly after having just seen Count the Hours! a few days prior. The story was engaging and the characters were interesting, ultimately leaving me quite satisfied with the film as a whole. In my opinion, Mr. Jewell and Mr. Harbin were overly harsh in their criticism for a little film that manages to get the job done. Despite having guessed the identity of the bad guy, it did not distract me from following the film; in fact, it further fuelled my interest.

 

Teresa Wright

Mr. and Mrs. Niven Busch

Niven Busch was married to Teresa at the time this film was made. He had previously written the screenplay for Duel in the Sun as a present to his wife though she had been unable to appear in the picture due to pregnancy, ultimately being replaced by Jennifer Jones. The Capture was not exactly in the same league as Duel in the Sun but she does manage to make the best of a role that was not exactly as meaty as she or her fans would have wished.

As Ellen Tevlin, Teresa shows great maturity and displays a lovely, innate motherly love towards her on-screen son. She seemed very confident in the role, giving a solid performance and displaying excellent chemistry with Lew Ayres. There is a moment in the film when Ayres gently grabs Teresa’s shoulders, giving her a very passionate kiss. Someday I will perhaps create a montage of the fantastic kisses she received in her films, the leader obviously being the ones she received from Dana Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives.

Trivia

  • Director John Sturges would go on to direct some extremely memorable films like: Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, McQ and The Eagle Has Landed. He made The Capture during Howard Hughes’ reign at RKO Studios and would return 5 years later to make the Hughes-produced Underwater! with Jane Russell. In a neat twist, Sturges would later director Hughes’ favourite film, Ice Station Zebra.