Monday, June 21, 2010

Film Review: THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS (1952, Felix E. Feist)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Tag-line: See review.
Notable Cast or Crew: Joan Crawford, Dennis Morgan (THE GREAT ZIEGFIELD, IN THIS OUR LIFE), David Brian (HOW THE WEST WAS WON, FLAMINGO ROAD), Richard Webb (OUT OF THE PAST, SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS), Philip Carey (DEAD RINGER, CALAMITY JANE), Mari Aldon (SUMMERTIME, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA).
Best one-liner: "She's such a hot rod!"

Let's see here- what do I want to watch tonight? "THIS STORY IS A SCREEN-SCORCHER! Beth Austin... stylish name, stylish dame...known for what she was to mug and millionaire...EVERY INCH A LADY...till you look at the record! Part of her was Ritz - part of her was "racket" - all of her was exciting! Beth Austin---stylish dame with a stylish name---who lived by jungle law in a big city and clawed her way to where the money was...!" Holy shit, THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS! Let's fire it up!


THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS


THIS WOMAN KNOWS WHERE YOU LIVE


THIS WOMAN IS GONNA FUCK WITH YOUR SHIT

But wait just one second– it pains me to report that THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS is simply not that great a movie. It was Joan's final film at Warner Brothers (the studio at which she engineered her MILDRED PIERCE-ian comeback), and apparently her relations with the top brass had eroded to the point where she- and presumably everyone around her, by proximity– was miserable. Later, even post-TROG, she referred to it as the worst bit of her filmography. While I wouldn't personally go that far, I will say that it's frustratingly lackluster. THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS is really not an appropriate title. Maybe THIS WOMAN IS MOPEY or THIS WOMAN IS PISSED AT WARNER BROTHERS would have been more suitable. The most dangerous things she does in the movie involve the slapping depicted above, the swatting of a gun with her purse, and a scene where she makes salad dressing (more on that in a bit).

The plot is pretty simple. Joan is dating this gangster-type, Matt (David Brian), who along with his brother Will (Philip Carey), sister-in-law Ann (Mari Aldon), and a whole host of criminals rob and thieve and burgle and kill. Joan sometimes helps out in their cons, but as far as I can tell, she never has brandished a gun or lived by jungle law in the big city just to claw herself to where the money was or whatever. Anyway, she's losing her eyesight (a prequel to the Crawford episode of NIGHT GALLERY?), and requires drastic measures.


She travels to Indiana where she's operated on by Dr. Ben (Dennis Morgan) who's not only a doctor of eyes, but a doctor of love, as well. Matt gets wind of this nascent romance and speeds across the country to put a stop to the Hippocratic hanky-panky and reclaim his shoulder-padded babe before she goes 'straight'– for good! Now I'm sure that this doesn't sound too bad, and it isn't- it's just that the characters and the writing are about as stock as can be. Joan does a pretty great job, all things considered, but the criminals are grumbling one-dimensional stereotypes. Probably the best thing any of them does is punch the keys on a piano for dramatic emphasis. Mostly it's exchanges like, "Lay off the grain, will ya?" –"Shaddup!"

These guys are extremely underdeveloped. "You crazy ape!" The drinking game-inclined could surely try something involving each utterance of "Shaddup."

"SHADDUP!"

And on the side of the 'good guys,' it's even worse. The pursuing FBI men have all the personality of a pack of Little Debbie lemon wafers, and our doctor/paramour has a propensity for announcing positively groan-inducing dialogue to our cured Ms. Crawford–

"I'm sure your life is gonna be much BRIGHTER from now on," or "In many ways, you've opened MY eyes," to name a few.

The cinematography by Ted D. McCord (THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, EAST OF EDEN) is sharp and atmospheric. Stark underlighting in the clinic scenes lends the film a disorienting, nearly expressionistic quality, but you can't help but wonder if they were simply emulating DARK PASSAGE. A few slow, overlapping fades produce some abstract, bizarre imagery (I mean, more than usual).

A subliminal skull? (Click the pic for a larger view.)

Crawford's beauty is referenced just about every five minutes. I have to wonder if it was in her contract. But she spends most of the film sort of looking off into the distance with a troubled expression.

Is she perhaps deriving some secret satisfaction by visualizing herself dismembering her studio adversaries?

Hard to say. There's a fantastic moment when she leaps into action in a kitchen, insisting that she'll make the salad dressing. (?!)

I think it's safe to say that even Bob Mitchum would look more at home in the kitchen, tossing on an apron and cooking up a storm. Look at the utterly macabre, alien glare with which Crawford regards her child co-star. Is she visualizing another dismemberment? Is she just looking for an excuse? Perhaps a wire-hanger left carelessly on the countertop? A wire-hanger left by a little girl who's clearly asking for a cudgeling? Later on, the girl remarks "Your salad dressing was wonderful!" Seriously? Isn't it just olive oil, maybe some lemon, a touch of pepper if we're lucky? But nevermind. I'd rather not go on the record as criticizing Ms. Crawford's kitchen prowess. After all, THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS. Three stars.

Side note: and there's a pretty schweet stunt near the end, where a man is shot from a ladder, crashes through a plate glass window, and lands with a bone-crunching *WHOMP* on the floor. Fine stuntwork, fellas!


-Sean Gill


3 comments:

J.D. said...

I have not seen this film before but your review certainly has piqued my curiosity. I may have to check this one out.

I also wanted to add that I just bestowed the Versatile Blogger Award for all the great work you do on your blog:

http://rheaven.blogspot.com/2010/06/versatile-blogger-award.html

Sean Gill said...

Wow, I'm honored! Thank you for the compliments!

THIS WOMAN IS DANGEROUS is no *great* shakes, but it's just the sort of film which makes me appreciate the output of the Warner Archive Collection- movies that they're too big of pussies to release in stores, or else movies that just wouldn't sell too well. I wouldn't have seen FREEBIE AND THE BEAN otherwise, and I've just received John Flynn's first feature, THE SERGEANT, from them, too (review forthcoming). I understand Universal's archive is opening up, too, via Amazon exclusives or something, and there's a bunch of supposedly mediocre but hard-to-find fare I'd like to see from them, like THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER, Burt Reynold's STICK, and Larry Cohen's WICKED STEPMOTHER, among others.

J.D. said...

Yeah, and MGM has supposedly followed their lead by offering exclusive titles via Amazon but so far the reviews for some of their releases hasn't been too good, like a glitch on their WELCOME TO WOOP WOOP disc, a film I've been dying to see in its correct aspect ratio.