Starring Joan Crawford, Barry Sullivan, Betsy Palmer
Scott’s Review #1,288
Reviewed August 10, 2022
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 that 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 really no other reason than being nasty.
Eva’s niece, kindly Jennifer Stewart (Lucy Marlow), arrives in town and moves in with the family serving as Eva’s confidante. She is quickly 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 quite melodramatic and stagey especially once events start to spin out of control.
Despite a talented supporting cast, Crawford is the headliner. The part is written with her in mind intended as a comeback vehicle when her career was dusty and in need of a dash of drama.
It’s a true 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 in 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 in a list of characters one loves to hate.
Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Black-and-White