Category Archives: Joan Crawford

Torch Song-1953

Torch Song-1953

Director Charles Walters

Starring Joan Crawford, Michael Wilding, Gig Young

Scott’s Review #1,402

Reviewed September 25, 2023

Grade: B

Since I’m a huge fan of legendary Hollywood Actress Joan Crawford I’ll willingly watch any film of hers, both quality films and mediocre offerings.

Her style, confidence, clothes, makeup, and yes, those eyebrows capture me every time I see her. She’s also a damned good actor.

Torch Song (1953) is a film made when her career was waning despite just scoring an Oscar nomination the year before for Sudden Fear (1952).

She would find success in the 1960s with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1963).

The film is fun to watch because it reportedly best captures her true personality in a role that is realistic to who she was. Faye Dunaway even studied the role closely before she portrayed the star in 1981’s cult classic Mommie Dearest.

The story is about a talented and demanding Broadway star named Jenny Stewart played by Crawford. She is used to snapping her fingers and having her every whim catered to without question. She rewrites scenes and fires talent for shows she stars in if she deems them beneath her.

One day she meets her blind rehearsal pianist Tye Graham (Michael Wilding) and finds herself attracted to him. At first, clashing over his refusal to put up with her bullshit she comes to realize she admires him.

The feeling is mutual and the lovebirds tenderly nurture their budding relationship.

I’m not sure if non-Crawford fans would appreciate or enjoy Torch Song as much as we die-hards would. The story is basic with few twists and turns and it’s not hard to imagine that Jenny and Tye will wind up together.

Torch Song was famously spoofed by comedienne Carol Burnett in the 1970s on her television show when she replicates a dress rehearsal scene from the film in a hilarious fashion.

But Crawford is devilish and fierce in the film. She prances confidently in each scene wearing getups as outlandish as a haughty yellow nightgown with high-heeled slippers and a garish scene from the production wearing  ‘black face’!

When she yanks off her wig revealing her messy red hair, black face, and wide emotion-infused eyes as she desperately watches Tye exit the auditorium it rivals any scary scene from a horror film.

Jenny is the star as much as Crawford is and one wonders if she had the same ferocious clout as the fictitious character. We’ll have to ask the cast if any are still alive.

Crawford’s singing voice was dubbed by India Adams and she lip-syncs to the recording Adams originally made for Cyd Charisse in a number discarded from the 1953 film, The Band Wagon.

When she belts emotional numbers like ‘Two-Faced Woman the comic relief is unintentional. Adams sounds nothing like Crawford which makes the dubbing glaring and nearly pitiful. Crawford had a decent voice and sang the songs only available on the home video release.

Oddly, actress Marjorie Rambeau who played Crawford’s mother received an Oscar nomination for the role. Her performance is adequate but not Academy Award-worthy.

This must have irritated Ms. Crawford who wasn’t known for being a gracious co-star. She must have felt usurped.

Crawford seamlessly carries the film from beginning to end credits like the seasoned professional she always was. She pokes her co-stars and chews up the scenery like nobody’s business.

Deserving of mention is actor Michael Wilding since he equals Crawford in performance. He never appears outshined or swallowed whole during a scene instead relaying good chemistry with her.

A mediocre Torch Song (1953) is made better by the mix of the competitive Broadway lifestyle and the star playing a ferocious and seasoned veteran.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Marjorie Rambeau

Queen Bee-1955

Queen Bee-1955

Director Ranald MacDougall

Starring Joan Crawford, Barry Sullivan, Betsy Palmer

Scott’s Review #1,288

Reviewed August 10, 2022

Grade: B+

Queen Bee (1955) is a drama served straight-up Southern style and is highly recommended only for fans of legendary screen actress Joan Crawford. Made during the downward turn in her career the character is tailor-made for the actress and her fans.

She struts across the silver screen in flashy gowns and heavy makeup, admiring herself in the mirror, and firmly ensconced in bitch mode. With matching garish eyebrows and a sassy smirk, she chews up and spits out every character she crosses paths with.

