Monday, April 25, 2011

Joan Sells... Perfume

That wonderful year of 1939 brought us Joan Crawford, along with a galaxy of female stars, playing the gold-digging, husband-stealing Crystal Allen in The Women. Norma Shearer is the star here; Mary Haines, the woman whose husband is stolen by Crystal.  The movie, as the tagline says, stars all women, but is about men - the men in their lives, who they talk about constantly.  We have all kinds of women here, from the innocent (Joan Fontaine) to the experienced (Paulette Goddard) to the nearly idiotic (Mary Boland, as the hysterical Countess de Lave).  Rosalind Russell, in a supporting role, shines as the gossipy Sylvia Fowler, and there is an equally enjoyable performance by Lucile Watson as Mary Haines mother.

Much of our conversation focused on the position of this movie within the "chick flick" universe - starring only women, could it be a chick flick?  Interestingly, the movie was marketed to men.  One assumes the moviemakers figured the men were the harder sell, so the ads point up many lovely, undressed ladies ("Zips up the back and no bone").  It is surely a movie about women; and the little fashion show demonstrates it is a movie FOR women. But there is enough, we thought, to keep a man watching.

Crawford is just magnificent here.  And she surely has the best line in the whole movie: "There's a name for you ladies, but it no used in high society, outside a kennel". Crystal may lose the fight, but she'll be back again; perhaps to win the war!

Thanks to YouTube, enjoy this compendium of great lines from the movie:

 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Joan Sings Torch

Torch Song (1953) marked Joan Crawford's return to MGM after her years at Warner Brothers.  However, she returned for a VERY strange film indeed.  She is Jenny Stewart, a temperamental stage star who has alienated EVERYONE in the cast of her latest show, and has no social life to speak of. Into her life comes pianist Tye Graham (Michael Wilding), who was blinded in the war.  He attempts to humanize Jenny, whom he loves because "he knows what she looks like". Torch Song seems most biographical in nature.  From Jenny's dislike of any woman she sees as competition to her passionate love affair with her fans, the plot seems to be borrowing from Crawford's own life.  Did she know how close it would look to her public? One wonders...

Let's just get past the black-face number right away.  It is just stunningly WEIRD.  WHY they found it necessary to perform the song Two-Faced Woman with Crawford done up as a mulatto with bejeweled eyebrows is incomprehensible. In the 21st Century, one rather sits there going "Huh??" And then there is the singing.  A documentary on the DVD showed Crawford testing the music in her own voice.  Never really a strong singer, age (and smoking) had destroyed with little musicality her voice had in her youth. Thus, the producers were forced to substitute a "ghost" singer for her.  Want a glimpse?



On the plus side, is her relationship with her sister and mother. What at first seems like an avaricious family living off their successful relative turns into something much more complex.  There is real love and pride of the mother for her star daughter.  And the sister, coveting Jenny's coat, beams when Jenny relents and presents it to her: "Thank you, Jenny! I'll even wear it to bed". she says as she leaves.  Sure, they are not perfect; but there is a love there, that we understand Jenny has ignored in her climb to the top.

Be prepared if you decide to watch this movie - it is NOT politically correct, but Crawford holds her own here. And damn, has she got good legs!!

Next week, we go back to an earlier Crawford movie.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Joan is Dangerous

In 1952, Joan Crawford closed out her Warner Brother's contract with This Woman is Dangerous. Beth Austin (Ms. Crawford) is the leader of a gang that pulls major heists.  Their latest involves the robbing of a casino.  She controls her henchmen (David Brian and Philip Carey as Matt and Will Jackson), but Beth has a problem - she is going blind, and needs immediate surgery to prevent it.  She heads to the hospital of Dr. Ben Halleck (Dennis Morgan), the only physician capable of performing this delicate surgery.  And, of course, she falls in love with him.

The commentary provided by Robert Osborne in the introduction informed us that Crawford's considered this her worst film.  It is rather silly, but certainly not the worse thing SHE had ever done.  She's actually pretty good in it.  We did find Philip Carey (as Will) rather amusing.  His bug-eyed mania was VERY overstated, from an actor we've always found to be rather an UNDER-actor.  Ditto David Brian.  This is not the acting one would expect from the person we had so recently seen in Flamingo Road. He's really over-the-top crazy in this.

We enjoyed Dennis Morgan (also at the end of HIS contract with WB), but the actor who was a breath of fresh air was little Sherry Jackson as Susan Halleck, Dr. Halleck's young daughter. Crawford seems so comfortable with the child; she becomes easier and happier in the scenes with her.  On top of all the sturm and drang of the soap opera plot, the innocent home-life of this little girl considerably lightens up atmosphere.

Here is an interesting scene from the later part of the film.  It won't give away any plot, but it does show Crawford when she is nails the scene (plus some wonderful cutting on the part of the editor, James C. Moore:

 

We're not sure if we would recommend this, but it is has its moments. So you might want to give it a try. If only to see the one Joan Crawford loathed!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Joan Gets "Fancy"

In 1951, Joan Crawford starred in a delightful comedy with a political bent - Goodbye, My Fancy.  Ms. Crawford is Congresswoman Agatha Reed, invited by her alma mater, to return for the graduation ceremony to receive an honorary degree.  There are, of course, some complications.  For one, Agatha never graduated from the school - she was dismissed for staying out all night with a man.  Another is that her former fiance (Robert Young) is now the dean of the college.  Trailing after Agatha to the ceremony is photographer Matt Cole (Frank Lovejoy) her romantic interest during the war, when she was a war correspondent. And then there is the film that Agatha recently released, on her experiences during the war and the effects of tyranny on intellectual freedom. 

There is no question here of age appropriateness. Agatha IS an older woman.  She's had at least two successful careers and her former beau has a 22 year-old daughter.  Yes, she was his student (making him a few years older), but she is a mature woman, and Crawford plays it as such.  She is also a woman deeply in love with a memory.  And we get to watch as she decided between Young and Lovejoy.  Acting as our commentator is the always delightful Eve Arden.  No movie with Eve Arden in it is ever dull, but Ms. Arden is at her witty best here.  We think she got all the best lines.  She is a riot!

Robert Young, unfortunately, doesn't get to do much here, which is too bad.  Always an interesting actor to watch, he is eye candy here - Agatha's past incarnate.  Her future, too, she hopes.  But a future that will completely alter all she has accomplished in her past.

Without giving away the ending, we found the film fascinating for its view of the importance of career to women and for its emphasis on the importance of freedom of speech. In an era where the House Un-American Activities Committee was abrogating the rights of the free speech of all Americans, this is a daring statement.

Before we go, here is a copy of the trailer:



Next time, another Crawford film from the 1950's