The Capture (1950, John Sturges)

Given its problems, The Capture’s better than it should be. It’s also never quite as good as it could be—director Sturges starts doing a fantastic chase scene in the third act, but then it quickly peters out, which is too bad because the third act needs something. But the film manages to overcome its weird story—Lew Ayres trying to seduce the widow of a man he killed. Teresa Wright plays the widow. She has an exceptionally thankless part; Ayres’s seduction technique is to berate her into loving him while deceiving her about his identity, of course.

The film’s got a noirish structure, with Ayres starting the film as a fugitive in Mexico. He finds his way to priest Victor Jory and ostensibly reluctantly tells Jory his story.

Ayres was a white-collar at an oil field. After the payroll train gets robbed, his fiancée, Jacqueline White, toxic masculinities Ayres into going out to find the robber himself. He finds the culprit, Edwin Rand, and shoots him when Rand’s got his hands up. Well, one of them; Rand’s injured and can’t raise one of them. So Ayres sees the one and shoots.

Later on, Rand dies. There are complicating factors, but basically, Ayres gets mopey about it; White dumps him for not being happy about directly causing someone’s death; he runs off to a new town. The only hitch: he’s got to ride with Rand’s body back home.

This peculiar arrangement will have absolutely no effect on Ayres except, upon seeing Wright at the station (not knowing her relationship with the deceased, just knowing she has one), he immediately falls for her and starts low-key stalking her until he can insert himself in her life.

We don’t get to see the stalking, thank goodness; it’s just part of Ayres’s narration.

Luckily, just when he’s waited long enough to approach her, she’s also in need of a ranch foreman.

For the second act, The Capture slows down for Ayres to become part of Wright’s life, specifically her son Jimmy Hunt’s. She’s mean to Ayres because she knows his true identity—he lied when he showed up—and she’s known since his first day. So she keeps him around to be mean to him because some kinds of ladies are just mean that way, or so Ayres will tell her.

The Capture’s got a show and tell problem. Ayres is telling the whole thing—without his narration and with a few edits, the film could be recut to make him a creeper—then he’s telling everyone he meets something or other about themselves. Ayres has got it all figured out, which will make the finale even more frustrating because apparently he’s supposed to be experiencing character development, only Ayres isn’t acting it.

To be fair, Niven Busch’s screenplay (based on his novel) isn’t doing the character development either. Why would Ayres have to learn anything? He’s right, isn’t he? Anything bad always just happens to never be Ayres’s fault.

And despite Ayres’s character being a serial mansplainer, Wright having a lousy character and lousier arc, neither of them are bad. Sturges’s direction is solid, and the film’s got a decent pace, even if the narration slows it down. And its mix of Western and film noir is quirky and reasonably engaging.

The third act, which turns Ayres into a very bad detective (dressed just like Indiana Jones), hurts things, but not as much as Ayres’s lack of character development.

Decent supporting performances from Jory and Barry Kelley. Kid Hunt is just okay but never particularly annoying; much better than dad Rand, who’s a drag.

Good photography from Edward Cronjager, especially the actual night shots, not the day-for-night. Daniele Amfitheatrof’s music is a little much, except during that almost excellent chase scene.

Even with its humdrum but still irritating problems, The Capture’s almost fine. Ayres and Wright are professional enough to get through it, and Sturges keeps it afloat.