The Third Annual Bette Davis Blogathon…

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source: 20th Century Fox


The Star is a peculiar movie in Bette Davis‘ filmography.

It earned her an Academy Award nomination, but also some of the worst reviews of her career. Some may say that the film is a “stain” on an otherwise flawless movie career by Davis, but I believe it’s probably the most interesting.

The plot is fairly simple, it’s your typical Tinsel town story about an out of work film star and her struggles to keep hold of the fame that she once had.

Seeing as this film stars Davis, I find it hard to believe that movie doesn’t have parallels to the real-life crossroads Davis was feeling at the time.

The Star 1952

source: 20th Century Fox

It’s 1952.

Bette Davis has just turned the dreaded age of 44.

In classic Hollywood terms, that means she’s well past her ‘expiration’ date. Not unlike Joan Crawford (who The Star‘s script is inspired by), Davis was at a turning point in her career.

After rising to fame in the 30s, winning two Oscars and enjoying the bulk of her success in the 40s, Davis only made 10 films in 1950s, with All About Eve being the standout.

It appeared to be a theme in Davis‘ later career to choose scripts that had aging actresses in the beginning stages of a mid-life crisis; The Star is another example of this.

Co-starring alongside Sterling Hayden and Natalie Wood, Davis once called the film’s script, “one of the best ever written about a movie-mad actress.”

It’s funny that she would say that.

Even though Davis has been quoted multiple times saying the script is based on the ‘many faces of Joan Crawford‘ she could’ve easily been talking about herself.

Both she and Crawford were known to be rivals during their hay-day, but what if The Star was indicative of a larger problem that both women were facing at the time.

The Star 1952 2

source: 20th Century Fox

Hollywood has never been kind to older actresses. The studio system during the ‘Golden Age’ was no exception to this phenomenon.

The Star portrayed the lengths that someone would go through just to hold on to the last vestiges of fame they had left.

By 1952, Bette Davis was in the same predicament. Struggling to find work and deemed, washed up by Hollywood, she grappled with producers, forcing her way into any every script she could find.

Some films like All About Eve and The Star were fantastic; others, like Another Man’s Poison and The Catered Affair, fell flat.

The Star reflected the struggles of not only Bette Davis, but every actress of the age of 35. The movie might’ve done poorly at the box office, but its importance goes far beyond any critical and commercial praise.

It brought a sensitive subject out to the open, it broke a taboo and that’s why this movie is so important, even though some critics might not think so.

 

 

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Late Nights, Early Flights, Green Tea, and Lisa Carol Fremont

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esource: Paramount Pictures

I adore TCM.

Thanks to Ted Turner‘s genius, thousands of tasty morsels from the wonderful world of classic cinema are merely a couple of remote clicks away. Despite the abundance of good that TCM provides to the starving film fan, there is a downside to having only a handful of movies stored in their archive. Usually, this means that the network has the tendency to replay a lot of movies.

This would irritate me, normally, but there’s always an actor (or director in this case) that’s an exception to this phenomenon.

In this case, it’s Alfred Hitchcock.


A couple of months ago, I was on my way to visit some family members in the northern part of the United States.

I’m an anxious flyer so, naturally, to calm my pre-flight jitters, I turned on TCM just a few hours before my flight left the following morning. Fortunately, all throughout that month, the network decided to sporadically play Hitchcock‘s voyeuristic masterpiece Rear Window in celebration of what would have been Grace Kelly‘s 88th birthday.

Grace's Window

sources: Paramount Pictures

I’ve seen Rear Window about a dozen times on several different occasions (I even own it on Blu-ray) but, for some reason, this viewing felt very unusual.

Instead of enjoying the cheeky humor, incredible sets, and the brilliant screenwriting, I took an active effort at trying to understand the intricate fusion between the character of Lisa Carol Fremont and Grace Kelly – the actress.

As you may know, it has often been said that Grace Kelly had a ‘dual persona.’

This is in reference to the “ice queen” image that plagued her throughout her career. There’s no denying that Kelly was a pretty reserved person in her personal life – depending on which biography you read, but what about her movies?

This is where my re-viewing of Rear Window helped me to understand that this dichotomy that followed her career (and to a lesser extent her private life) wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.


