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Joan Crawford and others

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Joan Crawford and others

Postby moira finnie » October 27th, 2007, 1:34 pm

*Possible Spoilers Below* *Possible Spoilers Below*


I don't know what got into me during a recent trip to the library video section, but I found myself taking home two Joan Crawford movies. Now, don't get me wrong, I really like La Crawford during her early '30s period and can enjoy a few of her '40s films when her phoenix-like career arose from the ashes after leaving MGM, but, most of her work from about 1950 on is anathema to me.

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What interested me about Sudden Fear (1952) was partly her pairing with Jack Palance. Palance plays a struggling actor, (the implication is that he's a slave to that cockamamie Method), and Crawford plays a high-powered Broadway playwright with oodles of cash and plenty of attitude. Long story short, they get hitched after a blissful ride across country on a lovely looking train, and, I'll be darned if there isn't a little trouble in their private paradise during the second half of this flick!

Why? Um, gee, no offense, Miss. C., but one reason might be that you look old enough to be this guy's mother in this movie. And none of your rich buddies in San Francisco opens their trap to say he's too young and too much of a neanderthal for you! Call themselves pals?? Well, at least Bruce Bennett cautions about changing the will too quickly.

Of course, this being the '50s, we must have a competent woman who feels as though she's just gotta have that Mrs. in front of her name to feel whole. Anyway, San Francisco looks quite fetching in some of the location shooting, Palance is quite a loathsome boy without a shred of reality to his character, but the plotting of the film is pretty well done, though there is a visual motif of a clock that gets annoying after awhile. And of course, as is de rigueur with any Joan C. movie by this stage of her career, there are one too many sequences of huge eyebrow raising, eye-popping and silently overacted repressed hysteria moments from the star. The only person who seems to escape without denigrating her stature as an actress is Gloria Grahame, who slinks around, enacting a newly arrived snake in the garden.

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Autumn Leaves (1956), which, oddly is only available on vhs, is another kettle of better smelling fish. Joan, who may have wondered when she was going to stop playing working "girls", portrays a demon typist working out of her home. She works alone, though with her job skills, someone might've mentioned to her that she'd get some better benefits and meet a broader range of guys if she hightailed it into the corporate world at least part of the time.

Crawford does encounter a comely lad, Cliff Robertson, one day, whose initially unwelcome presence in her life gradually and creditably (from the woman's viewpoint), blossoms into some kind of love. To their credit as realists, director Robert Aldrich and the gang of four writers who churned out this one gave Miss C. at least two scenes in which she actually tries to make callow Cliff see the light and understand that she's too mature for him.

Again, long story short, she marries the guy, even though she doesn't entirely understand his mercurial moods and the murky explanations of Robertson's past. Eventually, his Dad (Lorne Greene) and Robertson's former wife (Vera Miles) show up, and, suffice it to say, they throw several monkey wrenches into Cliff's psyche. Both Greene and Miles are excellent in their brief parts. I wonder if they might have enjoyed this walk on the shady side of the street more than their usual straight-arrow roles. The cracks in Robertson's facade and his eventual crack-up are very well done, and this is one of the few times that Cliff Robertson impressed me with his ability to create an interesting character.

The story lost me, however, when he goes away to the laughing academy, has his personality disorders healed through chit-chat with docs & nurses & a bit of gardening, and starts to heal his relationship with his wife, Joan. Oh, another thing. When Joan literally has the men in white carry her raving hubby out of her home with sirens a-wailing, she emotes to such a degree that I had to look away. Poor devil, and I don't mean Cliff. Once more, our Miss C. suffers the silent tortures of the damned via her facial and body contortions. Of course, maybe she was able to do this so enthusiastically by thinking about the peter pan collars, bell-shaped skirts and sweater sets she sported in this flick. I really thought that the wardrobe was made for June Allyson.

There is one other very bright spot in this movie: Ruth Donnelly. She plays Joan's landlady who may spend half her time spouting cynical one-liners and the other half knocking back gin, but this girl has eyes in her head and knows when something isn't kosher. Miss Donnelly, whose presence enlivened every movie she ever graced, from 1914 to 1965, left me wishing that her more interesting, and creditably human figure might've been a better focus for a movie, perhaps entitled The Three Faces of Ruth? Thanks, dear Ruth, for many funny and true moments on film.

