Monday, April 25, 2005

Character Actors I Love: Ted Healy

If I had to sum up Ted Healy in one sentence, it would be "more than just a Stooge." I don’t care for the Three Stooges at all (don’t email me), but I enjoy the work of their "founding father," Ted Healy. I’ve seen him in 3 movies: Reckless, Dancing Lady, and Bombshell.

Ted was born in Houston in 1896. His real name is a matter of dispute; various sources state it as Ernest Lee Nash, Charles Lee Nash, or Clarence Lee Nash. He gave up the life of a salesman in 1919 and went to work on vaudeville, changing his name to Ted Healy. He and his wife Betty (both his wives were named Betty, so I’m not sure which one it was) had an act called "Ted & Betty Healy: The Flapper and The Philosopher." That must have been interesting, to say the least. In 1923 he founded a stage act with two childhood friends, Moe and Shemp Howard (later joined by Larry Fine) and called it "Ted Healy and His Stooges." Thus a legend was born. Shemp left the act and was replaced by Moe’s brother Jerome, who shaved his head and was known as Curly. The Stooges parted ways with Ted in 1934 when they were offered a contract with Columbia Studios.

Ted and The Stooges were still an act, however, when I first saw him, in Dancing Lady. Ted plays Steve, the assistant to Patch Gallagher (Clark Gable), a Broadway producer. (The Stooges are stagehands who make minor appearances, mainly to tease Joan Crawford.) Steve is not just comic relief but a fairly well-rounded character, somewhat inept on his own but loyal to his boss. In Bombshell, he plays Jean Harlow’s drunken lout of a brother, but doesn’t show up until the second half of the film, just in time to stomp all over her plans to adopt a baby with his bad behavior. In Reckless he’s rather endearing as one of William Powell’s sidekicks, Smiley, another not-too-bright-but-loyal-pal-of-the-leading-man. At the racetrack with a stiff and proper English lady, he’s boorish but funny. I don’t think Ted ever could have been a leading man, but he’s still fun to watch, and gives a good performance. Ted also wrote five films: Nertsery Rhymes, Beer and Pretzels, Hello Pop!, Plane Nuts, and The Big Idea.

Sadly, Ted had a problem with alcohol, which was one of the factors in his split from the Stooges. His only child, John Jacob Nash, was born December 17, 1937, and Ted went out drinking that night to celebrate. He ended up in a bar fight, was found unconscious on the sidewalk, and died on December 21 from his injuries and kidney failure brought on by years of alcoholism. He’s buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles.

I picked Ted as a CAIL mainly because of his performance in Dancing Lady, which is one of my all time favorite classic movies, ever. I can’t really explain why. It’s not a great epic like Gone With the Wind, or even a popular classic like The Women, two of my other favorites. Dancing Lady is the movie equivalent of comfort food to me; I’ll pop it in even when I’m not planning to sit down and watch it all the way through. It serves as background noise while I’m doing chores or cooking, something I can watch in bits and pieces just to unwind, or I’ll actually sit down for another complete viewing of an old favorite. It has quite a cast: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone, Winnie Lightner, Robert Benchley, Ted & The Stooges, May Robson, Nelson Eddy, Sterling Holloway (voice of Winnie the Pooh) and Fred Astaire, playing himself in his first movie role. It’s a musical, a backstage story, a comedy, a love story, a drama. The songs are hokey (example: "Let’s Go Bavarian," about the joys of German beer), and not ones anyone remembers fondly today, but I’ll catch myself humming them under my breath. I’ll stop here because I could (and plan to) do a whole separate entry about this movie, and I didn’t mean to get so far off the original topic. (It was Ted Healy, remember?)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Simpler times

Myrna Loy, in her autobiography Being and Becoming, wondered about the modern nostalgia for the war years, as evidenced in both movies, and things people had said to her over the years. Why would people look back fondly on such a time, she wondered, which was full of terrible fears and tragedies. I see her point; I suppose people who look back are seeing those years through rose colored glasses, thinking about (or imagining, if they weren’t there) the good things, and not the bad. Another thing that lends itself to happier memories is the fact that we know now how it turned out -- a happy ending. I love big band music, including WWII songs (and also movies), and one theme that I can see the appeal of is the unity; there were clear cut good guys and bad guys, and from what I can tell, not many people questioned that, especially after Pearl Harbor. Not that people shouldn’t question, but compare our country’s attitude towards that war with, say, Vietnam, or the current war in Iraq. I can’t imagine our country, or at least a good majority of it, throwing itself behind a war like they did in WWII ever again. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