Otherwise, audience members unfamiliar with or otherwise turned off by Crawford probably shouldn’t bother with Queen Bee. There’s not a lot of character development or anything interesting story-wise other than watching her cause havoc.

Set in the 1950s American South, the vicious and conniving Eva Phillips (Crawford) takes pleasure in making the lives of those around her miserable, especially her husband, Avery (Barry Sullivan), who is so depressed he resorts to heavy drinking and becomes an alcoholic.

Meanwhile, when Eva discovers her sister-in-law (Betsy Palmer) intends to wed her former lover Judson (John Ireland), she decides to ruin their engagement for no reason other than being nasty.

Eva’s niece, Jennifer Stewart (Lucy Marlow), arrives in town and moves in with the family serving as Eva’s confidante. She is warned by everyone not to cross paths with the scheming vixen but must learn for herself how deadly Eva is.

At some point early on Queen Bee turns from high drama into soap opera camp and becomes silly and plot-driven. It’s also melodramatic and stagey especially once events spin out of control.

Despite a talented supporting cast, Crawford is the headliner. The part is written with her in mind and intended as a comeback vehicle when her career was dusty and needed a dash of drama.

It’s a delight to watch Crawford as Eva, pouring her heart and soul into a role that allows her to be as vicious as she wants. I guess in some way you could say Eva’s manipulative motivation is her claim for love but that’s a stretch and hardly justifies leading one character to suicide.

In proper form, Eva gets her due at the end of the film which left me, and likely most audiences, clapping with happiness.

Speaking of the supporting cast, I practically squealed with delight at the appearance of Betsy Palmer, forever known to horror audiences as the knife-wielding maniac on Friday the 13th (1980). Jaw-dropping is to see her play a weak, vulnerable character with no bloody ax anywhere in sight.

Barry Sullivan as Avery is also noteworthy as is a small and odd cameo appearance by Fay Wray (King Kong-1933).

Director, Ranald MacDougall wrote the screenplay for Mildred Pierce (1945) which won Crawford the Academy Award and was deemed a major comeback for her. He also wrote Queen Bee clearly with the idea that she would star and perhaps lightning would strike twice.

It didn’t save for two surprising technical Academy Award nominations.

Palmer’s Carol offers the most poignant character summarization of Eva.  She tells Jennifer that she once read a book about bees and feels that Eva is like a queen bee who stings all her competitors to death.

For late-night satisfaction immersed in an hour and a half of delightful wickedness from Joan Crawford, Queen Bee (1955) is highly recommended.

Her scheming Atlanta socialite Eva is towards the top of a list of characters one loves to hate.

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

Sudden Fear-1952

Sudden Fear-1952

Director David Miller

Starring Joan Crawford, Jack Palance

Scott’s Review #873

Reviewed March 3, 2019

Grade: B+

Sudden Fear (1952) is a gripping film noir thriller, a genre that became commonplace during the early 1950s.

The film is raised to lofty acclaim due to the casting of legendary Hollywood star Joan Crawford in the lead role. Her performance led to an Oscar nomination and is the main draw.

Sudden Fear suffers from cliches but is otherwise a solid watch although largely forgotten.

Crawford stars as Myra Hudson, a successful Broadway playwright who rejects the suave and handsome Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) after he auditions for the lead role in her play.

Later, they coincidentally meet on a train headed for San Francisco as Lester manages to sweep the mature woman off her feet. When Myra impulsively marries Lester his true intentions to manipulate and then kill her to inherit her money are revealed.

The suave Myra uncovers the plot and instead plans to kill Lester and place the blame on his scheming former girlfriend, Irene (Gloria Grahame).

As a rabid fan of Ms. Crawford and her talents, my opinion leans towards the film belonging exclusively to the star. With her expressive eyes and mannerisms, the role is tailor-made for her and not too far from the role she would later play in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1966).

As the strong yet beleaguered character Myra has been unsuccessful in the romance department and after a glimmer of hope is devastated when she realizes she is being played for a fool.

