I have always enjoyed Joan Crawford’s movies but I only recently started watching some of her really early movies. I was pleasantly surprised to see a different side of Joan in these movies. I haven’t watched all of her movies and some of the earlier ones are difficult to find but for now, here are some of my favorites. While she wasn’t the most beautiful actress in Hollywood at that time, there is just something about Joan…
Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
Joan is Diana Medford, a flapper who is the life of the party but really a nice girl who wants to settle down with a nice man. Her friend, Ann, will do anything to get the millionaire, Ben Blaine. Ben thinks that Diana isn’t interested in him because of her flirtations ways so he marries Ann, with disastrous results. He should have known that Joan was the better girl !
This movie showed me a completely different side of Joan. She dances, is flirtatious and even though this is a silent film, it was a lot of fun to watch.
I also loved the dancing, the clothing, especially the cloche hats, and the art deco designs.
Sadie Thompson, a prostitute, arrives in Pago Pago , an idyllic South Seas island and gets temporarily stranded when the boat that was supposed to take her to another port has a possible cholera outbreak. Also stranded with her are Mr and Mrs Davidson and Doctor and Mrs. McPhail. They have to stay at the general store that also serves as a hotel. Sadie decides to make the best of it and parties with the American servicemen stationed there. Alfred Davidson is a missionary and a religious zealot and Sadie’s drinking with the servicemen and dancing on Sunday can’t be tolerated. He decides to “save” Sadie and gets the governor to force her to go back to San Francisco but Sadie can’t return there because she is running away fro some trouble. Sargent O’Hara falls for Sadie and wants to take her to Sydney with him but the governor says that she must return to San Francisco unless Mr. Donaldson will withdraw his complaint against her. He won’t and as he becomes more unhinged, tragedy follows.
Walter Huston plays Alfred Davidson and he is terrific as the deranged missionary. Beulah Bondi is also very good as his wife. It is raining throughout the movie and the rain, heat and mud all contribute to a sense of doom. Joan Crawford was excellent as Sadie.
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Based on the novel by James M. Cain this is probably one of my favorite Joan Crawford movies. Mildred’s out of work husband is having an affair with another woman and Mildred is trying to support her family by making pies and cakes for people. When he finally leaves, Mildred gets a job in a restaurant and starts baking for them. Her desserts are so popular that Mildred decides to try and get someone to help her open her own restaurant. Her spoiled, manipulative daughter, Veda, is embarrassed by the fact that her mother is a waitress and is ruining their social standing in the community. Even when Mildred’s restaurant turns out to be a big money-maker, Veda is still embarrassed by it.
Mother and daughter clash and things get worse when Veda is interested in the man that Mildred marries. After there is a murder, Mildred has to decide how far she will go to try and save her daughter.
I love Film-Noir and this movie has many of the elements that I love about noir: glamorous clothes, a scheming, manipulative , femme fatale, snappy dialogue, atmospheric lighting and of course, murder.
Joan was wonderful in this movie as a housewife turned restaurant entrepreneur and she won an Academy Award for her performance in Mildred Pierce. Ann Blyth, as her manipulative, spoiled daughter Veda, almost steals the show. She deserved a Best Supporting Oscar, in my opinion, for her role as Veda. Zachary Scott who often plays villains was good in the role as an unscrupulous fortune hunter. The rest of the cast, Jack Carson, Bruce Bennett and Eve Arden were also excellent. A remake of Mildred Pierce was filmed in 2011 but the original is still the best.
Paul Boray (John Garfield) is a classical violinist from a working class family . When he and his piano playing friend, Sid, play at a social gathering at the home of socialite, Helen Wright ( Joan Crawford), she becomes obsessed with Paul and wants to be his Patron to help promote his career. Helen is unhappy in her marriage and drinks too much because she is unhappy.
Soon Paul is immersed in Helen’s world and a romance develops. He leaves his humble roots, including his girl, Gina, behind as he climbs to the top and begins playing concerts at Carnegie Hall. However, Helen is neurotic and her obsession with Paul leads to tragedy.
I enjoyed the ‘extras’ in this movie because they explained how they showed Paul playing the violin even though John Garfield couldn’t play the violin. Other musicians were playing the bow and strings separately and it looked like John Garfield was actually playing the violin. Humoresque is a dark drama but I enjoyed it as well as the music. The supporting cast, J. Carrol Naish, Oscar Levant, Ruth Nelson and Joan Chandler were also good.