Lisa Carol Fremont as a character was at times rather selfish, stubborn, and oftentimes just plain rude. That’s understandable, of course, when you realize she’s dealing with a man with a proclivity for adventure and a fear of commitment (played to perfection by James Stewart), yet as I was re-watching Grace as Lisa with a different set of eyes, I quickly recognized, “well, of course, she would act this way.”

Alfred Hitchcock specifically picked Grace for this role due to this persona. Lisa was a fashionista, she loves clothing and even would forgo going on a trip with her boyfriend because she didn’t have the “proper attire” for the environment she’d be traveling in.

Who in their right mind would do something like that?

Right! An “ice queen” who gives off an air of entitlement and impenetrability.

Late Night Grace

source: Paramount Pictures

There are some moments in the film where Lisa could be extraordinarily cold and distant, but it only ever happened when she was in crisis or when Jeff wasn’t conforming to her standards of what their relationship should look like.

Grace’s “ice queen persona” helps a lot in this aspect; she was the only actress that could’ve taken this role. Hitchcock deliberately crafted the role of Lisa Carol Fremont for Grace, he knew that if any other woman stepped into that role, the entire tone of the film could have been something that he didn’t intend to mean.

Hitch’ has always carefully crafted his pictures this way, it doesn’t surprise me that he chose Grace for this role. This same sentiment could be applied to her role in 1955’s To Catch a Thief as well.

If it wasn’t for Hitchcock‘s cinema IQ and Grace’s typecast, I don’t believe Rear Window would’ve been as good as it is.

It’s funny, all it took for me to understand this was my fear of flying and my love for overanalyzing movies.

Go figure.

My Obession With……the films of Audrey Hepburn

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Where do I begin with Ms. Audrey Hepburn? Class personified, and a role model to all women and an ideal woman to all men. A veteran of over 30 movies Audrey Hepburn is the quintessential classic Hollywood figure. In order to properly get a sense of who Audrey was, I’ll pick a few of her movies to get a complete understanding of why she’s so revered as not only a fashion icon but also as a tremendous actress.

Roman Holiday (1953)

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source: Paramount Pictures

Roman Holiday is one of my favorite movies.

If I’m ever introducing someone to classic films, this is the movie I make sure to put on the top of my list. I mean, how could someone be disappointed when they’re watching Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck frolic through Rome? Directed by William Wyler, Roman Holiday tells the story of Princess Ann and her struggles with feeling increasingly isolated in her royal life.

While on a scheduled trip to Rome, she decides to neglect her royal duties and escape the embassy that she’s staying at. The only problem is, her family gave her a sleeping pill to help ease her ‘anxieties.’ This causes her to sleepwalk throughout the city of Rome and eventually into the arms (and apartment) of journalist Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck.

When she wakes up the next morning, naturally, she’s utterly confused. Bradley quickly realizes who she is and wants to write a story on her. Ann, or Anya as she would later be called, rebuffs his advances and is hell-bent on exploring Rome by herself. Perturbed at her rejection, Bradley follows her around until they coincidentally meet up at a Roman cafe. For the rest of the film, we see Bradley shed his journalistic instincts while ultimately ending up falling in love with Anya as the two explore Rome together.

I will refrain from posting spoilers on this post because I want people who’ve never seen these films to enjoy the endings as they are. However, to those who have seen Roman Holiday, it’s one of the most touching and romantic movies in Hepburn’s filmography.

The fact that Hepburn won her first and only Academy Award is a testament to how wonderful and heartwarming this movie is. The chemistry between Hepburn and Peck adds to the movie’s already poignant nature, and the ending definitely capitalizes on that.

Funny Face (1957)

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source: Paramount Pictures

The next film on this list is a complete departure from the warm and fuzzy feelings of Roman Holiday. From the cobbled streets of Rome to the slick sophistication of Paris, Funny Face is a romantic-musical-comedy directed by Stanley Donen. 

In the film, Hepburn plays a shy and rather homely bookkeeper named Jo Stockton who’s accidentally photographed by a fashion photographer during a photo shoot at her bookstore. Astonished at how beautiful this “random girl” was in the background of his photo, the man who photographed Jo invites her to model for him in Paris.

