Unsophisticated moviegoers will say things like "They don't make films like they used to. Why don't they make such great film noirs anymore?" Fortunately, some '40s film noirs are now on DVD, enabling us to see them and feel grateful that today's movies are no longer so depressing. (Though Jerry Bruckheimer productions come close.)
POSSESSED starts with a horror-movie scene: Joan Crawford wandering through the streets of Los Angeles babbling the name "David," all WITHOUT MAKEUP! (Greater love hath no actress for a role.) She ends up in the looney bin, where the doctors give her a truth serum that takes us into Flashbackland.
It all started when Crawford was a nurse on the east coast servicing rich tycoon Raymond Massey's unseen bitchy wife. David turns out to be construction engineer Van Heflin, who rejects commitment: no doubt he's too afraid of her, and who'd blame him? Heflin flies off to drill for oil in Quebec--oil in QUEBEC??--and Mrs. Massey turns up at the bottom of the bay. (Accident, suicide or murder?)
Crawford becomes governess for Massey's son, so she can stay on long enough for Massey to marry her. (Does she teach him not to use wire hangers?) After that the movie conveniently forgets the kid, like those movies where the dog gets forgotten. But there's also an angst-ridden bobby soxer stepdaughter who meets Heflin when he returns. If you can't guess what happens next, you haven't seen MILDRED PIERCE.
In this role, La Crawford doesn't disappoint her gay fans. The scenes where she gradually goes bonkers are hilarious: her heartbeat becoming a loud thump, a piano concerto deployed with the sublety of a sledgehammer, a bedroom window artily left open in the pouring rain, her pushing the stepdaughter down the stairs but the body disappears because she was just imagining it...
(Also hilarious are the framing scenes with the psychologists. Hollywood back then loved to show shrinks giving glib, simplistic explanations for everything with words like "psychosis" and "paranoia." Other examples are SPELLBOUND and THE SNAKE PIT.)
The dialogue is to die for. Like when Massey asks "Why did you lie to me?" and Crawford replies "Because I felt like it. I wanted to do it, and I did. Let me alone." Or when Heflin says "Be reasonable!" gets slapped and adds "That's pretty reasonable." My favorite was Crawford saying "I never realized that Canada was so big and far away."
By the time this movie is over, you'll be crazy too, or asleep.
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