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Monday, June 5, 2017

HARRIET CRAIG (1950)

Third go-round for George Kelly’s Pulitzer Prize winner must have seemed psychologically obvious even in 1950, like Ibsen For Dummies. Not a bad thing in some ways, there’s craft (or rather craftiness) to it, and Joan Crawford is frighteningly well-suited to her role as the house-enthralled Mrs. Craig, both controlled & controlling as she manipulates & lies her way thru a childless marriage to Wendell Corey, sabotaging his career & friendships to keep him close by, dependent on her alone. Relatives & servants get similar treatment, finally leaving her with only her freakishly well-ordered house as companion. (As if ‘bizarro’ Nora, from A DOLL’S HOUSE, finding herself alone, stayed inside when she slammed the door.) The film makes a basic mistake in opening up Kelly’s play, losing its single-set claustrophobia; and Crawford’s actions (and acting) are too transparent. One neat addition has Corey explicitly held thru sex, with Crawford’s short, manly hair style adding a dominatrix edge. (Still very striking under lenser Joseph Walker though director Vincent Sherman brings little flair even in house design.) But the part really doesn’t work without a sense of pity; here it’s Termagant’s Comeuppance. In ‘36, Rosalind Russell & John Boles took a more stagebound approach under Dorothy Arzner. What we really need is the lost ‘28 silent version with Irene Rich & Warner Baxter, perfectly cast, under forgotten writer/director William de Mille, older brother of you know who.

DOUBLE-BILL: As mentioned above, the earlier Arzner (under the play title, CRAIG’S WIFE) . . . OR: To get a feel of what the de Mille silent might have been like, there’s his MISS LULU BETT/’21 a fine domestic dramedy with great perfs from manly Milton Sills & exquisite Lois Wilson.

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