“The Scar” (also known as “Hollow Triumph”) is a heavily atmospheric, film noir from 1948 starring Paul Henreid.
Henreid, best known as the stoic hero, Victor Lazlo, in “Casablanca,” or as the romantic lead in “Now Voyager” who can light two cigarettes simultaneously, here plays a brilliant criminal running for his life from the powerful gangsters he ripped off. By chance, he learns that he is nearly the double of a noted psychiatrist, and he sets out to hide by impersonating the doctor.
The tone and pace of “The Scar” help suspend disbelief that this man could not only kill and take the place of the psychiatrist, but also do it without anyone ever noticing that he is a different guy. Henreid, who plays both parts, lends a suave intensity that drives the 83-minute film. The cast of supporting players all think bad-guy Henreid is actually head-doctor Henried, however, it is a stretch to believe that the shrink’s own secretary, played by Joan Bennett, who is also in love with the doc, would not notice the switch.
“The Scar” was directed with much style by Steve Sekely, a Hungarian filmmaker in Hollywood since the late 1930s. Sekely was able to build tension and create a genuinely creepy atmosphere in the picture, especially in a stomach-turning sequence in which Henreid, in order to convincingly switch identities, must give himself a long scar on his cheek. He sits before a mirror and sets out his medical instruments, which, under the expressionistic lighting of the great cinematographer John Alton, take on a sinister personality of their own: a scalpel, a vial of numbing agent, and a sickeningly large glass syringe. His tools in place, Henreid sets to work on himself.
This film shows director Sekely had talent. He might have become one of the great auteurs of film noir. (Wonder why he didn’t?)
“The Scar” is a fun little noir, and that scene of creating the scar is worth the price of admission (which is free, since “The Scar” is available on YouTube).
Under its other title, “Hollow Triumph," the film is scheduled to show Friday, June 19, on Turner Classic Movies.