As they get to know each other better while snapping photos in front of iconic Parisienne landmarks, they eventually fall in love. Unfortunately, the pair face a plethora of obstacles that hinder them from actually consummating their relationship.

Also starring Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson, Funny Face is your archetypal classic Hollywood musical. With gorgeous scenic shots of Paris, a marvelous soundtrack and killer musical numbers (my favorite, in particular, is ‘Bonjour Paris‘) Funny Face rivals any MGM musical from that year; and the best part about that is, it stars Audrey Hepburn.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1960)

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source: Paramount Pictures

Fun Fact about this movie: Marilyn Monroe was Truman Capote‘s first choice to play Holly Golightly.

This ‘fun fact’ probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise though. Being that the original version Capote intended to put on the screen was much more scandalous for 1960s audiences, the movie had to be toned down significantly in order to appease the censors. The tonal shift meant another, less sexual version of Holly Golightly had to be cast.

This is where Audrey Hepburn steps in.

Directed by Blake Edwards, Breakfast at Tiffany’s also stars George Peppard, Patricia Neal and Mickey Rooney in supporting roles. BAT’ is a story about Holly Golightly’s relationship with writer Paul Varjak, played by Peppard, and the ups and downs that the couple goes through.

I have a special relationship with Breakfast at Tiffany‘s. It surely isn’t my favorite Hepburn film, but, I think it symbolizes a change in film roles that Hepburn would take from that point on in her career. You see, as the 1960s progressed, Hepburn’s filmography would increasingly feature a number of movies where the subject matter wasn’t as ‘lighthearted’ as her previous films.

Breakfast at Tiffany‘s was the first pillar, then rest came falling down in films like, The Children’s Hour, Two for The Road, Wait Unitil Dark and Charade. The movies I listed are a complete departure from the jovial and romantic movies of Hepburn’s earlier roles, and because of that is the reason why Breakfast at Tiffany‘s is a must see. Not only is the film an iconic piece of movie history, it also signifies a shift in Hepburn’s career.

How to Steal a Million (1966)

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source: 20th Century Fox

The last film on this list is apart of those later movies Hepburn would go on to do.

How to Steal a Million is a superb example of a 1960s era romantic-comedy. Directed by William Wyler and starring Peter O’Toole as burglar Simon Bonnet and Hepburn as Nicole Bonnet (the daughter of an art collector,) the movie follows Hepburn and O’Toole‘s character’s as they seek to steal back a piece of art that accidentally got loaned to a local museum.

Why are they stealing the art back? Well, it’s because Nicole’s father is an art forger, and if they allow his ‘art’ to be displayed for all to see, it most certainly wouldn’t bode well for his business.

What ensues is a massively funny and endearing rom-com that had me laughing and swooning (over Peter O’Toole) during its 2 hours and 7-minute runtime. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this movie and I hope all of reading this will have the privilege of watching it one day.

Conclusion

Audrey Hepburn is one of my favorite actresses. The fact that she had such a large imprint on movies in such a short amount of time is a testament to her charisma. I can only hope that you love the movies on this list as much as I do!

The Best of M-G-M: Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)

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source: MGM

I don’t think there’s any other film that fills me with such as happiness as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers  does. Released in 1954, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a romantic-musical-comedy starring an all-star cast of talented singers, dancers, and actors, spearheaded by the two leads of Howard Keel and Jane Powell.

Set in the 1850s in Oregon Territory, the film’s plot follows the Pontipee brothers as they go about their lives in the backwoods of Oregon. Filled with astonishing dance numbers, breathtaking backdrops and sensational character acting, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is one of MGM’s most memorable and least appreciated musicals.

Now, in order to see how phenomenal this film is, let’s go through each group of characters – one by one.

Adam & Milly

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source: MGM

The main characters in ‘Seven Brides‘ are Adam and Milly Pontipee, a newly wedded couple who struggle to come to terms with getting married so quickly without knowing each other.

One day, the eldest brother Adam Pontipee, played by Howard Keel, goes into to town to find himself a caretaker, or as he calls it- a wife, to help him and his 6 brothers. He gets to the town square and searches all over for a suitable mate to marry. He eventually finds a wife in a small, blonde, but a boldfaced woman named Milly, played by Jane Powell.

