Monday, January 24, 2011

Joan Supports the Arts

Joan Crawford followed her Oscar win with another excellent film, 1947's Humoresque, in which she plays socialite Helen Wright, an unhappy woman who becomes fascinated with a violinist (played by John Garfield).  Though Crawford gets top billing here, this movie is really about Garfield's Paul Boray, following him from boyhood (as played by Bobby - or later Robert - Blake), when he receives his first violin, through his relationship with Helen.  

Boray is a man obsessed by music and with his career.  Helen is a woman whose life has been one unhappiness after another. Her current (third) husband is a kind, but ineffectual man, for whom Helen has no respect and little affection.  We learn that her prior marriages were appreciably worse: "One was a crybaby and the other was a caveman" she tells Boray.  

Crawford's subtle skills as an actress are in evident here: when Boray attempts to touch her, Crawford cringes, harkening back to her former"caveman" husband  - and perhaps explaining why she remains married to current husband, Victor (Paul Cavanagh)), a weakling with no desire to do more than watch his wife from afar. Helen's nearsightedness (and reluctance to wear glasses) become of symbol of Helen's narrowed life vision - again, Crawford plays it carefully, using Helen's glasses as a sign of her attempts to really SEE Boray for who he is.

Certainly, this is an almost painful movie - Helen's misery and Boray's need for success give little room for happiness.  However, we do have some relief from the pain of these two people trying to develop a relationship against their own personalities and the dismay of both their families.  It is from Oscar Levant's Sid Jeffers.  Playing Garfield's closest friend since boyhood and his pianist, Levant's irreverence provides some humor to a film otherwise filled with unhappiness.  Sid also provides a moral compass, alerting the viewer (and the protagonists) to the dangers of this relationship with seems to cause nothing but pain.

Regardless, this is an excellent film, with sterling performances.  Watch Crawford's telephone monologue towards the end should you have any doubts. It is a piece of brilliance. And, the delicate portrayals of Paul's parents (played by J. Carrol Naish and Peggy Knudson) are also lovely. Papa's reluctance to waste money on a violin, counter-posed with his pride of his son, when the boy sees the birthday present he has yearned for are quite nicely played.

Before we leave for this week, here is a trailer from Humoresque:

Next week, we continue with Ms. Crawford's Warner Brother's years. Please join us.

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