Film Review: Humoresque (1946)

Release Date: December 25th, 1946 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jean Negulesco
Written by: Clifford Odets, Zachary Gold
Based on: Humoresque: A Laugh On Life with a Tear Behind It by Fannie Hurst
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: Joan Crawford, John Garfield, Oscar Levant, J. Carrol Naish, Joan Chandler

Warner Bros., 125 Minutes

Review:

“Tell me, Mrs. Wright, does your husband interfere with your marriage?” – Sid Jeffers

I wasn’t sure what to think about this film going into it, as I didn’t know much about it. It pops up on a lot of film-noir lists but if I’m being honest, it’s barely film-noir.

At its core, Humoresque is a romantic drama with a nice musical touch to it, as John Garfield’s character is a well renowned violinist, whose musical career is central to the plot.

The film stars Joan Crawford as an alcoholic socialite mess that is enamored with Garfield’s violin skills to the point that she pretty much starts managing his career.

As the film rolls on, she falls in love with him and we get a bunch of turbulence that ultimately ends pretty darkly.

I think the noir aspects of the film are the cinematography and the twists and turns of the plot. Even though this is focused on romance and business instead of crime and murder, it does have strong similarities to the noir style.

Plus, Crawford dabbled in film-noir quite a bit and this fits better with her noir work than many of her other films.

The acting was absolutely stellar and Crawford was exceptional from your first glance at her up until that powerful final moment.

This isn’t really my cup of tea but I still enjoyed it for the performances, the music and the visual style. It’s certainly a very well made motion picture and I can understand why it’s beloved by some classic film aficionados.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Joan Crawford noir-esque pictures: The Damned Don’t Cry, Mildred Pierce and Possessed.

Film Review: The Unknown (1927)

Also known as: Alonzo the Armless (working title)
Release Date: June 3rd, 1927 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tod Browning
Written by: Tod Browning, Waldemar Young
Cast: Lon Chaney Sr., Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford, Nick De Ruiz

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 63 Minutes, 49 Minutes (BFI print), 49 Minutes (alternate cut)

Review:

“You are right, Alonzo… brute strength does not mean everything to all women. Alonzo, all my life men have tried to put their beastly hands on me… to paw over me. I have grown so that I shrink with fear when any man even touches me.” – Nanon

Lon Chaney Sr. was really the first iconic horror actor. Some others dabbled in the genre and were in multiple films but none made the impact that Chaney did at the time. He was the original King of Terror.

Even though he often time played facially disfigured characters, he would also modify his body to fit the role. In this film, his face was normal but he worked with his arms bound in a corset for most of the picture, as his character was believed to be armless.

Now there is a twist where you find out that he indeed has his arms but he goes on to get them chopped off for the love of a girl.

The story is dark and twisted and it’s very evil and very primal. It is still hauntingly effective and has aged just about as well as a silent film can.

Chaney plays Alonzo, a circus performer that uses his feet to do a myriad of tricks. The reason for the ruse is because he is wanted for a murder but all that is known about the suspect is that he has a double thumb. To hide this deformity, Alonzo goes through life with his arms bound tightly under his clothing.

He falls in love with Nanon, however, and she has an issue with men’s hands touching her. She feels safe around Alonzo because he has no hands to grab her. After a kiss, Alonzo decides to have his arms removed so that Nanon doesn’t find out his dark secret. Plus, she witnessed a man with a double thumb murder her father.

However, after spending weeks recovering, Alonzo returns to discover that Nanon has overcome her fear and is marrying the circus strongman.

The story is insane but it’s damn good and entertaining. It fits a lot into the short running time.

Also, Nanon is played by a very young Joan Crawford, well before she became a superstar.

The film is well shot and the tone is perfect. This is one of the best Chaney movies and Tod Browning utilized the actor’s talents well. The film builds suspense at the right pace and the big finale is a satisfactory payoff.

I love this movie and it really should be considered a silent horror classic. While it’s not as well known as it should be, it’s pretty exceptional and a spectacular production for its era.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other collaborations between Tod Browning and Lon Chaney Sr.

Film Review: The Damned Don’t Cry (1950)

Release Date: April 7th, 1950 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Vincent Sherman
Written by: Harold Medford, Jerome Weidman
Based on: a story by Gertrude Walker
Music by: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Warner Bros. Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t talk to me about self-respect. That’s something you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else.” – Ethel Whitehead

The first fifteen minutes of this film sucked me right in. It had a very effective start but then it didn’t let go as it rolled on.