My own nostalgia goes back a decade farther, so the 1930s, when most of my favorite movies were made. I won’t list them all here, because the list is too long, and if I haven’t talked about them already, I soon will. The atmosphere of those movies, besides being so beautiful and glamorous, is one of an age that was sometimes rich and easy, sometimes poor and difficult (but of course not too difficult), but always…simpler. At least that’s how it seems to me. And yes, of course I know that this is Hollywood, and everything is covered with a patina of happiness, whether it’s a slapstick comedy, or a tearjerker that doesn’t seem bright until the end. I do know that life is never so simple as a movie. Yet the innocence that the studios put into their movies must have existed to some extent out in the world, I choose to believe. After all, this was the era when no one locked their doors, or so my grandfather told me.

An example of that very thing is the beginning of the 1933 movie Hold Your Man, which I’ve talked about before. Ruby is in the bath when Eddie bursts into her apartment, on the run from the police (he is a penny ante con man, no one dangerous). Ruby shrieks when Eddie runs into the bathroom, and he immediately goes back out. She comes out in her (ostrich feather trimmed) robe and demands to know what’s going on. Eddie coaxes Ruby to help him, and he hides in her tub (under a layer of suds) eluding the police with her help. Flirtatious banter ensues, Ruby dries his pants in her oven (ha), and Eddie takes off when Ruby’s neighbor comes to call (for a cup of bathtub gin). After realizing he’s sneaked out the bathroom window, Ruby runs to her dresser and shakes her piggy bank, whistling in relief when she finds that Eddie didn’t steal the money.

Now imagine that scene today. Granted, we still have the "encounter a stranger who changes your life for the better" premise in movies, but more it’s more likely that Eddie would be some psycho featured on America’s Most Wanted, and Ruby would be a crack dealing hooker, or worse (rather than just the "good time gal" she is in the movie). Either Eddie would attack her and she’d end up as this week’s victim on Law & Order SVU, or she’d have a gun and blow the intruder’s brains out. Never in a million years would they fall for each other and get married for the sake of their baby and for love, which is how Ruby "holds her man." No, today she’d have to go on Maury to prove paternity, if she ever got the kid back from foster care, since he was born while she was in prison.

See what I mean about simpler times?

Let’s take another example: Mary Haines from The Women. Mary finds out her husband Stephen is having an affair (sex is somewhat implied but never addressed directly) with a girl at the perfume counter of a department store, Crystal. They have it out in the fitting room of a boutique after a fashion show. Mary’s pride is hurt, and she goes to Reno and divorces him, making some lovely new girlfriends in the process. Mary suffers no other hardships, presumably living quite well on her alimony. Two years pass, Mary find out her ex is unhappy in his new marriage and that Crystal has a new paramour. She exposes Crystal (with the help of her pals and the friendly neighborhood gossip columnist, played by Hedda Hopper), and ends the movie by rushing back into her husband’s arms. "Pride! That’s something a woman in love can’t afford," she says happily.

Again, set the movie today (and I’ve heard that Hollywood is remaking The Women, which is an appalling idea). Mary, Crystal and Stephen would all end up on Jerry Springer, taking off their clothes and throwing chairs at each other. Mary would be lucky to get child support from Stephen, would have to go back to work, and most likely suffer financial hardships. Or if they were celebrities, their divorce documents would be on The Smoking Gun and tabloid photographers would follow them everywhere. There would be an ugly custody battle, Mary’s friends would talk to the tabloids, and Little Mary would need years of therapy to recover.

I’m sure terrible and painful things like this did happen to people back then, but I don’t imagine them to be as bad as things can get today. Maybe that’s na├»ve of me, and maybe I am buying too much into the MGM version of the world at that time. Yet I hear stories about my grandparents and great-grandparents, and I think…no, it’s not entirely false. Things were not always hearts and flowers, but they also weren’t as ugly as some things get today, either.

This is not to say that I wish we could, or think we should, go back to those times. As the saying goes, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. If I had kidney failure like Jean Harlow did, I would want to live in a world where there are transplants and dialysis, not 1937 when my only option would be a slow, painful death. And I may love vintage phones, but I love the Internet more. Still, when the world around me becomes too ugly or scary or annoying to deal with, it’s lovely to know that I can put in a movie and go back to simpler times.