Thanks to Crawford her pain and humiliation are palpable and her subsequent paranoia believable without overacting too much for effect.

Palance and Grahame are okay in their respective supporting roles but are either outshined by Crawford or written in a banal way.

Regardless, the roles are one-note and not the best of either actor’s career.

The characters have little rooting value and we know their motivations and shenanigans nearly from the start.

The conclusion produces a satisfying demise for each one as their comeuppance is in perfect form.

From a plot and pacing perspective, the film is never boring and contains many twists and surprises which will undoubtedly keep audiences engaged. The action moves in stellar form and never tires as the viewer anticipates a cool ending.

The final chapter is fraught with chase scenes throughout the streets of San Francisco as a terrified Myra runs through the streets clad in a black coat and a white head shawl, wearing high heels naturally while being chased by a crazed Lester.

Sudden Fear adds clever camera angles and cinematography mentions making it slightly left of center and creative looking with cool shadows throughout.

Elements of Hitchcock emerge as a shaky hallway scene featuring a lumbering Lester approaches the camera. Closeups of the actors and the illuminating black-and-white lighting provide a glowing look to the film.

Shots of a gun, a pendulum swinging representing a clock, or a bottle labeled “poison” add elements of tension.

For fans of the illustrious Joan Crawford, Sudden Fear (1952) is a recommended watch and will please those seeking a good helping of the star. She does not disappoint and is the main draw in an otherwise by-the-numbers genre film.

The film’s conclusion is the high point and I wished for more layers and character development from Palance and Grahame, but Crawford shines in an otherwise forgotten offering.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress-Joan Crawford, Best Supporting Actor-Jack Palance, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White

Johnny Guitar-1954

Johnny Guitar-1954

Director Nicholas Ray

Starring Joan Crawford, Sterling Hayden

Scott’s Review #655

Reviewed June 15, 2017

Grade: B-

Johnny Guitar (1954) is an interesting film to review for a few reasons, but most distinct is for its challenging of the traditional mold of the classic western- front and center is an aggressive and strong-willed woman, and a saloon owner no less, who is engaged in an antagonistic feud with another woman-with a similar disposition.

Of course, since the film stars legendary screen actress, Joan Crawford, she is a strong character.

The writing is not brilliant and other Western stereotypes abound, but Johnny Guitar is a decent watch for Crawford.

In the middle of an Arizona cattle town, circa the Wild West days, Vienna (Crawford) is a gorgeous woman, who owns the local watering hole, frequented by less-than-savory men.

Vienna welcomes the men mostly because one of them is a former boyfriend. The rest of the town, led by Emma Small (Mercedes McCambridge), despises Vienna and her support of the incoming railroad, to make Vienna rich.

After a bank robbery, Vienna is pursued by Emma and the town into a standoff, in which lynchings, shootings, and fires encompass the rest of the film.

Mixed in with the drama is a romance between Vienna and handsome guitarist, Johnny Guitar (Sterling Hayden), and some musical numbers, but mostly the film is a shoot ’em up led by women.

Let’s take the good with the bad surrounding the film- any picture starring Joan Crawford gets some credit in my book and the role of Vienna is certainly unchartered territory for the glamorous star.

Tough-talking, gun-slinging, and with a short hairdo, rumors abounded that the character of Vienna was gay and in love with her arch-enemy Emma.

Perhaps, decades later, this might have transpired, but this was 1950s Hollywood, after all. No, Crawford still dazzles with heavy makeup and bright red lips and is feminine despite the masculine outfit.

Clever, especially for 1954 westerns, is a tough female character in the central role, and this bolsters Johnny Guitar above middling. Typically a genre that sticks to the tried and true, the main female rivalry between Vienna and Emma is the best part, but sadly the back story is never fully explored.

Why do they hate each other? Were they in love with the same man? Is their hatred simply because they are the only women in the town?

The chase scene and the climax of the film are also quite good. How delightful to see Crawford prancing around in peril, riding a horse, and swimming in a creek.

