Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Joan's Showplace

As promised, this week we viewed the 1950 Harriet Craig, in which Joan Crawford plays the title role.  As with the previous film, this movie centers on a manipulative, dishonest, demanding, and snobbish woman obsessed with her home.  However, this story ditches the subplots that seemed to go nowhere in the prior film.  Here, the screenwriters build on the original plot by George Kelly, and add more character development.  As a result, Harriet becomes a more three-dimensional person.

The film opens with Harriet preparing for a trip to visit her ailing mother.  Harriet is running the small house staff (Mrs. Harold  played here by Viola Roache, and Lottie, played by Ellen Corby), and her cousin Clare (K.T. Stevens) ragged. Harriet is also incensed that she cannot contact her husband, Walter (Wendell Corey).  But in the next scene, much about Harriet is revealed.  Her mother is quite ill, but it is a mental illness, and a severe one.  Harriet is eager to  please her mother; it becomes quickly apparent that her mother is only person she really loves. We also discover that Harriet was abandoned by her father when she was 14 (after she discovered him having an affair with a co-worker).  As a result, she has no trust at all for men.

This film also subtly changes the relationship between Harriet and Walter.  They have been married for over four years.  She does rule the roost, but there is an affection for him that we did not see in the prior film.  When she returns to find the house in disorder (Walter had friends over for a poker party), she goes up to reprimand him, but looking at him asleep, a small smile creeps across her face, and she rumples his hair to wake him. And, while she does scold him for the mess (what wife wouldn't), it is kindly done.  And they end up kissing in the bed.

It should be noted that this Harriet uses sex to control her Walter (but it is pretty clear that she enjoys it as well!)  When he wants to go out golfing, she points out that she will be upstairs in the bathtub.  The look on Walter's face as he cancels his outing tells us everything we need to know.  Obviously, this Harriet is FUN in the bedroom! Her actions are usually motivated by jealousy and fear.  Everything is about keeping him close to home and close only to HER.
Harriet's nastiness is especially apparent in her behavior towards the servants. Lottie (Ellen Corby) is an especial victim of her bile.  Harriet is contemptuous of her; even giving her flowers for her room is a sign of her disregard for the woman (Harriet dislike flowers and especially dislikes that they came from Mrs. Frazier.)

And then there is cousin Clare.  Clare is portrayed as a doormat.  She takes everything Harriet dishes out, and whines about how grateful she is.  When she finally realizes that Harriet has been manipulating her to keep her away from her boyfriend, Wes, Clare leave, because she hopes that Wes will now take care of her.  In the end, we found Clare to be almost as unpleasant as Harriet.

Other changes  in this version:   Harriet's is willing to have a party in her home; but while she consents to entertain, but only the guests SHE chooses.  None of Walter's friends are welcome.  The Vase, which is quickly established in both films as Harriet's pride and joy, here is described as Ming China, and therefore quite valuable; in the prior film, no such claim was made. As mentioned before, the loss of the subplots is a definite plus here, as is the addition of Walter's friend, Billy Birkmire (Allyn Joslyn).   Finally, there is her attitude towards children.  In both films, she dislikes children, but in this version we discover she lied to Walter about her ability to conceive.  We also find out she is willing to have a child IF it will keep Walter in place.

As in the first film, we were particularly taken with the scene in which Mrs. Harold  (Viola Roache) resigns.  It's quiet different in many respects, but the impact is the same.  Both actresses shine as they face each other down.  We also very much enjoyed Lucile Watson as Celia Fenwick.  Mrs. Fenwick takes an immediate liking to Walter, and has Harriet's number in about two seconds.  She seems to be trying to separate Harriet and Walter. But she is funny - we realize that she is  cheating at cards, and that Walter knows it!

A nod as well to Sheila O'Brien, Crawford's designer in the 1950s.  She creates the gowns for the film, and they were noteworthy.   Here's a suit that we found particularly beautiful.  We particularily loved the delicate collar.  

 We close with a trailer from the film:

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