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Anna Holm is a blackmailer, who because of a facial scar, despises everyone she encounters. When a plastic surgeon performs an operation to correct this disfigurement, Anna becomes torn between the hope of starting a new life, and a return to her dark past. Written by
I agree with reviewer Alice Liddell that this film, directed by 'women's director' George Cukor (I felt this was his work, even before I saw the credits) slyly points up the limitations of women's experience. The lead character, Anna (Crawford) is a potentially beautiful woman but for one thing: as a child, she was horribly disfigured by a burn scar which she received at the hands of her brutal, drunken father. Cukor is the perfect director for this type of woman's film, this is his element. This is not merely a noirish, humid romance/murder saga, the director gives us a sensitive essay on the effects of beauty in a woman's life. This isn't a simple parable of "beauty is as beauty does". After Anna's restoration, people react differently to her. The unfairness of this is made obvious. All of a sudden the ugly ducking, mean and ignored by others is fawned over by the very same men who passed her over in years past. Ignore the plot and the surface gloss; this is a master director's essay on the tragedy of beauty and its possibilities. Once ugliness is behind her, Anna is still intent on bettering her own status at the expense of others. The story hints that all this loveliness mellows and sweetens our dark heroine. Don't believe it; she does, in fact, walk off with the man of her dreams, in true movie star fashion. But what sort of life is she walking into? Years of domestic boredom? Cukor wisely leaves this a secret--we can read anything into Anns's final destiny.
Interestingly, the most sexually charged moments in the film are between Crawford and her earlier lover, a manipulative, evil man played to perfection by Conrad Veidt. One scene between them in electrifying. "The world is evil" he tells her. Yet she loves him because he does pay attention, and not all of his interest may be selfish. They have much in common. They are aware of their needs and know their faults. This may be the true message of this multi-layered masterpiece.
Joan Crawford looks handsome, though a certain mournful quality began to set in by her mid thirties. She is too old for the role, but she's still the perfect choice to play this bitter, damaged social reject. Joan came from a dark place, the product of a nasty, poverty stricken childhood. In her later career she excelled in roles of this type, playing women from tainted backgrounds who transcend their outcast status by dint of hard work, ambition, beauty and cleverness. Her women often achieve material success, only to realize (often too late) that such success does not equal real transcendence.
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