The film turns into a good, old-fashioned adventure, and the cinematography and exterior sets are not bad.

Two aspects of Johnny Guitar stood out to me as negatives. The romance between Vienna and Johnny Guitar does not work. For starters, Crawford seems much too old for Hayden as Johnny and I never felt any chemistry between the characters- the back story scene with the reveal that they were once an “item” is weak.

Besides Emma, there are no other female characters (a coincidence?), which is a strange aspect of the film. Does one wonder if this was Crawford’s demand? (but I digress).

The romance between the duo is lackluster, though admittedly, I did feel a rooting factor for them as the final chapter commenced and the pair was in danger.

The storytelling is mediocre as I never felt invested in the writing and the entire script feels silly and cheap. The story is laid out in a basic way- Vienna is told by (arguably) the leader of the town, Ward Bond, to close up shop and leave town within twenty-four hours or else there will be hell to pay.

When some of the men rob a bank and plan to depart for California, Vienna is blamed for a sloppy contrived plot device and is set to be hanged.

The script is not the high point of the film.

For a gender-bending experience and the fabulous addition of Ms. Crawford, Johnny Guitar is worth watching, but do not expect a masterpiece in storytelling or to be dazzled by character development.

Fans of the classic Western may be disappointed.

Strait-Jacket-1964

Strait-Jacket-1964

Director William Castle

Starring Joan Crawford, Diane Baker

Scott’s Review #650

Reviewed June 7, 2017

Grade: B

Strait-Jacket (1964) stars legendary Hollywood film star, Joan Crawford, on the heels of her successful “comeback” role in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? circa 1962.

Following this film, older actresses achieved some semblance of success in camp-leaning B-horror films and Crawford led the pack.

Strait-Jacket is a perfect example of this sub-genre and glamorous Crawford sinks her teeth into this film with gusto, playing an ax-wielding former mental patient, now released to the outside world after a lengthy stay in an insane asylum.

William Castle, a popular director of the time, could churn out films quickly and for very little money, a talent marveled at by studios. In the cult vein, Castle created Strait-Jacket on a dime and with one of the biggest stars in the world- now slowly in decline.

Clearly, in “real life”, Crawford felt the role was beneath her, yet one would never know it by the brilliant performance she gives, a performance that makes Strait-Jacket better than it ordinarily would be.

We first meet Crawford’s Lucy Harbin (twenty years before present times) as she returns home very late one night, to a remote area, having spent the weekend out of town. Her husband is a philanderer and has picked up a cheap girl at a bar, making love to her while his young daughter, Carol, pretends to sleep.

In a fit of rage, Lucy decapitates them both while a horrified Carol watches. Years later, Carol (Diane Baker), now a grown woman,  prepares to introduce a recently released Lucy to her intended, Michael, and his affluent parents.

Living on a remote farm with Lucy’s brother and his wife, strange occurrences begin to happen to both Lucy and Carol- a dastardly child’s song, cut-out faces from a photo album, and “imagined” decapitated heads.

Castle wisely gives Lucy a makeover, from her graying, matronly appearance, to a sexy, youthful appearance reminiscent of her days when the murders occurred.

Soon, the film, short at one hour and thirty-two minutes, reaches a climax when Lucy appears to begin chopping new victims to bits. But is everything as it seems?

The appeal of Strait-Jacket, as a viewer, is watching Joan Crawford tackle the role. Talented beyond belief, and with expressive eyes and facial features, she owns the role and subsequently the entire film, though Diane Baker is no slouch either.

Crawford, never one to phone in a performance, at this time in her career was happy with any role she received. She gives Lucy both grit and vulnerability so that the audience roots for her.

As the film goes along, we slowly begin to wonder if Lucy is hallucinating, still unstable, or perhaps being set up by someone else.

Strait-Jacket is laced with several good scares- as both a grizzled farmhand and a vacationing doctor meet their fates in grisly fashion, the build-up to the kills is quite well done. A slamming door, a figure in the shadows, these elements are all used to wonderful effect to elicit suspense.