See how I wrapped up the essay with the title? Clever, eh? ;)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Essential? Hardly!

Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography by William Schoell and Lawrence Quirk

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

The main problem with this book can be summed up by quoting its own dust jacket: "Schoell and Quirk [the authors] move beyond the myths and misconceptions about Crawford by looking extensively at her film work, which in many respects -- as Crawford herself admitted -- was her life."

And that's it right there: as admirable an actress as Crawford may have been (and I am a huge fan of many her performances), her roles in films cannot provide much of a basis for a biography about her actual life. The line between fantasy and reality is, in this case, not only blurred, but erased almost completely.

I understand that Quirk was a fan and professed confidant of Crawford's (that fact is hard to miss, it's mentioned so many times) and his intentions seem to be to try his best to defend her honor and reveal his version of the truth about her. In doing so, however, Quirk makes several missteps, the most notable among them being his complete and utter of savaging of Christina Crawford because of her allegations of abuse against her mother. He says terrible things; for example, he expresses his opinion that Christina's near fatal stroke in 1981 was "Joan getting revenge beyond the grave." For someone who thinks Christina was wrong to say bad things about her mother, Quirk in turn says even worse things about Christina. In trying to dispute the charges she made in "Mommie Dearest," he protests way, way too much, and stoops even lower than the level he accuses her of sinking to.

Even other friends of Crawford's are criticized for not living up to his exacting standards. For example, in 1984 about 125 friends and family of Crawford took out a tribute ad in the "Daily Variety" to show their support in the wake of the Mommie book and movie. I thought it was a nice gesture, myself, but Quirk says that it was "put together for the wrong reasons by the wrong people." What really seems to be wrong is the fact that he wasn't included, and now he's pouting.

When I got to the "Notes" section at the end of the book, I thought, "okay, now we'll see where he got all this information." I was disappointed to discover that the majority of his sources are "Joan Crawford to Lawrence Quirk." Interviewing the subject of a biography is of course helpful when it's possible to do, but any writer worth his salt knows that it can't be your only, or even your primary, source. People have an impression of themselves they want to perpetuate; this needs to be balanced by opinions and information from others as well. In that regard, this book falls far short.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Captain Blood, redux?

The Master of Ballantrae

starring Errol Flynn, Roger Livesey, Beatrice Campbell, Anthony Steel

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Flynn tries to recapture his Captain Blood days, and does a so-so job. The plot of Master of Ballantrae is somewhat similar to Captain Blood (our hero gets on the wrong side of a tyrant, escapes danger to live the life of a pirate, and returns home and/or to his one true love) but in comparing the two Ballantrae comes off the worse; Flynn looks his age and then some (although he still looks fabulous in tights, even if they are plaid), and his lady love (Beatrice Campbell) is certainly no Olivia de Havilland. On the plus side, Roger Livesey, as Col. Francis Burke, is a suitably entertaining sidekick. I couldn't get into the other characters enough to care what happened to them (the parts of the storyline without Flynn are only average at best), but it's always fun to watch Errol swashbuckling away.

P.S. The Errol Flynn Signature Collection is being released on April 19. Yay!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Character Actors I Love: Charles Butterworth

Before my recent viewing of Love Me Tonight, I had only seen Charles Butterworth in one other movie: Forsaking All Others, in which he’s hilarious. The whole film (starring Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Billie Burke and Rosalind Russell) is so, so funny, and Butterworth as "Shep" (The IMDB has "Shemp" but trust me, they're wrong) has some of the best lines of all.

Eleanor: [commenting on bachelor parties] I wish I were a man.
Shep: Were, or had?

Sometimes it’s the way he says the lines, rather than the dialogue itself.

Shep: Look, a cow!
Jeff: Yes, Sheppy, a great big moo cow.

He’s so good at playing silly and witty at the same time. Shep’s not dumb, exactly, but definitely rather spacey. Everyone in this film is funny, but because of Butterworth’s delivery and demeanor, the character of Shep makes me laugh the most.

Forsaking All Others is filled with witty banter and amusing one-liners. I've seen the movie dozens of times, and it still makes me laugh every time.