A demure Miss Donnelly during her Broadway years (below).
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The familiar skeptical expression worn by Ruth in her prime. She was, btw, a fave of James Cagney, who said that she reminded him of his Ma.
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A typically amused expression in a photo from her later years.
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Last edited by moira finnie on March 23rd, 2008, 6:08 pm, edited 3 times in total.

feaito

Postby feaito » October 27th, 2007, 3:33 pm

Excellent reviews Moira! I haven't seen any of the two films though. I'm intrigued now :wink:

Have you ever seen Ms. Crawford as "Harriet Craig"? It's a role which (IMO) she was born to play... I'd like to see it and compare it with Roz Russell's 1936 version...

And of course, as is de rigueur with any Joan C. movie by this stage of her career, there are one too many sequences of huge eyebrow raising, eye-popping and silently overacted repressed hysteria moments from the star.


And Moira... You should check Joan in "Queen Bee" which must be the most "kitschy" Joan Crawford movie I've ever seen -and one of the most entertaining as well- ; I feel that this movie is a kind of predecessor of the TV soap opera genre epitomized by "Dynasty", with Joan playing an Alexis Carrington type of character: vixenish, glossy and sexually charged.

In this film Joan's character manipulates everybody in her family to have her own way, as if all of them were mere puppets. Fay Wray has a small role in it.

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Crawford

Postby melwalton » October 27th, 2007, 4:36 pm

Hi, Moira. Your writeup on those Joan Crawford movies was perfect. And witty. If you're not a professional writer, you missed your calling. I didn't see them, I saw a couple of Crawford's films in the 30s when I was too young to be discerning, 'Sadie McKee', Dancing Lady' Forsaking All Others' but I really enjoyed your reviews.

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Postby moira finnie » October 27th, 2007, 4:45 pm

Hi 'Nando,

I must admit that over the years, I have had similar moments of weakness when I hear that siren call of the post-1950 Joan Crawford movie before and saw both Harriet Craig (1950) and Queen Bee (1955).

Thanks to your generosity, I did see the Rosalind Russell version of Craig's Wife (1936) directed by Dorothy Arzner as well. I thought it was one of Roz's best performances and even John Boles did a very creditable job. Most touching of all was Thomas Mitchell in his first talkie (he'd been in a silent in '23). Mitchell broke my heart. This film made its points about materialism, the reality of the Depression, loneliness, and the undercurrents in a marriage and did so with a restraint that is more often seen in '30s movies than later films. The 1950 Harriet Craig was, uh, shall we say, a bit too rococco for me?

Queen Bee (1955) seemed to be a better (if almost identical) story, and I really like any movie at least a little bit if it has Betsy Palmer in it. There's an actress who seemed to be ill-served by Hollywood. She and her dazzling smile had potential.

Sometimes when I think about the strange facial gymnastics that Joan Crawford went through in these late career doozies, I wonder if she might have been harking back to her early appearances in silents. Either that, or no one could really direct her anymore. One post-1950 film that I've never seen but have heard alot about is Torch Song (1953), in which Joan actually appears in blackface :shock:

Don't know if I'll ever be ready to see that one. Has anyone seen that?

Hi Mel,
I envy your early moviegoing experiences. I'd love to see some of those black and white beauties from the '30s on the big screen, but never will, alas. Thanks for your kind words.

feaito

Postby feaito » October 27th, 2007, 5:17 pm

moirafinnie wrote:Hi 'Nando,

I must admit that over the years, I have had similar moments of weakness when I hear that siren call of the post-1950 Joan Crawford movie before and saw both Harriet Craig (1950) and Queen Bee (1955).

Thanks to your generosity, I did see the Rosalind Russell version of Craig's Wife (1936) directed by Dorothy Arzner as well. I thought it was one of Roz's best performances and even John Boles did a very creditable job. Most touching of all was Thomas Mitchell in his first talkie (he'd been in a silent in '23). Mitchell broke my heart. This film made its points about materialism, the reality of the Depression and loneliness, the undercurrents in a marriage and did so with restraint that is more often seen in '30s movies than later films. The 1950 Harriet Craig was, uh, shall we say, a bit too rococco for me?

Queen Bee (1955) seemed to be a better (if almost identical) story, and I really like any movie at least a little bit if it has Betsy Palmer in it. There's an actress who seemed to be ill-served by Hollywood. She and her dazzling smile had potential.

Sometimes when I think about the strange facial gymnastics that Joan Crawford went through in these late career doozies, I wonder if she might have been harking back to her early appearances in silents. Either that, or no one could really direct her anymore. One post-1950 film that I've never seen but have heard alot about is the Torch Song (1953), in which Joan actually appears in blackface :shock:

Don't know if I'll ever be ready to see that one. Has anyone seen that?


