Sunday, September 07, 2008


Joan Crawford, an independently wealthy playwright, fires Jack Palance, the leading actor in her new play, saying he's not romantic enough. Indeed, with his craggy, scarred face, he's not very attractive, but he does have an intangible something that Crawford can't resist when she runs into him on a cross-country train trip a few weeks later. By the time they reach San Francisco, they're in love. Crawford marries him and is blissfully happy for a time, but when we discover she uses an elaborate dictaphone device in her home office in order to write her plays, we know that will become a major plot device, and sure enough thanks to the recorder, she soon discovers he doesn't feel the same way about her, and is indeed plotting with his slutty con artist pal Gloria Grahame to kill her for her money. In a very effective scene, Crawford listens to the disc that has Palance and Grahame discussing how to get Crawford out of the way, and the disc gets stuck at Grahame saying “I know a way…” over and over. First, Crawford acts hysterical and helpless, but soon she has concocted a plan to get back at them both, but can she go through with it without getting caught or backing out? Plotwise, this is a solid old-fashioned damsel-in-distress melodrama, but in terms of style, it's is an archetypal film noir—in fact, a close-up still of Crawford's face from this movie is on the cover of an early edition of Alain Silver's authoritative film noir encyclopedia. Lots of shadows, dark city streets, close-ups of sweaty faces, and an atmosphere of paranoia all contribute to the noir feel. There is also a wonderful dream sequence (sort of) in which Crawford imagines carrying out her plan, followed by the climactic plan itself which, of course, doesn't quite run smoothly. The movie is a bit long, but the tense last half-hour is superb. Crawford is fine, but get ready for lots of close-ups of her, usually grimacing in emotional agony. Palance is OK, but Grahame is better. The small supporting cast includes Bruce Bennett and Mike Connors in thankless roles as Crawford's lawyers. [DVD]

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