|a demon of the mind|
Joan Crawford in Possessed
Joan Crawford was riding high in 1947 when she starred in Possessed, coming off an Oscar win for the classic crime drama, adapted from the James M. Cain novel, Mildred Pierce in 1945 and another great performance in Humoresque (with John Garfield) in 1946. Though unjustly snubbed by the Academy for Humoresque, Crawford for her role in Possessed received her second of three Oscar nominations.
Crawford's role in Possessed often is compared to that of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (1987). One can see why, even though ultimately I think this comparison is unfair to Possessed, a more serious--and dare I say less trashy and exploitative--film.
In Possessed Crawford plays Louise Howell, a personal nurse for the neurotic wife of wealthy businessman Dean Graham (Raymond Massey). Early in the film we see Louise getting dumped by the local man with whom she had been having a covert sexual fling, a sardonic construction engineer named David Sutton (Van Heflin). Louise immediately goes all "Fatal Attraction" on David, telling him she won't let him go. David, no fool he, gets the hell out of Dodge, taking a job in Canada with one of Dean's companies.
|she won't be ignored....|
a distraught Louise (Crawford) gets the old
heave-ho from an indifferent David (Heflin)
When David returns and Dean's attractive, college-age daughter, Carol (Geraldine Brooks), becomes smitten with him, Louise is not pleased, not pleased at all....
As stated above, one can see similarity in all this to Fatal Attraction, but Possessed is not so tawdry a film. It opens with a dazed Louise wandering the streets of a city in the early hours, accosting men, calling them by the name "David." She is quickly taken to a hospital and is soon undergoing psychiatric treatment from an earnest doctor who periodically gives sermonettes on What Psychiatry Can Do For You.
We are soon launched on that favored forties film noir narrative device, the flashback (Possessed made Crawford's third film in a row where this device was used), where we learn just how Louise went off the deep end. I commend this film for not turning its mentally disturbed female lead into an over-the-top movie monster, as I feel Fatal Attraction did with Glenn Close, but nevertheless I have to admit--maybe I'm just hard to please--that I found Possessed a bit dull. There are several evocatively filmed, eerie sequences, but overall the affair seemed flat to me.
I found it hard to feel much sympathy for Louise after she has married Dean, who, as portrayed by a quite distinguished-looking Raymond Massey, is a veritable saint on earth--and rolling in dough to boot! In the cinematic world, most humbly circumstanced women marrying rich "old" men--Massey was merely eight years older than Crawford, who herself was six years older than Heflin--should do so well!
THE PROWLER (1951)
The talented Van Heflin took a lead role in the 1951 noir thriller The Prowler, a superlative film that I enjoyed hugely. It's often compared to another classic forties crime film adapted from a James M. Cain novel, Double Indemnity (1944), but I was more reminded of yet another Cain crime novel/film, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). Personally I liked The Prowler quite a bit better than the forties film version of Postman.
|just checking things out, ma'am|
Evelyn Keyes, Van Heflin, John Maxwell
In the early morning hours Webb and his ingenuous partner, "Bud" Crocker (John Maxwell), are sent to Susan's big southern California Spanish mission-style house after she reports having seen a man peeping at her through a bathroom window.
Webb is instantly smitten with Susan (and her house) and he visits her again, without his partner, a few hours later--just to check up on things, you know. He learns that Susan's radio personality husband is absent at nights, and that she gets very lonely in the big house.
|Webb Garwood on the prowl....|
Directed by Joseph Losey and scripted by Dalton Trumbo, highly talented leftists blacklisted in the 1950s, The Prowler is an excellent film with a bigger message about the potential corrosiveness of the celebrated American dream. Clearly the film aims to indict the "success at all costs" ethos that an aggressive, amoral individualist like Van Heflin's Webb Garwood represents.
Yet the film also can be enjoyed tremendously simply as a splendid exercise in the art of noir cinema. There are numerous brilliant touches, such as the use of Susan's radio announcer husband's disembodied voice as a sort of herald of doom and judgment ("I'll be seeing you, Susan," is his closing radio tag line).
The final third of The Prowler has one of the greatest film noir situations and settings I have ever seen, reminding me not just of crime drama but William Faulkner's doom-laden tale The Wild Palms (1939); and the highly symbolic ending is unforgettable. This is a great gritty crime movie, film noir at its best, and the performances by Heflin and Keyes are mesmerizing. Better yet, the film is available on DVD in a wonderfully restored edition, with nifty special features, including discussion of the film with James Ellroy.
This one is a real winner that you should not miss seeing.