Home Video Hovel: Hollow Triumph, by David Bax
One of the hallmarks of films noir is their ability to get us to root for the bad guys. So many of them are about criminals (or ordinary folks who do something criminal) and yet the crux of the whole endeavor is our wanting them to get away with whatever they’ve done, right up until they inevitably get their Hays Code-mandated comeuppance. Steve Sekely’s terrific Hollow Triumph, out now on Blu-ray from The Film Detective, is a perfect example. Even with a particularly nasty sort as protagonist, you’ll be biting your nails with anticipation, hoping he ends up with the girl and not on the business end of a pistol.
Paul Henreid stars at John Muller, who masterminds the ripping off of a big time mobster and then flees the city. While trying to lay low, he happens to meet a psychoanalyst named Dr. Bartok (also Henreid), to whom he bears a striking resemblance. In order to escape the retribution of the gangsters who are after him, Muller decides to kill Bartok and take over his life, including the doctor’s office romance with his secretary, Evelyn (Joan Bennett in noir-ready, hard as nails mode).
One of the other hallmarks of noir is its sense of place, creating a world that is both grimily real and oppressively exaggerated. Sekely does that with cavernous interiors replete with shadows and real life exteriors, such as Los Angeles’ long gone Bunker Hill neighborhood and the Angels Flight funicular railway that connected it to the rest of downtown.
Sekely finds dramatic tension in Muller’s attempts to get away with his multiple crimes but also locates a different kind of tension in playing coy with Evelyn’s slow-dawning realization that Bartok is no longer Bartok. Like in Christian Petzold’s recent Phoenix, there are debates to be had about just when she knows and just when she admits to herself that she knows. To put things more succinctly, Hollow Triumph is a great story with characters you can get behind even if they may be rotten to the core.
The transfer is perhaps the best that can be hoped for when it comes to a title that has not historically been respected or celebrated.
There are no special features.