Monday, December 13, 2010

Joan has Plastic Surgery

When we decided to view Joan Crawford's movies, A Woman's Face (1941) was one of the movies I was most looking forward to seeing with my friends. A totally underrated movie, with a beautiful, understated performance by Ms. Crawford, I was sure everyone would love it. And they did.  

Joan plays Anna Holm, a young woman who works as a blackmailer, and who was horribly scarred as a child.  During one of her blackmail missions, she encounters Dr. Gustav Segert (Melvyn Douglas), a plastic surgeon with a remarkable record of successes.  Fascinated by Anna's scars, he offers to attempt a series of surgeries that will possibly correct the damage.  Anna consents; she had recently met Torsten Barring (Conrad Veidt), and hopes to be part of his life, scar-free.  Unbeknownst to her, Barring is far more interested in luring her into a murder plot, a murder that would leave him the heir to millions.

Crawford is just perfect in this role.  Her acting is subtle; watch her reactions to fire (Anna is terrified of fire), her mannerisms before and after her surgery, and the restrained but definite reactions that we see in her eyes as she reacts to a variety of frightening and horrifying issues.  
Also magnificent is the always wonderful Conrad Veidt.  Veidt began his career in the silent cinema of his native Germany, and generally played the hero.  In the 1930s, he managed to alienate the Nazis (he loathed Hitler and everything Hitler stood for), and escape to England (where he became a citizen).  Of course, his career in American movies generally cast him as either a villain (as here) or a Nazi (as in his most famous performance - Major Strasser in Casablanca).  While we know at the start that there is something a tad slimy about Barring, we are able to watch Veidt construct a maniac before our eyes.  We watch as his insanity is more clearly and definitely revealed with each passing scene.

Finally, we wanted to say a word about Richard Nichols as Lars-Erik.  Nichols did not have a long career, but we've seen him in several films (most notably Kitty Foyle and All This and Heaven, Too).  Nichols has a rather childlike speech pattern that is hard to miss, but he is SO much the little boy in this movie (and in everything he does), that it is hard to remember he IS an actor.  Witness Lars-Erik bouncing around on a cable car, and then looking back to see if  he will be scolded for doing something so dangerous.  So totally 5 year old boy!! And with a sense of tension ably supplied by the astute direction of George Cukor!

We hope you will give this one a try. We think it is worth a viewing, especially if you've not seen it before.  Here's a brief scene to give you a glimpse of the film:

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