To Castle’s credit, he uses elements of fright to make the film better than the writing is.

The plot itself is fine, but certainly not high art, nor anything rather inventive. The “big reveal” at the end of the film is rather hokey and seemingly a play on the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho, but lacking the high intensity- the ending of the film is also a tad abrupt.

Strait-Jacket (1964) is a cool little horror film featuring one of the legendary actresses of Hollywood film history- and that is more than enough for me to recommend this film to both Crawford fans and horror film fans, or ideally both.

Mommie Dearest-1981

Mommie Dearest-1981

Director Frank Perry

Starring Faye Dunaway

Top 100 Films #44

Scott’s Review #195

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Reviewed November 20, 2014

Grade: A

Camp, camp, camp!

By this point in film history, Mommie Dearest and this description go hand in hand, but when made in 1981, it was meant to be a much more serious film than it turned out to be.

Sadly, due to a few very over-the-top lines, it is forever inducted into the halls of cult classic memory.

Based on the scandalous tell-all book written by Christina Crawford (Joan’s adopted daughter), Mommie Dearest tells the story of Joan Crawford, a Hollywood screen legend, from her heyday in the 1930s, until she died in 1977, and mostly focuses on the tumultuous relationship with Christina- played as an adult by Diana Scarwid.

Convinced a baby was missing from her life and unable to conceive after several miscarriages with a former flame, Crawford’s beau at the time, an attorney, wrangles a way for her to adopt both Christina and later, Christopher Crawford.

Dealing with her mother’s demands and abuse, Christina goes from a happy little girl to a rebellious teen sent to live in a convent and later struggling to find her way as an actress in New York City with no financial support from Mom.

The film also wonderfully describes the career of Crawford- from highs (winning the Academy Award for Mildred Pierce) to lows (being cut from MGM and reduced to screen tests). The film also recounts Joan Crawford’s continuing battles with booze and neuroses.

From start to finish the film belongs to Dunaway as she simply becomes Crawford- the eyelashes, the mannerisms, every detail is spot on.

Unfortunately for Dunaway, due to the unintentional comedic view of this film, she was robbed of an Oscar nomination, shamefully so. The film was awarded several Razzies- a derogatory honor given to the year’s worst films. Dunaway must have put her heart and soul into this performance.

During the infamous wire hanger scene, Dunaway looks frightening as her face, caked with cold cream, reveals a grotesque mask- reminiscent of Batman character The Joker- as she shrieks at her daughter in the middle of the night, during a drunken tirade, after finding beautiful clothes on wire hangers.

She then trashes her daughter’s bathroom insisting it is already filthy.

One will shriek with gales of laughter as Crawford berates her maid Helga for not scrubbing beneath a potted plant, only to insist, “I’m not mad at you Helga, I’m mad at the dirt”.

In another haunting scene, Joan throws a birthday party for Christina complete with a merry-go-round, balloons, presents, and the paparazzi. Joan’s attire is a little girl dress matching young Christina’s- a morbid foreshadowing of the competition that is to exist between them as the years go by.

The secondary characters are merely an extension of Dunaway’s character and do their best to support her- her harried live-in assistant, Carol Ann, played by Rutanya Alda, both of her love interests, lawyer, Greg Savitt, played by Steve Forrest, and later, Pepsi-Cola mogul Alfred Steele, played by Harry Goz.

The actors do their best with the material given and are neither exceptional nor flawed. None of these supporting characters have any backstory other than to react to Crawford’s drama and, if written better, may have given the film a bit more depth.

The look of the film is pleasing- Crawford’s house is beautifully decorated with lavish furniture and the colors throughout the film are both bright and vivid. The now-legendary lines of “No wire hangers ever!”, “Christina! Bring me the ax!”, and “Don’t fuck with me fellas, this ain’t my first time at the rodeo” are hysterical in their melodrama and effect.

