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Sunday, March 7, 2010

A WOMAN’S FACE (1941)


Looks as destiny, a great theme for Hollywood, gives this Joan Crawford vehicle just the kick she’d been missing in recent pics. (Her M-G-M days were winding down.) Ingrid Bergman had already played this role (back in her Swedish days) about a gang of blackmailers run by a tough, embittered, heavily scarred woman. Her latest target is an unfaithful wife with a husband who just happens to be a leading plastic surgeon. The scam goes wrong, but the doctor is intrigued by this heartless soul with the disfiguring wound and he offers to try and transform her monstrous looks. After a year of painful operations, she’s become a stunning woman, but is her newfound beauty skin-deep or has her character changed? The second half of the film supplies a test when her lover from the bad old days asks for her help. A family fortune is at risk, a child stands between him & an enormous inheritance; and the film lowers its sights for conventional, if effective, melodrama. George Cukor helms with a darkly stylish edge unusual for ‘40s M-G-M (Robert Planck’s lensing is exceptional) and the courtroom flashback structure is handled with real imagination. But once Joan goes into nanny mode, the film shifts to automatic. Producer Victor Saville brings Continental flare to some of the casting choices, but it's Cukor who brings a whiff of depravity to the opening scenes and allows Conrad Veidt’s dangerous lover his head while restraining Crawford's usual make-up & emoting.

CONTEST: Veidt & Crawford reach a turning pont in their relationship in a scene that ends with them laughing hysterically seated on a piano bench. A concept George Cukor must have liked since he used it before . . . and with an actor who appears in this film as half of that earlier duo. Name the player & the film to win our usual prize, a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of any NetFlix DVD.

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