When they first meet, Milly is a barmaid at a tavern serving her food to warry travelers. Insistent on trying some of this food, Adam sits down, anxiously waiting to taste one of Milly’s meal to determine whether or not she’s fit to be his wife. It turns out- she is! With a bit of coaxing and bargaining, Milly agrees- only on one condition: she gets to finish the chores she’s obligated to do before she hightails it out of there.

With many objections from Milly’s family, she marries Adam anyway.

When the two get to the cabin, Milly is in shock. She didn’t realize Adam had 6 other brothers until all of them come rushing out like wildmen to the front porch to see what all the hubbub is about.

This is where the movie starts to pick up…

The Brothers

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source: MGM

The brothers introduce themselves, and explain that their parents named them alphabetically with names from the Bible, starting with Adam, then it goes as follows: Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frank (short for frankincense), and Gideon. All of these brothers are big, strapping, young gentlemen (well, all except for the youngest Gideon), and Milly wonders why she has to be the sole woman in the household taking care of their messes.

So, she concocts a plan to marry the 6 brothers off.

In an attempt to socialize the boys to the outside world, Milly takes a few of the brothers to the marketplace where they run into a couple of local girls. Milly encourages the brothers to introduce themselves to the young ladies, but alas, their backwoodsman ways take over, and they end up scaring the girls away.

Cue the women coming into the story arc….

The Girls

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source: MGM

After teaching the brothers how to properly court a woman, the boys try out their new skills at a local barn raising contest. This where we meet the 6 women that will eventually be paired off with the boys: Dorcas (played by Julie Newmar), Ruth (played by Ruta Lee), Martha (played by Norma Doggett), Liza (played by Virginia Gibson), Sarah (played by Betty Carr), and Alice (played by Nancy Kilgas.)

Once the brothers get to the barn raising, their new style and ‘swagger’, if you will, immediately attracts attention from the girls they originally scared off. The only problem is, these girls already have suitors that were courting these girls waaaaay before the Pontipee Brothers showed up. Thrilled and overjoyed at this newfound attention, yet also seething with jealousy, the 6 brothers (at the insistence of the eldest brother Adam) enroll themselves in a barn raising contest.

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source: MGM

They begin the contest. and the other group of suitors (who look like an 1800s version of a street gang in West Side Story) start taunting the brothers- and by taunting, I mean getting pretty violent. This violence inevitably escalates until the whole event and barn come tumbling down.

The next scene we see the brothers beaten and bruised after their huge brawl. They also happen to be very lovesick and yearning for their girls. To counteract this Milly asks Adam to give his brothers a little pep talk.

At this point in the film, we see the movie enter the final 30 minutes of its 102-minute runtime and what happens next is indisputably the most exciting and hilarious.

The Whimsical Ending

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source: MGM

After giving his brothers a rousing pep talk (in which we get a musical number about kidnapping women), the brothers go out into the harsh winter snow to do just that- steal their women back. Unbeknownst to Milly, the brothers bring the girls back to the Pontipee homestead, only to be reprimanded by her and forced to sleep outside for the remainder of the season, while the girls cozy up inside without them- ouch!

Irate at what Milly is doing, Adam flees, setting up house at another cabin a few miles away. Soon after her husband leaves, Milly finds out she’s pregnant- the plot thickens.

The winter ultimately passes, and the girls get restless. So, they start playing pranks (ex: throwing rock-filled snowballs, and dumping their dirty bath water) on the brothers outside as they’re doing their chores.

The funny part is, these girls experience a bit of Stockholm Syndrome and end up forgiving their captors by the time spring rolls around. Now that everyone happy and in love, there’s only one more problem to solve- Milly’s baby and it’s absentee father.

Everyone’s there at the birth of Milly’s daughter, except Adam Pontipee. Perturbed at this fact, the youngest brother Gideon hops on a horse and makes the dangerous trek up to Adam’s mancave cabin. He confronts Adam and tells him, in layman’s terms, that he’s a horrible person. Adam, understandably, takes offense to this and refuses to come back. He tells Gideon that he’ll only return when the rest of the snow melts down.

