A pulp film noir with Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett
Director Steve Sekely (born in Hungary as István Székely) made many films over a long career stretching back to 1930, most notably The Day of The Triffids (1962). His fairly obscure film noir Hollow Triumph, alternately known as The Scar, is a gritty thriller about duplicity that delves into dual identities and doppelgangers. Starring Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett, the suspenseful 1948 movie explores a criminal on the run, encountering a chance too good to be true that ends in bitter irony.
Hollow Triumph has a lean, taunt narrative, clocking in at a relatively brisk 82 minutes. John Muller (Paul Henreid) is a career criminal and con man recently out from prison. He knocks over a casino with several associates for $200,000 in cash. The casino’s owner, a notorious gangster, promises the crooks will be hunted down until their dying days for his stolen money. Muller moves far away and attempts to go straight, finding an ordinary office job. Concerned he might still get caught with the money, he comes across an improbable stroke of luck. Muller discovers Dr. Bartok, a practicing psychologist, is practically his doppelganger, a dead ringer for the criminal with one exception. Bartok has a huge scar running down his face.
Most will see what is coming next in Hollow Triumph.
Most will see what is coming next in Hollow Triumph.
Muller sees his opportunity, soon striking a romance with Dr. Bartok’s secretary, Evelyn (Joan Bennett). John Muller uses the woman’s knowledge and access to glean insight on Bartok’s life and practice. Evelyn is an interesting femme fatale, somewhat atypical for noir of this period. Distrusting of men and bitter about her potential suitors, Evelyn takes up with Muller despite knowing he’s a con man at heart. Her story is more tragic and bittersweet than most femme fatales. Most will see what is coming next in Hollow Triumph. Muller hopes to permanently end his own troubles by impersonating Dr. Bartok. The ending packs an ironic punch as Muller finally follows his heart.
Hollow Triumph isn’t a first-rate film noir but certainly has something going for it. The main plot does turn on a rather ridiculous mistake by Muller, audiences have to buy that Bartok’s own wife and friends wouldn’t figure out something was amiss when Muller impersonates the psychologist. The cool Muller, a smooth criminal with no qualms about murder, is suddenly driven by passion in a critical moment that feels overly contrived for drama. This is film noir that moves at a rapid clip with its snappy, hard-boiled dialogue, perfect for its themes of doubles and dual identities. It is a hard-boiled pulp yarn that attempts to play with psychological ideas about identity.
One of the highlights of Hollow Triumph is cinematographer John Alton’s work with shadows and light. The gritty black-and-white tale is suffused with his typically strong cinematography of the period, selectively lighting Henreid’s face as he comes up with his devious scheme.
New Blu-ray label The Film Detective presents Hollow Triumph in its native 1.33:1 aspect ratio at 1080P resolution. The 1948 movie has possibly slipped into the public domain, allowing anyone with suitable materials to release it on home video. Casual customers won’t notice the difference but The Film Detective releases Hollow Triumph as a BD-R with a slick label. Hollow Triumph runs a touch over 82 minutes on this release.
The overall picture quality is uneven, having been sourced from secondary film elements showing noticeable wear in some spots. A couple of the reels show more damage than others, with faint scratches crisscrossing the film. The last reel becomes extremely soft, especially when Joan Bennett appears. Female leads were often shot in this era with romantic, glamorous lighting that possessed very soft focus. Unfortunately, some ghosting/ringing appears to have been optically introduced on the last reel.
The AVC video encode averages 32.39 Mbps. That type of parameter typically wipes out any hint of banding and posterization, but Hollow Triumph does have the occasional spot of banding with its point light sources. The fine light gradients must have been too much for an automated AVC video encode, a human hand could have eliminated the minor compression problems. The transfer is decently film-like in other regards, if a bit rough in condition.
This transfer appears to be a softer telecine struck from an older, mostly serviceable film print, possibly from different elements. The resolution and definition won’t wow anyone with its clarity, though a moderate amount of the original grain structure is preserved. It is definitely not revelatory picture quality on par with newer scans of classic film negatives.
The contrast fluctuates around a fairly stable range with satisfactory black levels. There isn’t the extraordinary shadow delineation we’ve come to expect from Blu-ray video but it’s definitely presentable. Minor fluctuations in the print cause the occasional flicker in luminosity and brightness.
I guess you would call this a serviceable presentation lacking true HD detail. The film has little shot at getting remastered, so its fans will have to make do with this ordinary release. Compared to the other Film Detective BDs I’ve reviewed, Beat the Devil, their film elements for Hollow Triumph are in poorer condition with more damage. The average score below is clearly being graded on a curve. For an old public domain film, you can’t expect much in the way of pristine restoration.
The audio comes in a 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that is either mono or narrow stereo. Its sound quality is rather lackluster with tinny dialogue. The thin sound gets the job done with limitations in fidelity and noise floor. The overly melodramatic score sounds very typical of the era. Some light hiss can be heard, indicating it was pulled directly without getting cleaned up.
Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.
Arriving on a BD-R in a normal Blu-ray case with a cover reproducing the movie’s one-sheet poster, a trailer is provided. There are no other special features.
Hollow Triumph Trailer (02:02 in HD)
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.