The Joan Crawford Collection, Vol. 2

The Joan Crawford Collection, Vol. 2
Hide those wire hangers, kids, ’cause Joan Crawford is back with five more notable features to haunt your dreams. And as the films move from the ’30s into the ’50s, it’s interesting to chart her progression from gently courageous ingénue to bloodthirsty camp gorgon. First up is Sadie McKee, in which the star quits her domestic job to run away with her boyfriend. Problems arise when she gets dumped and finds herself without a means of support. A straightforward weeper with some interesting turns and a curious marriage to an alcoholic, it’s nothing earth shattering but is made with a genuine spirit and is eminently watchable. Strange Cargo is more interesting: Clark Gable stars as a convict who escapes a penal colony with a recalcitrant Crawford in tow. This prison-break-cum-religious-allegory picture has some fishy plotting but the total conviction with which director Frank Borzage brings it off makes it one hell of a fascinating curio — only Gable’s mean-spirited performance mars the effort. Best of the bunch is A Woman’s Face, in which disfigured blackmailer Crawford gets plastic surgery and then must choose between the law and her old criminal ways. Bonkers in the best melodramatic tradition, Face gets increasingly ridiculous as it goes on but never once loses emotional credibility thanks to ace direction by George Cukor. By the time of Flamingo Road, Crawford is a little long in the tooth for the "young, innocent victim” routine, and the hardness of her later persona is becoming apparent, as she blows into a small town and tangles with power-behind-the-power Sydney Greenstreet. Fast-paced, entertaining and not believable for a single second, one starts to see our woman cling ever more desperately to the shreds of personal dignity. The final metamorphosis happens in Torch Song, in which they actually cop to Crawford’s age and rope it into a story about a fading, difficult actress who falls in love with her blind accompanist. The star is so good at being an offensive bully that you practically cower behind your chair — the film could only be made palatable by ten bottles of Jack and more irony than currently exists on the planet. A generous helping of featurettes, short subjects, cartoons, commentaries and vintage radio programs support the films and give you the context needed to make sense of the melodrama. (Warner)