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source: MGM

After Gideon leaves, Adam contemplates what his brother just said, and decides to return to the cabin earlier than expected. When Adam arrives at the Pontipee household, he promptly reconciles with his wife, and has a ‘come to Jesus moment’ as a new father. He recognizes that they need to return the girls to their kinfolk or else the rest of his brothers won’t be able to marry.

For some INEXPLICABLE REASON, the other 6 brothers think that keeping the girls away from their families is a good idea and the crazy thing is, THE GIRLS ARGEE WITH THE BROTHERS. Anyway, Milly convinces the brothers to go round up the girls- and they do.

The girl’s families show up to the cabin, and they are very very angry, in fact they threaten to lynch the boys for kidnapping their daughters. When they walk in and confront the Pontipee brothers. Alice’s father, who’s conveniently a preacher, hears a baby crying, and believes it’s her’s. In fact all the men in their think that baby is their daugthers. In order to settled this, they ask who’s the child’s mother.

In true, MGM musical fashion, all of the girls simultaneously claim that baby belongs to them, thus forcing all 6 of the brothers and girls into a shotgun wedding- literally.

Conclusion

According to Jane Powell, she says that, at the time, MGM was more interested in promoting and investing money into the 1954 film Brigadoon starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse than ‘Seven Brides.’ MGM considered Brigadoon an ‘A’ picture, and they didn’t want to waste time funneling funds into a ‘B’ picture which would be ‘Seven Brides.’

The studio couldn’t have been more wrong.

No offence to Brigadoon lovers, it’s a good fillm, but not nearly as fun (or as memorable) as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

The performances given by Jeff Richards, Matt Mattox, Marc Platt, Jacques d’Amboise, Tommy Rall and Russ Tamblyn as the other 6 brothers to Howard Keel‘s Adam, definitely elevate this movie. My favorite number, in particular, is the barn raising scene, which you can watch: here. I just marvel at the athleticism and dancing skill that these men had.

Oh! How could I forget about the girls! Even though their parts weren’t as hefty as the brothers, the ‘June Bride‘ sequence is absolutely lovely. These ladies conveyed what it’s like to be stuck in a backwoods cabin, longing for a touch from her lover.

As for Jane Powell and Howard Keel, they did a fantastic job, but for the bulk of the movie, I must commend the supporting cast because without them, I’m not sure what this movie would be.

In the end, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a delightfully whimsical film about love and heartbreak, if you ever have the chance to watch this musical on TCM or on DVD, in the words of Shia LaBeouf: JUST DO IT!

 

Classic Film Reviews: Sudden Fear (1952)

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source: RKO Pictures

Poor Joan Crawford, she can never seem to catch a break.

She meets a handsome younger man and they get married. All is going well until he plots to murder you and then run away with your fortune with his younger, more daring blonde girlfriend. This ‘younger man’ troupe was the common theme in most of Crawford‘s films when she made the move from MGM to Warner Brothers in 1943. In no other movie is this more prevalent than the thriller/film-noir Sudden Fear.

Released in 1952, Sudden Fear stars Joan Crawford (at her most fabulous), Jack Palance, and Gloria Grahame. Joan plays Myra Hudson, a successful Broadway playwright who runs her productions like a well-oiled machine. Looking for a new male lead for her next play, she hosts auditions, hoping to find that one lucky man. That one lucky man does show up as Lester Blaine, played by Jack Palance. Lester gets the part, but come rehearsals Myra fires him, rather harshly, due to lack of romantic chemistry with his leading lady.

A few days later, the play has it’s premiere. Myra, happy and ecstatic that she’s getting rave reviews for her newest masterpiece, boards a train home to San Francisco. Coincidentally, Lester Blaine happens to be on the same train ride; Myra, understandably, feels put off by this.

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Gloria Grahame and Jack Palance in a publicity still for Sudden Fear (1952) source: RKO Pictures

But, after a few hours of laughing, throwing back drinks, and sharing a couple of stories, Lester successfully ‘woos’ her. They fall in love and Myra is absolutely smitten with her new man.  One night, Lester was due at Myra’s home for a get-together she was throwing for a successful play opening. After a few hours of being ghosted, Myra decides to seek out her beau, jilting a crowd of people who were now stranded at a house party without a hostess.

This is where the plot thickens.