Crawford is portrayed as an obsessive-compulsive, demanding, control freak. One may debate the authenticity of the claims Christina made against Joan Crawford until the end of time.

Not the masterpiece it was intended to be, Mommie Dearest (1981) can be enjoyed viewing after viewing for some campy silliness, with one hell of a great performance by Dunaway mixed in.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?-1962

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? -1962

Director Robert Aldrich

Starring Bette Davis, Joan Crawford

Top 100 Films #71     Top 20 Horror Films #18

Scott’s Review #193

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Reviewed November 14, 2014

Grade: A

Kicking off a trend, prominent throughout the 1960s, of aging Hollywood actresses starring in horror films (interestingly Bette Davis and Joan Crawford each did two- the others being Dead Ringer and Strait-Jacket), with varying degrees of success, Baby Jane is top of the heap.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, directed by Robert Aldrich, stars aforementioned Davis and Crawford as, ironically enough, two aging Hollywood actresses, Jane and Blanche Hudson.

Jane (Davis), a child star in the 1920s nicknamed Baby Jane, with an adorable signature song, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy”, has long since faded from the spotlight, but continues to dress in her Baby Jane costume, consisting of a little girl dress with hair in curls and ribbons.

Blanche, however, garnered her success as an adult in the 1930s and until a tragic accident, which left her wheelchair-bound and subsequently ruined her career, was a popular film star- much more popular than Jane.

Blanche and Jane now wither the years away in a crumbling mansion in Los Angeles. Blanche is completely dependent on her unbalanced sister for care. Jane, resentful of Blanche’s success and popularity, plans to re-launch her career in her once-famous alter ego.

The film certainly has macabre comedic elements but never veers too far over the edge as to reach camp or foolishness. It is also a very psychological film as Jane mentally abuses Blanche and plays mind games with her to achieve the upper hand.

Davis had a ball with this role as her appearance alone is frightful- a grown woman of a certain age in blonde curls, pancake makeup, and a baby doll dress- she looks positively hideous!

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane reminds me quite a bit of Billy Wilder’s masterpiece Sunset Boulevard in several ways- both feature successful stars of years past with delusions of returning to their former fame, both feature older women more than a tinge unbalanced, and both films are set in sunny Los Angeles.

Two of the film’s supporting actors are well cast, adding much to this film and simply must be given recognition- Victor Buono, later made famous for his role of King Tut in the popular late 1960’s television series Batman, is highly effective as the opportunist sloth, Edwin Flagg, who aids Jane in her comeback attempt.

Maidie Norman as the Hudson sisters’ black housekeeper, Elvira, loyal to Blanche, but never a fan of Jane’s, slowly becomes wise to Jane’s sinister plot and does a wonderful acting job when she stands up to the manipulative sister- for 1962, a black maid verbally assaulting a white woman employer was still rather taboo and kudos to the film for bravely going there is a highly effective scene.

The fact that Davis and Crawford famously despised each other in real life adds an edge that does wonders for the audience during scenes where the two women fight and claw at each other, both physically and verbally.

The film has wonderfully quotable dialogue- “We got rats in the cellar”, Jane utters matter-of-factly, as she serves Blanche a cooked rat on a bed of lettuce for lunch one day and cackles fiendishly when she hears Blanche screams of disgust.

One aspect of the film that has taken me three viewings to become aware of and that I simply love is the musical score throughout the film- it features multiple and creepy versions of Jane’s signature song “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” with varying tempos.

Suspension of disbelief must be used in this film- why couldn’t Blanche pound and scream at her bedroom window to alert the neighbor of trouble instead of casually tossing a note out the window?

Blanche struggling to descend steps by sliding down them and then is unable to slide across the floor to escape the mansion is silly, but alas, the film is so gripping that I happily overlook these errors and instead enjoy the suspenseful film with two actresses, rivals onscreen and off-screen, that make this film a bit too realistic, a realism that makes for delightful film watching.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Actress-Bette Davis, Best Supporting Actress-Victor Buono, Best Sound, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (won)