Hollow Triumph (1948): Baroque Noir

Hollow Triumph (The Scar) 1948

“It’s a bitter little world full of sad surprises, and you don’t let anyone hurt you.

Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar) is a gem of a movie. A wildly implausible plot adds to the baroque charm of this melodramatic sleeper, which bombed on its release in 1948.  The basic plot-line – a  hood on the run after robbing a gambling house takes on the identity of a psychiatrist – does not do justice to the moral perversity and spiralling ironies of fate that propel the action.

Hollow Triumph (The Scar) 1948

We have all the ingredients for great noir entertainment: a compelling screenplay and a witty script from Daniel Fuchs (Criss-Cross, Panic in the Streets), a director of pulp-b’s in Austro-Hungarian émigré Steve Sekely, the artful cinematography of noir icon John Alton, and Paul Henreid and Joan Bennet both cast against type in the lead roles – as mirror-reversals of the typical noir archetypes – an hommefatale of unbounded ambition and no scruples seduces a woman of strong character and with a real job.   Paul Henreid is so suave and daring, even when a photo-processor’s  diabolical and irreversibly dangerous error threatens to blow his subterfuge wide open, he  remains audacious and enthralling.  But the imperatives of the noir universe dictate that  his one-minute-to-midnight failed shot at redemption is as dramatic and ironic as it is pathetic.  On the journey to perdition we traverse a noir topography redolent with noir archetypes:  the unreformed con, the old gang coerced into a fateful big heist that goes wrong, the savage intimidation of underlings, life on the run, and the machinations required to find an out from a past that is getting ever close and will not go away.

Hollow Triumph (The Scar) 1948

All this aside, it is Alton’s dark and moody camera-work that defines the cinematic reality that lights up the screen.  There is a magnificent scene in a hotel room with Henreid and his straight but sympathetic brother, who has tracked him down to tell him that those out to kill him are closer and more adamant than he thinks. Once he learns the news, Henreid flips off  the lights in panic, fearing that his brother has led the killers to him. In the darkness, a flashing neon sign outside the windows rhythmically lights up the slats of the drawn venetian blinds sending streaked shadows across the protagonists.  Alton also constructs breathtaking hallucinatory montages that have to rank as perhaps the best I have seen in a Hollywood movie.  The stuff that noirs are made of.

19 Comments

  1. Hi! Tony,
    I think that you touched on all the “key elements” about this film in your review of this most “fatalistic” of films. Ahh! Venetian Blind part of the film noir “makeup”
    …I think this film is a prime example of, a film that is a lesson in irony…”methinks” and most definitely fatalism.
    In the “world of film noir” this film is considered the most “fatalistic” and “darkest” of all the films in that world.
    Because this film (The Scar Aka as “Hollow Triumph”) refuse to let an “inch” of “sunlight” in….what so ever!….”fatalistic” to the core!…That is why film noir fanatics really like this one!

    Here go a review that a fellow blogger wrote about the 1948 film “The Scar”….
    http://classicnoirmovies.blogspot.com/20….eve-sekely.html
    According to the author of the review…”however it has the essence of the genre… there is a fatalistic quality in the movie with a menacing shadowy photography (great work by John Alton).”

    I agree! with both of you, about Alton, great work!..from the “artist” that painted (with light and shadow) on film(s)…
    …Btw, the words, from actress Joan Bennett’s mouth…“It is a bitter little world” I have on right now (on “me” T-shirt from the Film Noir Foundation.)

    Take care!
    Dcd ;)

  2. Oops!…”In order to read Film Noir, review you have copy and paste his blog address and enter it into a search engine.”
    Oh! no, you don’t have to do all that (What I stated in my previous comment) just click on the year 2008 once you click on link above. Sorry!

    Tks,
    Dcd ;)

  3. Well Tony, you are really big on this one. Unfortunately (and embarrassingly) I have not seen this, but Dee Dee gives amble liks to remedy that oversight. My absolute favorite sentence of your review is this:

    “On the journey to perdition we traverse a noir topography redolent with noir archetypes: the unreformed con, the old gang coerced into a fateful big heist that goes wrong, the savage intimidation of underlings, life on the run, and the machinations required to find an out from a past that is getting ever close and will not go away.”

    Superb stuff, and that sentence alone makes a strong case for this to be seen as….well….as you say at the end, “the stuff that noirs are made of.”

    But apart from that, there are great performers and craftsmen here: writer Daniel Fuchs, director John Alton, and thespians Joan Bennett and Paul Heinreid.

    Note: As I am writing this entry in my computer room, I am listening to the magnificent Film Score Monthly CD of Bernard Hermann’s score to ON DANGEROUS GROUND, one of FilmsNoir.net’s rightfully favorite works! I am ravished!

  4. Tks Dcd. The link does provide a good plot summary which however does contain *SPOILERS*.

    Tks Sam. You are in for a real treat. Wish I was listening to that CD too!

  5. Oops! Hi! Tony,…First of all, I’am so sorry about that!(Not mentioning a “spoiler” alert, but thanks for pointing that out!)..and Sam Juliano, whatever you do don’t click on that link, but that was a month ago, since I read his review.

    (Because he (Classic Film Noir) seems to publish reviews on a monthly basis and it seems to have “slip” my mind, completely that a *spoiler* alert was needed.)
    A second Oops!…”In order to read Classic Film Noir, review you have (to) copy and paste his blog address and enter it into a search engine.”