"Craig's Wife" is a magnificent film and Roz gives one of her best dramatic performances in it. Dorothy Arzner is a director whose career should be re-evaluated. Wouldn't you consider to write an article on this pioneering female director? Still, I'd like to watch Joan's version. I remember reading that Joan's age (in 1950) was better suited to the character and that Ms. Russell was too young to play Harriet (although she succeeded at it IMO, in spite of her youthfulness).

I saw "Torch Song" when I was in my twenties and I remember that Joan's body and legs impressed me. In spite of her age she was in top physical condition and had a youthful looking body. Her face was nother matter :wink: Well, in this stage of her career her face already looked like a kind of mask. She has a musical number in which she wears dark make-up and she looks scary!

Of her later films, I feel that in "The Best of Everything", in spite of being a melodramatic woman's picture and kind of artificial in some ways, Joan gives a sincere performance and emotes more naturally. Also in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane", notwithstanding its Grand-Guignolish quality, Joan has some truly touching moments and her face recovers expressivity and becomes more human.

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Postby moira finnie » October 27th, 2007, 5:48 pm

It might be alot of fun to research Dorothy Arzner. I've seen only a fraction of her movies, though I liked Christopher Strong, Dance, Girl, Dance and Craig's Wife very much. I also knew someone who was taught screenwriting by her at UCLA in the '70s. Much of the scholarship that's out there about her seems to overemphasize her lesbianism, which, while pretty obvious in the stills I've seen, seems to be beside the point in her movies--though I suppose it may have been a factor in her diminished opportunities at the studios after the production code came into effect.

There's a book about her called "Directed by Dorothy Arzner" by Judith Mayne that might be an interesting read. I'm glad that you reminded me of her well done Craig's Wife. Have you ever seen the 1932 Fredric March-Sylvia Sidney movie that Arzner directed, called Merrily We Go to Hell? I like both leads, as long as someone keeps Fred's tendency to get pompous in check and no one encourages Sylvia to start with the tears.

I saw "Torch Song" when I was in my twenties and I remember that Joan's body and legs impressed me. In spite of her age she was in top physical condition and had a youthful looking body. Her face was nother matter :wink: Well, in this stage of her career her face already looked like a kind of mask. She has a musical number in which she wears dark make-up and she looks scary!

Now I'm envious of you and yet glad that I missed this epic!

As you've probably guessed, my idea of a Halloween double feature in hell would be Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Freaks--neither of which ever gets shown in chez Finnie, bro. Now, I'm scaring me!

feaito

Postby feaito » October 27th, 2007, 7:04 pm

moirafinnie wrote:It might be alot of fun to research Dorothy Arzner. I've seen only a fraction of her movies, though I liked Christopher Strong, Dance, Girl, Dance and Craig's Wife very much. I also knew someone who was taught screenwriting by her at UCLA in the '70s. Much of the scholarship that's out there about her seems to overemphasize her lesbianism, which, while pretty obvious in the stills I've seen, seems to be beside the point in her movies--though I suppose it may have been a factor in her diminished opportunities at the studios after the production code came into effect.


I couldn't agree more.
Have you ever seen the 1932 Fredric March-Sylvia Sidney movie that Arzner directed, called Merrily We Go to Hell?


Sadly never, cuz both are favorites of mine.

I saw "Torch Song" when I was in my twenties and I remember that Joan's body and legs impressed me. In spite of her age she was in top physical condition and had a youthful looking body. Her face was nother matter :wink: Well, in this stage of her career her face already looked like a kind of mask. She has a musical number in which she wears dark make-up and she looks scary!

Now I'm envious of you and yet glad that I missed this epic!


:lol: :lol:


As you've probably guessed, my idea of a Halloween double feature in hell would be Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Freaks--neither of which ever gets shown in chez Finnie, bro. Now, I'm scaring me!


:lol: :lol:

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Postby Mr. Arkadin » October 28th, 2007, 12:18 am

I'm a big fan of Sudden Fear and love the film. While there are weak spots in the movie here and there, I felt all three actors (Joan, Jack, Gloria) gave strong performances. The Big Book of Noir referenced this film as a "ménage trios from hell", and they're not far off.

Joan had to be convinced to work with Palance by director David Miller who had seen him in Panic in the Streets (1950) and wanted him for the part. Palance's character is not good looking, rather it is his warmth and personal charm that captivate Myra. She is flattered by this young man who works his way into her heart with words.

