Sunday, November 15, 2009

Joan Crawford, in Possessed
approximately 77 minutes and 17 seconds
72.4% of the film








The film

A woman is found wandering Los Angeles, unable to say anything other than "David". Admitted to hospital she is coaxed into recounting her recent life.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

The movie has some serious story problems. It starts great and the direction is fine throughout the film. But Possessed can’t really decide what it’s about: a love story, a murder, schizophrenia? So it ends up messy, especially the last 30 minutes or so.






Joan Crawford as Louise Howell


I’m trying to remember a performance I talked about here in the past year and a half which gave me as much trouble as this one! Joan Crawford is terribly good here, but also annoyingly bad. She hits the excellent note and then falls in a screenplay trap, over-abusing the clichés. I’m thinking Angelina in Changeling or Cate Blanchett in The Golden Age, but still they can’t beat Joan. So writing about this performance is quite frustrating for me.


Don’t get me wrong, I know Joan had her own style of acting: rigid and exaggerated. And it worked for her many times. It even works a bit here, until she loses control of the performance. Joan plays Louise, a nurse who can’t get over the playboy that dumped her. And no wonder, as it proves that Louise’s overbearing attitude is a result of schizophrenia, or bipolar as it would probably be called today. The biggest challenge of the role: keeping it believable as Louise slowly surrenders to her mental disease and making us understand the process.

I’ll start with the good stuff: Joan makes a hell of entrance in the film, surprising me with the simplicity of her acting. We all know Joan was a great crier and she uses it wisely in the break-up scene, never forcing it and creating a relatable character ever since the first frames. [Oops, and I didn’t mention the first scenes where she walks around like a crazy person: same thing – achieving a lot through surprising simplicity and understanding of the character].

Joan is great at underlining the ups and downs of Louise. We understand her battle trying to get over this man and trying to fight her instinct which tells her to keep harassing him. Joan is excellent in expressing the vulnerability of the character, both the heartbreak part of it and also in the hospital scenes, and how insecure Louise is around David.


And even as the haunting thing starts happening and she sinks more into schizophrenia: Joan does it well at first. It’s not what we’d want for the story, but we get it. She hears stuff that’s not there, imagines things that didn’t happen, Louise starts mixing reality with images created by her own mind. Joan’s haunted look is delicious and she’s always great at playing with the camera (you can feel the acting experience!). But then she takes it too far…

As the story goes less believable, so does Joan’s acting. She goes for crazy, when she should’ve toned it a bit. Joan goes from a natural drama to B-series horror movie performance. The shooting scene alone at the end is ridiculous in many ways. Joan falls for the cliché of the screenplay and loses her biggest asset: the connection that she had with the audience ever since the beginning. Why, Joan? Why? It could’ve been your best performance!




Joan said it was the toughest role she ever had to play. And I agree it’s not easy especially considering the little accurate information about mental illness back then. When she’s good, she’s terrific, warming our heart and creating a relatable character! But when she’s bad… she forgets about the character and what she created before. How can you rate it? I keep going back to the beauty of the piano scene, but then remember the awful judgment from the end… Mixing a 2 and a 4, or maybe a 1 and a 5, I get . Wow, the potential. I’ll probably go one way or another in a couple of years.

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