Dill: I don’t need matches, I can start a fire by rubbing two Boy Scouts together!

(I don’t think you could get away with that today.)

Also, watching Eleanor and Shep "tango" is too cute. Butterworth often played the leading man’s daffy sidekick, in fact so well that script writers starting leaving blank chunks in the screenplays, so Butterworth would improvise and fill in with his own well-appreciated wit.

Butterworth graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in law, and also tried his hand at journalism before drifting into acting. He was best friends with Robert Benchley, and I have heard that Butterworth’s death in a car crash wasn’t an accident, but rather a suicide; he was despondent over Benchley’s death seven months before. Butterworth is buried in St. Joseph Valley Cemetery in his hometown of South Bend, Indiana.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Misleading, but still worthwhile

The Lost Films of Laurel & Hardy Volume 3

starring Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel, Jimmy Finlayson, Mae Busch, Charley Chase,

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I think calling this DVD "Lost Films of Laurel & Hardy" is somewhat misleading, because only 3 out of the 6 shorts feature the boys as the pair that most fans are familiar with.

Love 'Em And Weep, for example, has Oliver Hardy, buried under a thick mustache, in a small role as a dinner guest of Jimmy Finlayson, and Stan Laurel as one of Jimmy's employees; the two never meet in the film. In another short, Bromo and Juliet, Hardy shows up for a few minutes as a taxi driver.

In addition, the picture quality is not always good, but that's to be expected in films so old. Also, the same soundtrack is used over and over, which can get a little monotonous after awhile.

Depsite the fact that this DVD wasn't exactly what I expected, however, I still enjoyed it. It was interesting to see Laurel & Hardy in roles other than "the boys" and the rest of the casts (Charley Chase, Mae Busch, Vivian Oakland, to name a few) gave hilarious performances. I recommend it to fans of Laurel & Hardy (and other silent stars as well), but be aware that not all the films may be what you might have expected.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Character Actors I Love: (Sir) C. Aubrey Smith

Three words: tall, craggy, and English. That would be Sir C. Aubrey Smith, character actor I love (and also an excellent cricket player). I first saw Sir Aubrey as Colonel MacFay in Another Thin Man, where his character is vaguely English, rather excitable, somewhat paranoid, and ends up murdered. Not his most distinguished role. Luckily, I’ve also seen him in Little Women (perfectly cast as James Laurence), Rebecca, China Seas, Bombshell, and most recently, Love Me Tonight. He sings a little in LMT, and has a lovely deep singing voice. Take a look at his picture and you’ll probably recognize him immediately, what with the bushy eyebrows and giant mustache and all. He almost always played military officers or English gentlemen, being very suitable for either type of role.

Biographical information is somewhat scarce; he was a champion cricket player, captian of the Hollywood Cricket Club, and was knighted in 1944. He died in 1949 and is buried in St. Lawrence Churchyard in England.

Monday, April 04, 2005

My eyes! Oh, it burns!

RKO 281: The Battle Over Citizen Kane

starring Liev Schrieber, John Malkovich, James Cromwell, Melanie Griffith, David Suchet

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Okay, maybe it's not that bad, but it's close. I went into this movie with a lot of anticipation, being a long-time fan of Welles and Citizen Kane, but my hopes were crushed by the mediocre acting, blatant inaccuracies (yes, I know it's a movie, but a movie about a real situation shouldn't have quite so much make believe) and overdramatics. For instance, that scene where Welles talks Mankiewicz into coming back on Kane by telling that sob story about his father? Feh. Not even close to believable.

Liev Schrieber is, sadly, typecast (at least in my mind) as the might-be-a-killer, Cotton Weary, from the Scream films. I tried not to hold that against him, but his performance as Welles was so unconvincing that it kept coming to mind. Welles was such an unusual and magnetic personality, with his deep, distinctive voice, that it's hard to imagine any actor playing him well. Vincent D'Onofrio gave a better performance in Ed Wood as Welles than Schrieber can manage here. Not to say his acting was bad, mind you, but just that I didn't for a moment have any kind of feeling that it was Orson Welles. The yelling and screaming about how Kane is all he's got seemed so phony. Unfortunately, that was about the most exciting thing about the role.