Palance's Lester proves he's a great actor by selling Myra a load of bull that she is unwilling to give a part in a play for, but more than willing to buy in real life. In casting her play, she's able to have control and perspective, but in her own life objectivity is gone.

On the train and early in the marriage, Palance is lit in a flattering way and wears makeup to hide pockmarks in his face. As Lester's true character is revealed, Miller slowly removes the makeup and uses under lighting to reveal every flaw in Palance's face.

Gloria Grahame, though sexy does not have that much to do here (she would do even less in Macao, same year). Her best scene is in the library where she gives perhaps some of the most sexually frank talk of her career. Her voice played back on Myra's dictaphone sounds even more sexy and frightening when we cannot see her. The looping "I know a way" is perhaps the most haunting line in the film.

This brings us to Sudden Fear's weakness, which is dialogue. These actors do a great job with some positively stupid lines (I'm not going to hang on to him from this side of the grave either! :roll: ). Grahame's lines escape most of this nonsense, but Palance and Crawford are many times making the best of a bad hand they have been dealt.

Crawford's best scene comes when she is hiding in Gloria's apartment, planning to kill Palance. Myra catches a view of herself in a mirror, gun in hand. The realization of what she has become sweeps over her. This scene, played without words, is unbelievably powerful. From this point on, there are few lines, and Palance and Crawford make the most of it.

Nominated for four Academy Awards, Sudden Fear is by no means perfect. Crawford has great moments, almost all of which are wordless. These are not overacted silent stereotyped gestures, but simple looks and thoughts (especially after she learns the truth) that register helplessness, ingenuity, determination, and oh yes—fear.

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Postby moira finnie » October 28th, 2007, 9:10 am

Palance's Lester proves he's a great actor by selling Myra a load of bull that she is unwilling to give a part in a play for, but more than willing to buy in real life. In casting her play, she's able to have control and perspective, but in her own life objectivity is gone.


Hi Ark,
While I can see that Jack Palance's character is--at least in his mind, proving that he's a great actor by smooth-talking Crawford into his thrall, and thus reveals her character's vulnerability, I didn't think that he was believable at any stage. It was interesting that Palance was lit more favorably during the courtship phase of the story than later, when his true character was revealed.

Gloria Grahame, though sexy does not have that much to do here (she would do even less in Macao, same year). Her best scene is in the library where she gives perhaps some of the most sexually frank talk of her career. Her voice played back on Myra's dictaphone sounds even more sexy and frightening when we cannot see her. The looping "I know a way" is perhaps the most haunting line in the film.


Gloria Grahame's voice was used well here and even though she's primarily a decorative character, I think it becomes clearer toward the end of the film that she is--again in her own mind, at least, a would-be master manipulator.

Crawford's best scene comes when she is hiding in Gloria's apartment, planning to kill Palance. Myra catches a view of herself in a mirror, gun in hand. The realization of what she has become sweeps over her. This scene, played without words, is unbelievably powerful. From this point on, there are few lines, and Palance and Crawford make the most of it.


Sorry, but I can't agree about the exaggerated silent moments that Joan Crawford had in this movie. The realization moment looking at her own reflection is one of the best moments in the movie, but I think she went over the top here, though the staging of this sequence in the apartment is well done. The lady could be very effective as an actress, when her excesses were kept in check. For the most part, she gives a much more human performance in Autumn Leaves, and I think it is a better movie because of it.

Thanks for mentioning these subtle aspects of this movie, Ark. I appreciate your viewpoint.
Last edited by moira finnie on October 28th, 2007, 12:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Mr. Arkadin » October 28th, 2007, 9:27 am

'While I can see that Jack Palance's character is--at least in his mind, proving that he's a great actor by smooth-talking Crawford into his thrall, and thus reveals her character's vulnerability, I didn't think that he was believable at any stage.'

I was speaking in the context of the film as his character was an actor. My point was not that he was believeable to us, but to her--a woman who made or broke actors careers with her "superior" judgement.

Sorry you did not enjoy the film. I was simply pointing out what I felt it's strengths were. Personally, I had no problems with the acting, but someone should have rewritten all that dialogue. It sounded as bad as one of Myra's plays. :wink:

I have Autumn Leaves, but I've only watched it once. I personally don't like talking about stuff in detail until I've seen it at least 3 times, so I did not compare them.