Louise Howell (Joan Crawford)is found wandering the streets of LA in a catatonic state. She keeps approaching men saying “David”, then collapses on the street. She is taken to the psychiatric ward where a doctor tries to find out what is wrong with her. She is given medication to help her remember and as she begins her story the viewer is taken back to the previous year when Louise, an RN, was hired by wealthy Dean Graham (Raymond Massey) to care for his ill and mostly bed ridden wife, Pauline. Dean lives in a beautiful house on a lake near Washington DC. Pauline begins to think that her husband and Louise are having an affair but in fact, Louise is in love with David Sutton (Van Heflin) who lives across the lake from the Graham house.
When David breaks off their affair and Pauline dies, Louise marries Dean but she hasn’t forgotten about David. Joan does a good job in her movies portraying unhinged women and Possessed is no exception. Van Heflin Raymond Massey and Geraldine Brooks were all good in their roles, too.
Flamingo Road (1949)
Lane Bellamy, a carnival dancer, stays behind when the carnival leaves town. She is befriended by Sheriff Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott) who tries to help her find a job. Unfortunately Carlisle and everyone else in the town is under the thumb of political boss Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet), a small- time corrupt southern politician. Semple sees Lane as a threat and tries to get her to leave but when she won’t he has her jailed on trumped-up charges.
Dan Reynolds (David Brian), another member of the political scene, falls for Lane, marries her and they move into his home on prestigious Flamingo Road. However, things don’t go smoothly because Fielding Carlisle is still in love with Lane, and she with him.
The smoldering small town setting was a perfect backdrop for Flamingo Road. Joan has been in other movies with David Brian and Zachary Scott and they were both good in their roles. Sydney Greenstreet was perfect a a small-time southern crime boss.
The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)
Socialite Lorna Hansen Forbes disappears after the murder of gangster Nick Prenta. Nothing is known about Lorna but in flashbacks we see that she has left her poor, working class existence as a mother after a tragic accident. She reinvents herself as a New York socialite and aspires to bigger things. Lorna builds herself up as a glamorous woman and becomes involved with two men. One is Martin Blackford (Kent Smith) a mild mannered accountant and George Castleman ( David Brian) a ruthless mobster. When she is told by George to go to Las Vegas to romance Nick Prenta, a rogue member of their crime syndicate that they want back in line, she resists but ultimately does what he wants.
Once Lorna is in Vegas, she is drawn in by Nick’s charisma, a very dangerous thing and there is a murder. This movie has some nice twists and I really enjoyed it. The supporting actors, David Brian, Steve Cochran and Kent Smith were great. I loved the clothes, the plot and the actors in this very enjoyable movie.
Harriet Craig (1950)
Harriet Craig cares more about her house and possessions then she does about people. She treats her staff like slaves, her cousin like a secretary and lies to her mild mannered husband, Walter, about her inability to have children. When Walter is offered a promotion that will require him to work out of town, she goes to his boss with a lie about him so that she can keep him at home. She tried to ruin her cousin’s relationaship with a nice man, too. This movie is vintage Joan Crawford and I really liked it.
Harriet Craig is a thoroughly despicable character and I loved every minute of this movie. I have never been a big fan of Wendell Corey but he was pretty good in this movie as a hen pecked husband who doesn’t have a clue about what Harriet is really like. The ending was great!
Queen Bee (1955)
Eva Phillips (Joan Crawford) runs her family with a tight fist. No one can question her or there is a price to be paid. Her husband (Barry Sullivan) knows this all to well. When her innocent cousin, Jennifer, arrives she is at first enamored with her glamorous older cousin but her eyes are soon opened. Eva is a despicable person and this movie is vintage Joan Crawford. Loved the southern mansion, the clothes, jewelry and furs.
Barry Sullivan was great as her alcoholic, scarred husband. Betsy Drake, John Ireland and Lucy Marlow were also very good in their roles.
The Best of Everything (1959)
I loved this movie based on the soapy best -selling novel by Rona Jaffe. Set in the publishing world of New York City in 1953, the novel focused on four young women trying to have a career in a male dominated world. The Best of Everything was one of the first novels to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. This movie had an all star ensemble cast and Joan Crawford’s role wasn’t front and center but it was still vintage Joan. She played Amanda Farrow, a hard boiled editor who longed for something else.
The cast had many well know actors from that time period: Hope Lange, Diane Baker, Martha Hyer, Stephen Boyd, Brian Aherne, Brett Halsey and a very young Robert Evans who went on to be a Hollywood movie producer. Suzy Parker, a famous model during that time period , was also in it as was Louis Jourdan, a French heartthrob.
My historical book club at the library read this book a few months ago and we had a good discussion about the time period and women who graduate from prestigious colleges only to find themselves relegated to the typing pool. The movie had a few differences from the book but it was so much fun to watch. Johnny Mathis sang the theme song and it is wonderful and was nominated for an Oscar.