Harriet Craig [1950]

23Jan12 – 9 – Harriet Craig (Vincent Sherman: 1950)
It’s tempting to think that Joan Crawford was merely playing herself in HARRIET CRAIG (1950), but that’s just a reflection of our sense of the “real” Joan Crawford as described in Christina Crawford’s memoir (and the movie based on it). HARRIET CRAIG is a “psychological study” in the same sense that THE BAD SEED is one, although instead of a pre-pubescent sociopathic murderess, HC’s title character is a near-psychotic obsessive-compulsive neatness freak/perfectionist of uncertain age (Joan Crawford was in her mid-to-late 40s, but from clues in the movie itself her character is probably not much older than 30). Rhoda’s problem was genetic, we learn, but it was Harriet’s father that made her what she is and sent her mother eventually to the lunatic asylum. (The 14-year-old Harriet caught Daddy with whisky on his breath and a bleach-blonde slut on his knee; nothing was ever the same again.)

Joan Crawford is magnificent. Some people might think that her Harriet Craig is a caricature, that no one could be quite *that* awful, *that* maddeningly obsessive-compulsive, but trust me: Harriet Craigs do exist. I worked for one for nearly 15 years and everything about Joan Crawford’s performance rang true. Wendell Corey is perfect as her good-natured but dim-bulb electrical engineer husband Walter, J. T. Stevens is creepily Stepford Wife-ish as Harriet’s younger cousin Clare, and Ellen Corby stands out in her role as the meek cook/maid Lottie. The art direction is superb (stately Craig Manor deserves above-the-title billing) and the cinematographer should have been given an Oscar for the dramatic key lights on Crawford’s face alone. Camp? Yes, but not if camp only means “so schlocky it’s good”. This is serious camp. 9/10. [1/23/12]

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One comment

  1. […] marginally prefer Harriet Craig to Possessed both because psychotic neat-freak Joan Crawford is scarier than psychotic spurned […]

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