Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Summer re-runs: Harriet Craig's torch song

A delirious double-bill of Joan Crawford classics. I never saw HARRIET CRAIG until a year or so ago, and just had to have another look, as a visiting friend wanted to see the original CRAIG'S WIFE with Rosalind Russell, from the 1930s. That was "interesting" but Joan's 1950 version was so much more enjoyable. And we have teamed that with her 1953 musical - her first film in colour - TORCH SONG for MGM. This is an absolute lulu and perhaps THE Joan Crawford picture ... AND she followed that with my all time favourite (and the first film I ever saw, aged 8), JOHNNY GUITAR! Those other '50s classics FEMALE ON THE BEACH (Crawford label), AUTUMN LEAVES and THE STORY OF ESTHER COSTELLO followed and Joan saw out the '50s "as Amanda Farrow" in THE BEST OF EVERYTHING, (several posts on that here..).  There will also be the delirious treat that is QUEEN BEE coming up soon... say what you like about her Joan certainly had a good run in the '50s (untl she too like Bette had to do some cameos, until BABY JANE arrived in 1962) and her films from then are hugely enjoyable treats now. They may define "camp" to some people ...
Dopey Wendall gets it in the neck again
HARRIET CRAIG is in  many ways the quintessential Joan Crawford vehicle. Harriet is the perfect wife. Beautiful and poised as a hostess, attentive and pretending to be deferential to her adoring husband, Walter (Wendall Corey).  Harriet runs their tastefully elegant home with ruthless efficiency. She does not cook nor clean, has no children or no job—she merely spends every waking hour harrying the staff and treats her poor-relation cousin Clare as free labour. All in the service of creating the perfect home.
Harriet though goes too far when she attempts to block her husband's promotion overseas and her lies soon catch her out. She also tries to break up Clare's possible romance as she considers her beau is not good enough. It turns out that Harriet sees marriage as a contract, a "bargain" which women have make to get a decent home - based on how she saw her own parents behave (as her father cheated on her mother). We wait with gleeful anticipation for Walter to finally realise what is going on, and perhaps he and that nice widow next door with that cute kid, could even have a future ....

Mistress and servant
The most delicious moment is when Walter comes home after finding out about Harriet's duplicity and lies on that hideous sofa and sees that vase he does not like on the mantelpiece. Slowly, he picks it up and casually lets it drop to the floor ... Harriet of course comes rushing down to see what happened - but no, I can't go on. Suffice to say Harriet is left what what she wanted all along - just her (she fired the knowing housekeeper earlier, and Clare walked out too...) and her house.  The usual Crawford role then:  a domineering woman attempting to manipulate the lives of those around her, and ably directed here by Vincent Sherman, who frequently directed Joan and Bette.
I also never saw TORCH SONG until that Crawford boxset a few year's back. It just never showed up here. As directed by Charles Walters it is giddy stuff from the start with Joan doing that number which the chorus boy (Walters himself) keeps getting wrong and as Joan says "spoiling that line". Here she is a Helen Lawson type beloved musical star: Jenny Stewart - we know she is beloved as every time she exits the stage door a gang of kids come rushing up for her autograph .... Jenny though is unhappy and lonely and alienates all her co-workers, despite her fabulous apartment and bedroom and all those creations she swans around in - will her new show be a success?, and this new pianist guy - he is blind, with a guide dog!  Jenny still has assert her authority though as they fight and snarl at each other. Then there is her boytoy - Gig Young (a service he performed for Bette back in OLD ACQUAINTANCE a decade earlier, and would go on to do for Kate in DESK SET in '56) who is "beautiful, but useless", as she puts it. Michael Wilding - that debonair '40s British leading man, from those Anna Neagle films and Hitch's STAGE FRIGHT etc, but now in Hollywood and married to young Elizabeth Taylor (not for long in either case, but he did end up with Margaret Leighton) - is Tye Graham the war veteran turned blind pianist, who remembers Jenny as "a gypsy madonna" from before he lost his sight. Jenny's wise mother Marjorie Rambeau wisely puts two and two together, in time for the big climax.
But first we have that typical Joan Crawford party - the guests are all men - and one of her musical numbers "Two Faced Woman" which is done in blackface (sorry, it was called "tropical tan") with a black wig. It gets pretty lurid when Jenny pulls the wig off at the climax showing her red hair - this and other songs like "Tenderly" are sung by India Adams (who also sang for Cyd Charissse, among others).  This one is definitely a camp classic .... I have written here about JOHNNY GUITAR a lot, so more soon on QUEEN BEE and FEMALE ON THE BEACH, and oh alright AUTUMN LEAVES...
Joan shows off those gams

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