That is only one of the reasons, however, why it was impossible to enjoy the movie. Melanie Griffith was so bad as Marion Davies, I can hardly put it into words. I'm sure poor Miss Davies is spinning like a top in her grave. John Malkovich gets some good lines as Herman Mankiewicz; he's at his best when trying to talk Welles out of making Kane. James Cromwell does a creditable job as William Randolph Hearst, and the scenes between Hearst and Marion could have been really quite touching if it weren't for Melanie and her enormous hot pink lips. Ech.

For serious Welles fans and film historians, or even those with only a casual interest, you are much better off watching the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane than trying to get the "making of Kane" story from this film.

Tries to be avant garde, ends up just pretentious

Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, by David Thomson

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I was so looking forward to reading it, but it turned out to be not at all what I expected. Perhaps I'm too used to a more conventional style of biography, but I found Rosebud hard to get through. As fascinating a person as Orson Welles was, parts of this book were still slow going. The author constantly interrupts the narrative with "dialogues" between himself and...himself? The publisher? An imaginary reader? It's hard to say, and seems to be used mostly to insert his own presence into the biography.

Other unnecessary bits include a whole chapter of this dialogue between the author and his imaginary friend as they watch the first few minutes of Citizen Kane, and another entire chapter about how the author became a fan of Welles. This is supposed to be a biography of Orson Welles, not a book about how David Thomson feels about Orson Welles, and how Thomson has taught Citizen Kane in his class for years, blah blah blah. Every time Welles' own story gets interesting, Thomson pops up to remind you he's there. Ideally, a reader shouldn't be bombarded with the presence of the author in a biography.

There is some interesting information, but the book as a whole is not put together well at all.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Rainy Saturday triple feature

It poured buckets today, so I decided all my errands could wait, and it was going to be a movie day. I'd just gotten one in the mail I bought on eBay, and have three new ones from Netflix. Let's see how many I plowed through today.

First up, Ziegfeld Follies, which I bought never having seen it before. Usually I like to see movies at least once before I buy them, but lately I will buy them if they have lots of stars I love. Then it's usually a good bet the purchase will be well worthwhile. ZF, however ... not so much. It has your usual MGM tag line: Greatest Production Since The Birth Of Motion Pictures! Heh. I love MGM taglines ... every movies is the greatest thing since sliced bread! Musical numbers are always major hits! Technicolor! Cinemascope! Stereophonic sound! More stars than there are in heaven! It's the movie of the year! And so on.

I was all excited to see William Powell back as Ziegfeld, until the movie actually started. Good news: he's just as sexy with silver hair. Bad news: he's playing Ziegfeld-in-Heaven, planning a new show from beyond the grave with "today's stars". Which means, whoever MGM wanted to showcase in 1946. Yeah, that ... wasn't a good idea. (Heaven is apparently furnished with set decorations from Anna Held's suite in The Great Ziegfeld.) Oh, I almost forgot to mention the dolls. You see, when Ziegfeld-in-Heaven reminisces about the Follies he made when he was, you know, actually alive, they recreate the acts with...claymation dolls. Ugly ones. I wish I was kidding. Which I guess makes Ziggy some kind of showbiz puppet master or something.

I was expecting a movie along the lines of The Great Ziegfeld and Ziegfeld Girl, both of which I love, and both of which have a healthy dose of plot to balance out the musical numbers. ZF, however, is all musical numbers, one right after the other, introduced with pages from a "storybook." Oh, wait, there were also a few comedy sketches. Fanny Brice -- cute and funny, her usual schtick. Keenan Wynn -- not so much funny, but he tried. Red Skelton -- funny for Red Skelton fans.

The musical numbers ... very strange and not what I consider MGM standards. Fred Astaire as a Chinese person? Um, no. Lucille Ball all in pink, cracking a whip at women dressed as slinky cats? I think not. The one high point was Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire in a number called "The Babbit and the Bromide," which was wonderfully danced and very cute, if somewhat repetitious in the lyrics.

I think this is one purchase that may eventually go back up for sale. Although maybe not, because I am somewhat vain about my classic movie collection, and I would like to see Gene and Fred's number again. We'll see.