Man, I just really loved Joan Crawford in this. She’s always a treat to see in anything but something about how she played this role felt a little bit more organic and closer to her real personality and charm, as opposed to being the centerpiece in a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production. Not to say that this wasn’t a tightly controlled and meticulously crafted big Hollywood production but it seemed like she had more room to breathe with her performance. I’d almost say that there was more emphasis on freedom of performance and realism than just trying to make her look gorgeous mixed with a touch of viciousness.

As the story goes on, we see Crawford play out the typical femme fatale shtick. She uses her sex appeal and charm to work her way up the social chain from man to man, not caring much about how she burns them on the way. So it should go without saying that this doesn’t lead towards a happy ending for most of the main players. But there is a dark twist at the end, which surprised me, considering how the morality code in Hollywood worked at the time.

It’s fun watching this story escalate and seeing characters turn into monsters as it progresses, all because of the selfish actions of one broken woman. It’s a movie where likable characters evolve into unlikable ones, even if you initially just see them as victims of Ethel’s (Crawford) toxic antics.

The story moves at a pretty brisk pace and it doesn’t relent from start to finish. The plot has a lot of pieces and clever swerves but it’s crafted well and goes off without a hitch. This had some solid screenwriting work from Harold Medford, as well as Jerome Weidman.

This also had crisp cinematography and obviously the lighting was fine tuned to make Crawford glow but the picture also has a dark and brooding, organic grittiness to it. Sure, a lot of it looks like classic Hollywood and fantastical in its magic but the movie is well balanced between the shiny veneer and the darkness that the veneer is made to distract you from. You see beyond the beautiful and superficial topical layer, right into the abyss that’s waiting to pull all these people down.

This is a top notch film-noir, from a top studio and featuring one of the top stars of the era. I can’t say it enough, Crawford was an absolute gem in this and it’s strange to me that this isn’t one of her better known motion pictures.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Joan Crawford film-noir pictures like Mildred Pierce and Possessed.

Film Review: Mildred Pierce (1945)

Release Date: September 28th, 1945 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Ranald MacDougall, Catherine Turney (uncredited)
Based on: Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth

Warner Bros., 111 Minutes

Review:

“If you take a swim, I’d have to take a swim. Is that fair? Because you feel like killing yourself, I gotta get pneumonia.” – Policeman on Pier

Mildred Pierce is one of the most critically acclaimed film-noir motion pictures of all-time. But when you put master director Michael Curtiz with acting legend Joan Crawford, a magical concoction is ensured. It was a fantastic pairing that lead to Crawford winning the Academy Award for her performance. Curtiz wasn’t nominated but he probably should have been.

Ann Blyth and Eve Arden both got nominations for Best Supporting Actress but lost out to Anne Revere for her role in National Velvet. The film also received nominations for Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

This is also considered one of Crawford’s best performances. Honestly, she has hit it out of the park with every single performance I have seen from this era. She was one of the most capable actresses of her time, or any time, and she elevated not just the picture but the other actors around her. She had to carry many scenes but she was able to pull some of the best work out of her co-stars that they have ever showcased. I can’t ignore Curtiz’s direction in this either but if you go back and watch Crawford, especially in the ’40s, you’ll see how she elevates the performances of those around her.

The story is mostly told through flashback. It focuses on Mildred Pierce, a mother that has been through some rocky relationships but is willing to give all she can to make her materialistic and ungrateful daughter whatever she wants. The film taps into this heavily and definitely makes you question Mildred’s character and her motivations. The reason being, her ex-husband has been murdered and Mildred is the focal point of the police investigation. But this is a noir and there must be twists and surprises. All I’ll say is that I never saw the ending coming.

That being said, this was a well orchestrated plot and the screenwriters and director did a fantastic job of moving this story along, dropping in little hints and some suggestive nuances. I won’t say whether they are red herrings or not but it’s pretty entertaining watching this all unfold.

I thought that the Max Steiner score was really good. I also loved the cinematography by Ernest Haller, who was involved in Gone with the Wind and also worked a lot with Crawford, as well as Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman.

This is just a really good story, plotted out wonderfully, well directed and superbly acted. Plus everything looks and sounds great. This is a motion picture comprised of nothing other than strong positives.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir pictures with Joan Crawford: Humoresque, Possessed and Sudden Fear.

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

Review:

“‘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