I enjoyed your thoughts as well. I will definitely carry them with me the next time I view each film. 8)
Last edited by Mr. Arkadin on October 28th, 2007, 2:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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FEMALE ON THE BEACH

Postby Dewey1960 » October 28th, 2007, 10:19 am

Hey Moira - Nice job on those Crawford pictures! But you omitted my very favorite of what I suppose constitutes an Unholy Trinity of Joan's '50s fever dream features: FEMALE ON THE BEACH. This 1955 low-budget affair from Universal paired Joan with Jeff Chandler (as an aging beach bum) in a down and kind-of-dirty pseudo-noir melodrama directed by the very underrated Joe Pevney. In many ways more entertaining than either of the other two (less pretentious than SUDDEN FEAR and far less strident than AUTUMN LEAVES, yet far more unsavory and trashier than both), it definitely doesn't have much of a reputation among serious movie people and is seldom shown. AMC, back when they were commerical-free and classical, had it in their rotation. I don't believe it's ever had a VHS or DVD release, which is a shame, indeed, because it is incredibly entertaining. Also in the cast are: Jan Sterling (!!), Cecil Kellaway, Judith Evelyn and Natalie Schafer.
Below is a brief "teaser" for the film which will give you a sense of its peculiar charms:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6ONsO0OdVQ[/youtube]

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Postby Mr. Arkadin » October 28th, 2007, 11:02 am

Looks very cool Dewey. Has TCM ever shown this?

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Postby moira finnie » October 28th, 2007, 11:42 am

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Hey Dewey,
Thanks for the reminder of the tawdry charm of Female on the Beach, which used to be shown (seemingly) pretty much every other month on tv stations in the NY area during the '60s and '70s.
I have seen this movie on TCM about 10 years ago.

As a tyke this movie taught me two things:

1.) Joan Crawford was a bizarre creature, who might have been made so cranky by the severity of her hair and eyebrows. I didn't even know that she was the same beautiful actress who appeared in Clarence Brown's Possessed (1931) or Howard Hawks' Today We Live (1933) until I saw those movies in college!

2.) Jeff Chandler was gorgeous. Not a great actor, maybe, but jeepers, he was good looking. I can remember being about 9 and wondering why that mean lady (Crawford) was being so nasty to that nice man (Chandler). Think I missed a few plot points back then, don't you? It's probably just as well that all the implications of their relationship zoomed right over my head.

Btw, the other guy in this movie that I had an infantile crush on was Charles Drake, who often played hapless but kind of likable sorts with obvious but forgivable flaws. Many may recall him as the nice Rhodes Scholar-Marine Officer from Oklahoma in the sweet little wartime soap opera, Until They Sail. He was also memorable as the cowardly suitor of Shelley Winters in Winchester '73 and the doctor in Harvey. As a Universal contract player he shows up in several Jeff Chandler movies, usually as an ineffectual bystander of some sort.

2 fairly typical faces of Charles Drake as "laughing boy" and "hapless & surprised". You decide which is which.
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jdb1

Postby jdb1 » October 28th, 2007, 12:22 pm

First of all, Moira, I can tell you that I had the same reaction to Jeff Chandler when I was a girl. I thought he was the dreamiest. I think I also liked him because he was more easy to recognize in the crowds of other he-man actor types, with that prematurely gray hair.

Now, here's what I want to ask you all: do you think that Crawford in effect shot herself in the foot in her attempt to look distinctive? I sometimes mutter to myself "What the heck was she thinking? What did she see when she looked into a mirror on the set?" when I see some of the getups and ghastly hair and makeup she sported in her later films. Ugh.

I was very pleasantly surprised to see that brief scene in "Harriet Craig" where she had her hair loose (I think it was the dinner party scene). She looked much prettier, much softer (obviously not what she was aiming for in general), and 10 years younger. I think I use the word "unflattering" to desribed Crawford's screen appearances in the 1950s and beyond more than for any other actor or actress. I use it because I don't think she really needed to do what she did, although she certainly thought so.

Bette Davis was certainly aware of that dilemma, as is so painfully portrayed in her film "The Actress," about a middle-aged actress with a flagging career. Her character is watching rushes of a scene wherein she plays a part far too young for her, and seeing on the big screen, she realizes how foolish she looks. Of course, the problem of what becomes of a screen actress in middle age is one which actresses even today still have to face. I really do think Crawford, in her insecurity, did herself a grave disservice. She was a good-looking woman who tried too hard most of her life to look like a "star," whatever that is.

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Postby knitwit45 » October 28th, 2007, 7:04 pm

to Moira and Ark:

Do you guys realize that you just defined the whole Silver Screen Oasis mission? A serious discussion of 2 movies from opposing viewpoints, done with tact, thoughtfulness, and grace.

BRAVO!


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