Next on the program was Love Me Tonight, a newly released DVD I got from Netflix solely because it had Myrna Loy in it, and as a result of watching it, Maurice Chevalier is my new boyfriend. So charming, so adorable. I could listen to him sing all day. (Why is there not a soundtrack for this movie on Amazon?) Jeanette MacDonald I had only ever seen in clips, never in a whole movie, and I liked her a lot. C. Aubrey Smith and Charles Butterworth, two guys I love to see, who are now the next two in line for a Character Actors I Love profile. I thought the story was great (yes, it's your typical "royalty falls in love with a commoner in disguise" plot, but in this movie it seemed fresh and new) and it was beautifully shot and directed. This one may go on the Amazon wish list.

Lastly, Meet Me in St. Louis; oddly enough, I think this movie is the one about which I have the least to say. It was a Judy Garland musical, which usually means an automatic win, and that was the case here. Great performances, catchy tunes, you know the drill. Two of my favorite supporting actors, Marjorie Main and Harry Davenport (who will always be "Dr. Meade" to me). Leon Ames kept reminding me of Jerry Orbach. It's not my all time favorite Garland musical extravaganza (that would be For Me and My Gal) but I liked it. Liza's introduction was nice, but she looked very trembly.

Ah, it's always nice when you have an entire day to spend watching movies. At least to me it is.

Powerful drama whose ending does not quite do it justice

The Lost Weekend (1945)
starring Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I can understand why the studio did not want to release The Lost Weekend in 1945: it's a gritty and realistic (sometimes horrifyingly so) account of an alcoholic's weekend binge. Going against years of movies that portrayed drunkeness as something cute and harmless, this movie pulls no punches in illustrating to what depths a man will stoop when he just has to have a drink.

There's a story told about the filming of LW, in which another of Ray Milland's on-the-street takes were ruined when someone recognized him. Instead of asking for his autograph, though, the woman offered to bring him back to her apartment for a drink. She didn't believe him when he said he was making a movie about a drunk; she thought the actor was down on his luck and really was a drunk. Billy Wilder came out from behind the hidden camera and finally set her straight. This is a good illustration of the power of Milland's performance; his work is quite extraordinary. Jane Wyman as his girlfriend Helen does a good job with a small role, as does Phillip Terry as Don's brother Wick.

While the drama of the movie moves along at a fevered pitch, it really starts to build to a level of unbearable tension when Helen goes to retrieve her coat (which Don has stolen) from the pawnbroker, only to discover Don didn't trade it for money for booze, but rather a gun he had pawned earlier. After his earlier talk of putting a bullet through his head, the audience and Helen realize at the same time what his intentions are, and we find ourselves as anxious as Helen as she races back to his apartment. She gets there in time, and the two play a game of cat and mouse, warily stepping around each other as he tries to get her to leave, and she tries to get to the gun first.

After winding things up so tightly, though, the movie ends with an anti-climax: Helen gives Don her same old inspirational speech about his having the talent to make a go of it as a writer, and suddenly, this time he believes her, vowing once again (and we're to assume that this time it took) to give up drinking and make something of himself. He gives us a pat little explanation of his alcoholism, and ends by saying gee, he feels sorry for all those other drunks out in NYC that think they're fooling everyone. Fade to black.

I realize this is a typical Hollywood ending of the time, with everything working out okay, but I felt cheated. I had been so captivated by this true to life story, with nothing glossed over, that the ending didn't ring true at all. Strange as it may sound, I think I would have almost preferred Don to put a bullet in his head. It would have felt much more realistic than him basically saying, "You're right Helen, I will stop drinking and write that book," and with a snap of the fingers, put his drunken ways behind him.

This is my only complaint about the movie, and it is an extremely small one; don't let my thoughts about the ending stop you from watching this film. It is an astonishing movie even in this day and age, even more so when you consider it was made 60 years ago.

The best laid plans...

Sudden Fear (1952)
starring Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Joan Crawford chews the scenery, Jack Palance looks ugly and menacing, and Gloria Grahame slinks around in this fabulous film noir. Crawford is a wealthy socialite and playwright who marries Palance, an actor she had previously rejected from one of her plays. Turns out he has a girlfriend (Grahame) and they're plotting to murder Joan for her money. Joan finds out and decides to beat them to the punch (so to speak) by hatching a plan to murder her husband first and frame his lover for the crime, complete with a little dream sequence showing the audience how it's supposed to turn out. In the middle of the plan, however, Joan loses her nerve ... and that's when things get really interesting. The suspense starts about halfway through the film, when Joan discovers the plot against her, but the last ten minutes of the film dials up it a few levels. A must for any fan of Crawford and/or film noir.