She rushes over to his hotel, only to find him halfway down the steps getting ready to board the next train to New York. He claims that he has “no place in her life’ and that he doesn’t “belong to her world.” Despite that, the two reconcile and eventually get married. The newly hitched couple go on a mini staycation at Myra’s beachside home.

While walking down the steep steps of the beach house, Lester warns Myra that the way down has no guard rail. Why would he point this out? Why would a newly married man be worried about his wife suddenly dying? Anyway. The next day, Myra throws ANOTHER party, this time Lester actually shows up. However, what happens next changes the entire arc of the movie.

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source: RKO Pictures

During the soiree, a mysterious blonde makes her way into the mansion. This throws Lester off guard as he drifts in and out of the conversation. The blonde introduces herself as Irene Neves, played by the amazingly talented Gloria Grahame. The pair seems to be a little bit too friendly with each other, but, Myra pays no mind.

Cue the next scene.

Irene is kissing her date goodbye and runs up to her apartment. Suddenly a man comes up behind her and stops her from putting her key in the door. Surprise, surprise, the man is actually Lester. By this point in the film, expectations have been subverted so many times that, I’ve given up on guessing what happens. The two have a very heated (and very sensual) argument about why she’s here in the first place. Irene’s feminine wiles convince Lester to leave his wife, unbeknownst to Myra.

The next few days Irene and Lester develop a plan to run away together- but first Myra needs to disappear.

They spend a couple of weeks plotting, scheming and conniving ways to possibly remove Myra from the equation. During these weeks, Lester behavior becomes increasingly bizarre. Myra, finally, becomes suspicious of her husband’s odd behavior. But, here’s the kicker, Myra ultimately finds out about this whole plot to have her killed by unintentionally listening to a recording, from her dictation machine, of Irene and Lester discussing ways to have her murder look like an accident.

Frightened and heartbroken, Myra falls into a deep depression- refusing to leave her room for days out of fear of being killed. During this time, she plans her way to preemptively stop this by killing Lester and placing the blame on Irene.

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source: RKO Pictures

The plan sounds diabolical, but it just might work.

The next few scenes in the movie have Myra sneaking into Irene’s apartment with a duplicate key she had made a few days earlier. When she’s in the apartment, she hides in the closet until Irene comes home with a date. Irene’s date is very persistent on staying longer than he’s welcomed, but she eventually manages to get rid of him. She then leaves to meet Lester at a parking garage, leaving Myra in the closet.

Myra envisioned what it may be like to kill Lester, but when faced with the thought, she throws the gun away. Hysterical and disgusted with the prospect of killing her husband, she doesn’t go through her plan. As soon as she was about to leave the apartment Lester walks in. The phone rings and Lester pick it up. It was Irene’s date. Lester starts to get an uneasy feeling.

He walks around the apartment and he stumbles upon Myra’s gun wrapped in a handkerchief. Convinced Myra set him up, he rushes out of the apartment to his car and is hell-bent on finding her. Myra, stupidly, chases after him on foot. Lester spots her (or what looks to be her) out of the corner of his eye and then proceeds to hunt her down with his car. Lester slams on the brakes believing he was killing Myra, but it turns out to be Irene, who was wearing the same white scarf Myra was. Lester ends up killing himself and Irene while Myra in disbelief, walks of dazed and without a scratch.

 

Conclusion

I adore everything about this movie, the way it’s shot, the shadows, the acting performances- everything! Joan Crawford really gave it her all in this role. You felt the pain, and panic on her face when she found out that her husband was conspiring to kill her with a younger woman, and then that pain turned into concern for him when he ends up involuntarily killing himself at the end. Ms. Crawford unquestionably deserved that Oscar nomination she received in 1952,  and in my opinion, she should’ve won.

I also have to give it up to the two other actors who were starring opposite Joan in the movie: Jack Palance and Gloria Grahame. Their chemistry when they shared scenes together were dripping with innuendo. At times, I rooted for them to get away with it. You know, the Bonnie and Clyde effect, but alas, never count out Joan Crawford.

Overall, I would give this film a 9/10. It’s a film noir that you must put on your watchlist. The cinematography will have you thinking about it hours after you’ve finished, and the acting performances will make it a movie to remember.