After a Fashion
When does Your Style Avatar not jones for Joan?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK "If you want the girl next door, then go next door." – Joan Crawford
"J" AS IN "JOAN" Forced to take it a little easier these days, I've been feeding my obsession with old movies. I get a large beverage, gather the dogs, crank up my bed (it's an old but very functional Craftmatic adjustable bed), and load the DVD player. Naturally, when I am able to commune with the screen gods and goddesses, I choose to pay homage to Joan Crawford first. Two years ago for Christmas, my nephew Tyler gave me The Joan Crawford Collection, which includes The Women, Humoresque, Possessed, The Damned Don't Cry, and Mildred Pierce. Then for last year's birthday, Tyler gave me Volume 2, which features Flamingo Road, A Woman's Face, Strange Cargo, and Torch Song. Of course I'd watched The Women and Mildred Pierce a thousand times, but not so much the others. Being laid up in bed has given me an excellent opportunity to catch up on so many Joan films with which I was less familiar. I'd seen Possessed (1947) before but was less than enchanted. It certainly wasn't the over-the-top, chew-'em-up Joan performance that I'd come to expect, but upon rewatching it, it is very intriguing. The Forties obsession with Freud and psychiatry runs through this movie like lava from a volcano. The scenes in the mental hospital are laughable now: Joan is in an "autotraumatic stupor" and taken to a hospital where she is placed in the "Psychopathic Department." Say no more. Joan acts her brains out and finds happiness at the end. The Damned Don't Cry (1950) presents the Joan we like. As socialite/millionairess Lorna Hanson Forbes, Joan goes from trailer trash to glittering socialite and back again. All within 103 minutes. Joan spouts such Crawfordisms as: "Don't talk to me about self-respect. That's something you tell yourself you got when you got nothing else." She's tough, she's tender, and she's box-office poison. Humoresque (1946) was a hit – mysteriously. Joan had just won the Oscar for Mildred Pierce and was riding high. At 40, Joan plays Mrs. Helen Wright as so full of herself and so sanctimonious that only a true Crawford acolyte could watch this movie. I did. Volume 2 also has the turgid Flamingo Road, which later spawned a television series of the same name with Mark Harmon and Morgan Fairchild (I loved Morgan Fairchild until I met her). Joan plays the oldest showgirl on earth (the movie was made in 1949; Joan was 44 years old), who works with a circus that leaves her stranded in a town run by Sheriff Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet, an actor who can play such malevolence that it is spine-tingling). Joan's character Lane marries well, of course, but all is not well. Things become things, as things often do, and Lane pays an amicable visit to Titus and shoots him dead. Buh-bye. Strange Cargo (1940) is not a Joan Crawford movie at all, even though she's in it. It's Clark Gable's movie, and Joan is just a prop. Unbearable. Sadie McKee has its moments; in 1934, Joan had the world in the palm of her shoulder pads. She plays a cook, not a laundress (you'd be shocked to see how many of Joan's movies incorporate the laundress theme) this time, and after dragging herself through dance halls and roadhouses, Joan winds up on top. Again. A Woman's Face (1941) is also turgidly watchable. What a switch for Joan to play a woman with a hideously scarred face, though plastic surgery of the Forties makes her beautiful again. Though it is a far more intellectual film than most of Crawford's, she manages to bring it down a notch with her earthy, common-sense approach. But this does not make it watchable. For Joan lovers only. But then there's Torch Song (1953). Joan is over-the-hill and plays Jenny Stewart, an "entertainer" of some sort (watch and you'll see what I mean). She is ruthless and pitiless as she tries to hold onto her star power, but all those little peasants working for her seem to get in the way. Even the blind piano player she hires. But he turns out to be her biggest fan, and after a hundred unintentional laughs, she becomes his biggest fan. Joan.
AGENDA The AIDS charities have us painting, sculpting, dancing, and riding bikes these days. Saturday is the Octopus Club's ArtErotica. Go to www.octopusclub.org to buy your tickets. Yes, I'll be there supporting it and covering it. The Hill Country Ride for AIDS is Saturday, April 24. And yes, I'll be in pit stop No. 1, of course, again. Tickets at www.hillcountryride.org. Between those events, we have the fabulous Umlauf Garden Party (Thursday, April 22), which raises money for the lovely gardens that showcase the spectacular sculptures of Charles Umlauf. Go to www.umlaufsculpture.org.
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