Joan Crawford Collection (5 Discs) (R) product details page

Joan Crawford Collection (5 Discs) (R)

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Adapted from James M. Cain's novel, and allegedly noir-ed up after Double Indemnity's 1944 box office success, Mildred Pierce (1945) became a striking hybrid of film noir and maternal melodrama, rejuvenating Joan Crawford's then-faltering stardom. Under the direction of top Warner Bros. helmer Michael Curtiz, Crawford's glamorously fur-clad Mildred initially appears to be a femme fatale as she walks down a dark, rain-slicked pier after a murdered man dies uttering her name. Evenly lit flashbacks, however, reveal Mildred as an upwardly mobile working mother, bonding with wisecracking co-worker Ida and trying to make a good life for her daughters after her weak husband Bert cheats on her. Ace Warner cinematographer Ernest Haller's noir shadows and skewed angles begin to encroach on Mildred's story as her relationship with hellacious daughter Veda and effete second husband Monte approaches its fateful climax. Crawford's first film for Warners after the end of her MGM contract became her first hit in several years, as she garnered accolades, and eventually a Best Actress Oscar, for her forceful performance. The film was also nominated for Oscars for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Supporting Actress for Eve Arden's scene-stealing Ida and Ann Blyth's sublimely witchy Veda. Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide

Joan Crawford won an Academy Award in 1945 for Mildred Pierce, and, two years later, she was trying her utmost to win another. Her gripping, melodramatic star turn helped make Possessed a hit and a prime example of post-war film noir. Crawford can't find happiness with either Van Heflin or Raymond Massey, and her fiery emotions drive her into a lethal frenzy. Based on Rita Weiman's book -One Man's Secret, Possessed is told almost entirely in flashbacks, the goal being to figure out what drove Crawford's character crazy. As a dark psychological study, this is Hollywood at its moodiest; love has rarely seemed so perilous and fraught with anxiety. German director Curtis Bernhardt was known for making emotional films that appealed to women. Crawford got her Oscar nomination, but Loretta Young won the statuette that year for The Farmer's Daughter. Michael Betzold, All Movie Guide

Joan Crawford emotes up a storm in The Damned Don't Cry, a ridiculous melodrama that is fairly poor as real drama but is quite enjoyable as camp. Crawford was entering the start of her "monster persona" phase here, the one that would see her creating memorably over-the-top characters that had less and less to do with reality and more and more to do with a hyperreal interpretation of the world. Damned starts out as if it were one of Crawford's earlier "poor gal makes good" flicks, but it quickly becomes lurid and unbelievable. As is often the case in her later vehicles, Damned finds Crawford in a one-dimensional world and asks that she find ways of giving the illusion of depth to her character. Our gal's the one to do it, turning in a thunderous performance that is never less than fascinating, even if it is not necessarily great acting. David Brian and Steve Cochran give game attempts at matching her style, and Kent Smith plays the weak, lily-livered "loving" character in a convincingly weak and lily-livered manner. Vincent Sherman's soapy direction finds little new in the material, but it does keep Crawford front and center and well-spotlit. Craig Butler, All Movie Guide

The themes explored in Clare Boothe Luce's play were so modern in 1939 that audiences found the film audaciously relevant, yet so timeless and universal that The Women could be successfully revived on Broadway in 2001, starring Jennifer Tilly, Kristen Johnston, and Cynthia Nixon. The film crackles with a sharp-toothed sarcasm even on a modern viewing. George Cukor's deft pacing and evident facility with actors (or, we should say, actresses) make The Women both a scathing and hilarious indictment of the institution of marriage. No less important, in fact probably more so, is the film's portrayal of the women's mercenary competitiveness. The ruthlessly casual deceptions they practice on each other are authenticated by the playwright's gender, as well as that of her adapters (Anita Loos and Jane Murfin). The Women recasts the discourse of high society as an exercise in the Darwinism of the animal kingdom, starting with an opening credits sequence that assigns an animal role to each character, from sly fox to gentle lamb. The opening shot says it all, as two dogs aggressively (and metaphorically) yap at each other as their pampered owners restrain them, all against a cacophony of background gossip. The women's ironic commentary on the regimen of exercise and beautification they must maintain to keep their men takes over from here, as does the rapid repartees and the almost incidental backstabbing. Casting the film entirely with women works beautifully, never straining the logic or staging, and the handful of leads each share the credit with Luce and Cukor for a fully realized farce on the warfare of feminine politics and societal advantage. Derek Armstrong, All Movie Guide

For the second film adaptation of Fannie Hurst's bestseller about a rising violinist and his forceful mother, screenwriters Clifford Odets and Zachary Gold added a dipsomaniac patroness of the arts, and Humoresque (1946) became a classy Warner Bros. vehicle for Joan Crawford as well as John Garfield. Stylishly directed by Jean Negulesco, Garfield's struggle between art and ambition is played out through his financial and then adulterous relationship with Crawford's glamorous socialite Helen, accompanied by Isaac Stern's violin dubbed in for Garfield's convincingly mimed performances of Anton Dvorak and Richard Wagner. Even as the deadpan comic presence of Oscar Levant as Paul's accompanist and best friend Sid occasionally leavens the atmosphere, the melodrama reaches its apex when Helen takes a last walk on the beach with Paul's rendition of the "Liebestod" from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde playing on the radio. Ernest Haller's dramatic chiaroscuro photography and Crawford's intense performance elevate that suicidal walk into compelling tragedy. Humoresque scored only one Oscar nomination, for Franz Waxman's score, despite doing brisk business and featuring some of Crawford's finest work, arguably even better than her Oscar-winning title role in Mildred Pierce a year earlier. Lucia Bozzola, All Movie Guide