20 June 2016

GRAND HOTEL, POSSESSED and MILDRED PIERCE: THREE JOAN CRAWFORD FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.




GRAND HOTEL, MILDRED PIERCE and POSSESSED: A TRIPLE BILL OF CLASSIC JOAN CRAWFORD FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

GRAND HOTEL. (1932) BASED ON THE NOVEL 'MENSCHEN IM HOTEL' BY VICKI M. BAUM AND THE PLAY BY WILLIAM A. DRAKE. DIRECTED BY EDMUND GOULDING. STARRING JOAN CRAWFORD, GRETA GARBO, JOHN BARRYMORE, LIONEL BARRYMORE AND WALLACE BEERY.

MILDRED PIERCE. (1945) BASED ON THE NOVEL BY JAMES C. CAIN. DIRECTED BY MICHAEL CURTIZ. STARRING JOAN CRAWFORD, ANN BLYTH, EVE ARDEN, JACK CARSON, ZACHARY SCOTT AND BUTTERFLY MCQUEEN.

POSSESSED. (1947) DIRECTED BY CURTIS BERNHARDT. STARRING JOAN CRAWFORD, VAN HEFLIN, RAYMOND MASSEY AND GERALDINE BROOKS.

I love Joan Crawford, she of the fur coats with the wide shoulders and the imposing eyebrows. She's every bit as good an actress as Bette Davis, her one-time screen rival and her co-star in one of the best psychological horror films of all time, WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962).

Maybe more people have a soft spot for Bette Davis than they do for Joan Crawford, though, and I suppose the film MOMMIE DEAREST (1981), about Joan's alleged mistreatment of her children and especially her daughter Christina, didn't do the lady any favours. I still love her work though. She really was an incredible actress, a true star in an era when that word truly meant something.

These three films we're looking at now are three of Ms. Crawford's best and most memorable. If you ever get the chance to watch them, you should take it. They're marvellous old classics and two of them, GRAND HOTEL and MILDRED PIERCE, were selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library Of Congress as being 'culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.' That's a great honour, by the way, as if you didn't know...!

GRAND HOTEL invites us to peep into the lives of the people who are staying in the titular hotel in Berlin during a particular few days. Joan Crawford is so young in it that she's virtually unrecognisable from the diva we know and love in her later films. She's gorgeous too, dressed in an almost flapper-ish fashion as the 'Twenties are only barely over, and her huge expressive eyes could certainly rival you-know-who's any day of the week...!

She plays a penniless stenographer who must rely on the men she meets for the money she needs to survive. Certainly, there's no shortage of men sniffing round her at the Grand Hotel: the suave and handsome Baron von Geigern, the frail but fun-loving Mr. Kringelein and the wealthy but married Herr Preysing all vie for her attentions but the outcome is rather surprising, to say the least.

You absolutely must watch this film, if only to see what a stunner Joan Crawford was in her twenties. She doesn't get top billing in it, though. That honour actually goes to Greta Garbo. She plays a temperamental Russian ballerina and she even utters the immortal words 'I want to be alone' in the film, so I think that that's the origin of that, haha.

There's one scene in which Ms. Garbo drops to the floor, ballet dress billeting out around her, and begins taking off her ballet shoes. She's so graceful she looks like a swan. It's just breath-taking to see. Poor little Adolphus the dachsund lying all alone on the bed is another special scene for me. I wonder whatever happened to that doggie afterwards. It's strange, isn't it, thinking about a dog that lived a whopping eighty-four years ago? Well, that's the kind of thing I think about.

MILDRED PIERCE is the film for which Joan Crawford won the coveted Oscar. It's the story of a housewife who makes a conscious decision to improve her life for the sake of her daughter Veda, whom she thinks deserves only the best things in life. Mildred leaves her deadbeat husband and works her fingers to the bone until she's the proud owner of a chain of successful restaurants. Now that's how you do it...!

The heartbreaking thing about this film, of course, is this: the more riches Mildred bestows on her spoilt, selfish ungrateful daughter, the more Veda throws the whole lot back in her face. Nothing is good enough for Veda. Except, maybe, for her mother's second husband, the caddish and weak Monte Beragon...

Joan Crawford gives a powerhouse of a performance as the mother whose efforts to improve and enrich her daughter's life have not yielded the results for which she would have hoped. On the contrary, they've ended in disaster.

Veda is an extremely unlikeable character and it's hard not to root for Joan to cut her off without a cent. I like the character of Wally Fay, Joan's business partner and one-time lover. He sure does like a dame with a pair of gams that don't quit...!

Prissy from GONE WITH THE WIND (aka Butterfly McQueen) does a nice job of playing Mildred's maid. Remember in GWTW when Prissy told Scarlett she was an expert at 'birthin' babies' and then when Scarlett found out she was lying she gave poor old Prissy a backhander that you could probably hear all the way out to Tara? Happy days.

I also love Ida, Mildred's manageress. She's a game broad who's been there, done that and hand-stitched the bloody T-shirt. She's wise to men and their tricks, in other words. Also, check out the scene with the policeman who doesn't feel like 'taking a swim.' That's one way of putting it.

I've left POSSESSED till last because it's my favourite of the three. It really shouldn't be, because it reminds me painfully of every instance in which I ever tried to cling on to a guy who was just looking for no-strings-attached fun 'n' games and not a commitment for life...!

Still, I think we women like to watch films in which other women make the same cringe-worthy mistakes we've already made a million times over in our own lives. It makes us feel better about ourselves, heh-heh-heh. I love watching FATAL ATTRACTION and feeling as virtuous as hell because I never went as far as boiling some guy's bunny to pay him back for his bullshit...!

Joan's character Louise Howell makes a lot of mistakes in this film. She's completely obsessed with Van Heflin's character David Sutton, even though David's had his fun and now he wants to move on. The bastard...! Ooops, sorry. I promised myself I'd keep calm while writing this part of the review and not get annoyed all over again at the cavalier ways of the male sex, haha.

Anyway, Louise's steadfast inability to relinquish her hold on David causes nothing but pain for Louise herself and the people around her. She winds up in a hospital bed miles from home in a strange city, telling her tragic story to a bunch of medics.

The medics who, by the way, make some pretty alarming snap diagnoses for conditions that I'm sure would require a battery of complicated tests today, but hey, it was the 'Forties and it was a movie. There's probably no point in my being too nit-picky...!

These are truly marvellous films, as I said earlier. Women will certainly love them and guys will too, if they love classic movies from the days of the big studios when a film was called a 'picture' and a real star made some of the so-called 'celebrities' of today look like total nobodies. Miaow...! Sorry about that.

Women in particular should watch POSSESSED if they've ever felt inclined to do a Glenn Close on some guy's beloved Mr. Floppy Ears or Fluffy Tail. It's a cautionary tale that (hopefully) should keep you well away from the bunny-hutch...

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com












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