Hollow Triumph (1948): Steve Sekely’s Noir Crime, Starring Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett (Film Noir)

Steve Sekely helmed Hollow Triumph, a noir crime drama, starring Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett, based on Murray Forbes’ 1946 novel of the same title.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Just released from prison, John Muller (Paul Henreid) masterminds a holdup at an illegal casino run by Rocky Stansyck (Thomas Browne Henry).

The robbery goes awry, and the mobsters capture some of Muller’s men, forcing them to identify the rest before killing them.  Muller then leaves town and hides. He takes an office job recommended by his law-abiding brother, Frederick (Eduard Franz), but realizes that working is not for him.

A chance encounter with dentist Dr. Swangron (John Qualen) reveals that Muller looks like a psychoanalyst who works in the same building, Dr. Bartok, the only difference being a large scar on the left side of the doctor’s face.

As a result, he begins researching Bartok, slipping into his office to examine his records. He is discovered by the doctor’s secretary, Evelyn Hahn (Joan Bennett), who mistakes him for her employer and kisses him, but quickly realizes he is someone else.

Muller sets out to impersonate Bartok, aided by the fact he studied psychoanalysis in medical school before dropping out. He takes a photograph of the doctor and uses it as guide for identical scar on his face.

Unfortunately, the photographer reversed the negative, and now Muller has the scar on the wrong side. He discovers the mistake after he has murdered Bartok.

He has no choice but to go through with the plan anyway. Luckily, no one, except the office cleaning lady, notices the difference, not even Evelyn or Bartok’s patients.

In the process, Muller discovers “he” has a girlfriend, Virginia Taylor (Leslie Brooks), and that they frequent Maxwell’s casino.

When Muller tries to contact his brother, the trail leads to Bartok. The scar convinces Frederick that the man he sees is a lookalike.

Evelyn, now suspicious, reveals that John Muller said he was going to Paris. Frederick Muller tells “Bartok” that his brother no longer has to hide; Stansyck was convicted for “income tax evasion” and is scheduled to be deported.

Evelyn finally realizes that Muller is an imposter and that he must have killed the psychoanalyst. But instead of turning him in to the police, she purchases a ticket to sail to Honolulu. Muller promises to go with her, and arranges for other doctors to take care of his patients.

However, he is intercepted by two men who want to discuss Bartok’s gambling debt. When Muller tries to break away, they fatally shoot him.

In the grim ending, Evelyn sails away, unaware that Muller is dead on the dock.

The highly contrived plot doesn’t make much sense, but the acting of the two stars, and the somber and downbeat tone make this B-level noir perfectly watchable.

Titles:

The working title of Hollow Triumph was “The Man Who Murdered Himself,” and when it was reissued and released as “The Scar.”

Cast
Paul Henreid as John Muller/Dr. Victor Emil Bartok
Joan Bennett as Evelyn Hahn
Eduard Franz as Frederick Muller
Leslie Brooks as Virginia Taylor
John Qualen as Swangron
Mabel Paige as Charwoman
Herbert Rudley as Marcy
Charles Arnt as Coblenz
George Chandler as Artell, Assistant
Sid Tomack as Aubrey, Manager

Note:

I am grateful to TCM for showing this film on January 30, 2020.