    Take care!
    Dcd ;)

  6. Brett Egebo

    Recently I picked up a handful of public domain noir DVDs (Alpha – you know the kind) from a clearance bin at a movie store : Fear in the Night (*Very Good), The Hitchhiker (*Great) and The Scar (*Excellent).
    Hopefully a future release of The Scar will get some sort of cultural archeologist Eddie Muller-type treatment/commentary because after watching it I was definitely wanting some background info on Paul Henreid and the making of this film.
    The dvd transfer started out a little shaky & low contrast-y but gradually the quality of the picture improved and by the time the scene in the gambling house took place, I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful cinematography.
    *Spoiler Alert*
    It was pretty heartbreaking to see Paul Henreid’s character take advantage of the resignedly tough & hard-boiled Ms. Bennett – and to see how far he could take the manipulation, even after she discovers his true identity.
    Joan Bennett’s guarded weariness is spot-on for her character. It’s too bad she’s sort-of forgotten today (except for more campy/later roles in Dark Shadows and Susperia – which are fun but not as challenging as her noir features from this period).

  7. Thanks Brett for your comments! The TCM entry for Hollow Triumph has some interesting background info on Henreid and the movie.

    I am with you on Joan Bennett, she is great in so many noirs, and certainly deserves a higher profile.

  8. Steve

    Hi Tony,
    Wow, I just watched, “Hollow Triumph”, as “The Scar” last night and happened upon your site link from another blog. What a coincidence.
    I will not suppose myself to be any kind of an expert on noir films, but I liked this one. Your review of style and substance of film noir is educating.
    **** [Possible spoiler alert]**** However, the end of HT immediately reminded me of “Algiers” with Boyer/Lamar. I’m sure you know what I’m referring to. On top of that, throughout the film I was struck by how much Joan Bennett looks like Hedy Lamar. But then a lot of 40s actresses seem to resemble her. Must be that center part of the hair thing. Since “Algiers” was made 10 years prior to HT, I was curious if those similarities have been explored before. Was Henreid borrowing or were similarities in film of that day just as common as today’s plot and scene borrowing? I know from reading the TCM link that Bennett was not Henreid’s first choice, so the Bennett/Lamar connection was probably just coincidental.
    I’ll return to your site often as I’m just starting to get that noir hook and am looking for other films to enjoy in this genre. Thanks for being here.

  9. Hi Steve. Thanks for your visit.

    The noir ending of HT is pretty typical where there is a strong ‘amour fou’ element in the story, and it is interesting that you mention ‘Algiers’, as it is a remake of Pepe Le Moko filmed in France the year before with Jean Gabin. Pepe is one of a series of French films of the late 30s that are seen as part of a movement of dark moody films of urban angst known as ‘poetic realism’, which is considered by many as a precursor to film noir.

    Another coincidence! When Joan Bennett first appears in HT, I did a double-take thinking I had got the leads wrong and that she was Hedy Lamarr…

    I look forward to more comments from you Steve.

  10. But the imperatives of the noir universe dictate that his one-minute-to-midnight failed shot at redemption is as dramatic and ironic as it is pathetic. On the journey to perdition we traverse a noir topography redolent with noir archetypes: the unreformed con, the old gang coerced into a fateful big heist that goes wrong, the savage intimidation of underlings, life on the run, and the machinations required to find an out from a past that is getting ever close and will not go away

    I found the above quote right to point. The noir tapestry allows no light in a universe devoid of redemption. The topography further inundates the empty and vapid canvas of noir world depictions especially the past that cannot be purged , the heist gone wrong. The irony of even imagining redemption and the cruelty of a universe cutting it short as abortive failure just at its seeming hope.

  11. “The noir tapestry allows no light in a universe devoid of redemption. The topography further inundates the empty and vapid canvas of noir world depictions especially the past that cannot be purged , the heist gone wrong. The irony of even imagining redemption and the cruelty of a universe cutting it short as abortive failure just at its seeming hope.”

    Great stuff Edward!

  12. Just returned again to this thread. Things are really getting exciting around here, and I also look forward to seeing more comments from Steve, Edward and the other great writers here. This great site is really taking off, as well it should!

  13. I read a very diastorted review of this noir as meoldrama? Not hardly at all.
    http://MOVIES.NYTIMES.COM/MOVIE/REVIEW?RES=9400E2DF103AE33BBC4151DFB6678383659EDE

    This was done in 48 and the reviewers still did not understand the genre,I do believe. Eagle Lion Films produced this Noir initially.Henreid as a toughie not previosuly discernible in his other refined continental roles is correct. That was his brilliance of versatile role playing. It is the discovery of a crinminal type, to be sure. A former med student impersonating a psychiatrist is rather a novel plot and leaves imaginative license full of possibilities.The failed redemption is Noir tapestry at its best and enthralling, and is undervalued by the stock label of melodrama.

  14. Yes Edward, only the French at the time had any real appreciation of ‘film noir’ as an aesthetic. Thanks also for your as always valuable contribution to this thread!

  15. Mark

    I just saw this as part of the NoirCity DC series. Beautiful, restored print. Great cinematography. Henreid was really intense. Joan Bennett gave depth to her role. Some might think the ending a bit soapy, but I found it really poignant. Definitely a more baroque, melodratic noir, but highly recommended nonetheless.

  16. MME Corbett

    This is one of my favorites. I’ve been a big Film Noir fan for a long time and watching this turned me into a devoted Paul Henreid fan because it really showed his range-he dominates in every scene.This is the only time you will see him do things like…purposefully wear loud ties, drink Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, say words like “hiya” and “crummy” (which sound fantastic with his distinctive accent)and last but not least,utter the words “you know I don’t smoke” ( I don’t know how he kept a straight face saying that!). I’ve seen it several times and everytime I notice something subtle in his performance I didn’t notice before.

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