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Friday, March 28, 2014

Going Unhinged at Warners


Crawford Crazed and Killing in Possessed (1947)

Joan Crawford did enough melodramas by 1947 to make it certain she'd finally go nuts. Possessed was among ones that treated mental illness in terms of stark horror. When JC falls off deep ends here, look out. Bad enough dealing with her characters when sane, but add crazy for a chaser and Joan's more lethal than Mildred Pierce on worst days. The Warner Crawfords that had begun with such momentum were tailing off. Extravagance was to blame, costs on each since Mildred Pierce headed up and up. That trendsetter had brought $5.6 million in worldwide rentals on $1.4 million spent, but follow-up Humoresque realized less ($3.4) for much more sunk ($2.1 million). The hemorrhage went to $2.5 million in negative cost to finish Possessed, and this time WB would lose money. Future Crawfords would have to be made for less, or fold up.


By her early forties, JC could still look attractive in a pinch, but she'd hardened to image a public would remember best of a career's whole, and no one took much interest now unless dragon Joan wielded a rod, which she does in Possessed, but only for a finish. Crawford had in ways become a distaff Cagney; when she wasn't violent, the audience was bored. Jerry Wald produced, and had grasp of what her vehicles needed, 1947 still a boom enough year for WB to figure on getting spent dollars back. Being wrong on that account must have come as shock to company bookkeepers. Directing Curtis Bernhardt had shown aptitude for hot house emotion with My Reputation and A Stolen Life, donning Vincent Sherman's hat for wrangling divas (Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis, respectively). He guides well and recalled later that Crawford was easier to work with than Davis had been.


Possessed was the kind of yarn a fan audience could lose themselves utterly in, Hollywood writ large in terms of face slaps, angry exchange, and pistols in the purse. Toughening up the women's pics after WWII was unspoke objective at Warners. Now that men were back home, it was no good making these, or any, that wouldn't appeal to them as well as wives/dates. Romance and its frustrations would no longer suffice; it took blood spilling to draw crowds to Crawford. Bette Davis saw handwriting and came a killing to Deception, but took losses when she forgot war's lesson by going benign with June Bride and Winter Meeting. Both lost money. Crawford got the victory boost over Bette and stayed ahead right past the 40's with free-lance and self-produced stuff that made profit, Sudden Fear a wisest of moves that ushered in a victimized woman cycle that BD should have latched onto. Possessed is available on DVD and plays Warner Instant in rich HD.

1 Comments:

Blogger rnigma said...

After Carol Burnett did her "Mildred Pierce" parody on her show, she got a letter from Joan Crawford, who wrote: "They spent more money on your sketch than Jack Warner spent on my movie."

11:01 PM  

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