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A woman wanders the streets of Los Angeles in some sort of emotional distress. She is also under some delusion as she approaches many men, strangers who she calls "David". Eventually, an ambulance is called, the attendants who take her to the hospital, where she is eventually placed in the psychiatric ward. Placing her under some medication to help her remember, Dr. Harvey Willard, the psychiatrist on duty, is able to get some semblance of a story out of her over the ensuing days. This phase of her life begins just over a year ago when she, single RN Louise Howell, is under the employ of wealthy Dean Graham to take care of his chronically ill and largely bedridden wife, Pauline Graham, at their lake house outside of Washington, DC. Due to her circumstances, Pauline believes that Dean and Louise are carrying on an affair behind her back. Louise can see that Dean does have feelings for her that way in his loneliness. The "David" in question is David Sutton, a civil engineer who lives ... Written by
"Possessed" is one of the marvelous genre hybrids that appeared in the late 40s and early 50s. It is both Film Noir (admittedly, an "invented" genre) and woman's picture. Elements of the latter genre include a female main character and her obsession with a lover who has moved on. The Noir elements (flashback, dark, moody photography, and a sinister, fatalistic edge to the proceedings) raise this melodrama to nearly tragic heights. It should not be dismissed as a throwaway Crawford vehicle, or overgrown B picture.
Curtis Bernhardt directs the film with a compelling assurance. This movie knows where it's going and it takes you along for the ride. Many scenes have an enthralling dramatic appeal. Early in the film, for example, Louise is overwhelmed by the Van Heflin character playing a section from Schumann's "Carnaval" on the piano. There is a terrific admixture of closeups of Crawford's face with the music. This music will play a subtle leitmotivic role in the rest of the film. Worthy of note as well is Franz Waxman's intense, not too-romanticized score. And this film contains what must be an early use of electronic voice distortion to convey Louise's gradual descent toward a nervous breakdown.
All actors--Raymond Massey, Van Heflin, Geraldine Brooks--are good and bring more than a touch of conviction to their roles. But Joan Crawford is at the center of the picture, and she gives here what may be her very best screen performance. It is not surprising to learn that Crawford was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for this detailed, gradated portrayal of a woman travelling through a private hell. So convincing and inspired is this performance, that it is universal in its appeal.
"Possessed" could form a "trilogy" with "Born to Kill" (1947, with Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney) and "No Man of Her Own" (1950, with Barbara Stanwyck and Lyle Bettger): all immensely entertaining journeys through dark emotional landscapes of obsession, betrayal and desperation.
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