Film Review: Possessed (1947)

Also known as: The Secret (working title)
Release Date: July 26th, 1947
Directed by: Curtis Bernhardt
Written by: Silvia Richards, Ranald MacDougall, Rita Weiman
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks

Warner Bros., 108 Minutes


“‘I love you’ is such an inadequate way of saying I love you. It doesn’t quite describe how much it hurts sometimes.” – Louise

Joan Crawford was in two different movies with the title Possessed. There was a 1931 picture with Clark Gable and then there was this 1947 film where Crawford put in a performance so damn good that she probably should have won the Oscar.

This film also starred Van Heflin, who – in everything I’ve seen him in – is a sort of reverse femme fatale, as he is a seducer of women in a film era where the woman was usually a conniving and self-absorbed symbol of sexual power. However, unlike his role in 1951’s The Prowler, Van Heflin is not a despicable character here. He is actually a mostly decent guy that just seems to woo the women in the picture, unfortunately to his detriment.

Joan Crawford also isn’t the typical femme fatale in this movie. She isn’t necessarily conniving or evil, she has a severe mental illness, even if the film sort of dances around that a bit to keep an air of mystery. Her actions and the bad things that she does are an effect of her obsession over Heflin’s character. She’s a person that needs help but doesn’t actually get it until after tragedy.

While this displays a lot of the noir tropes, it uses that style to tell a very different story, at least from what I’ve seen in the genre. It is a film about obsession and paranoia and what that can do to a nice person.

The actions of Joan Crawford’s character may have been a bit more puzzling and mysterious to the filmgoing audiences of the 1940s but now that understanding mental illness has come a long way since Possessed was released, I think modern audiences may view this film differently and have a sort of soft spot for Crawford and her struggles.

Superbly acted, across the board, 1947’s Possessed is one of the best Joan Crawford pictures that I’ve seen and it boasts a tremendous performance from her.

Rating: 8/10