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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
POSSESSED (1947) is a somewhat underrated Warner Bros.noir. With an
excellent central performance from its star Joan Crawford this highly
charged drama should be better thought of than it is and deserving of
much more exposure. It is one of Crawford's best pictures so this
overdue release on DVD is something of an event!
Crawford, fresh from winning an Acadamy Award for "Mildred Pierce" looked as if she was trying for another one here with her well measured portrayal of a neurotic private nurse in the employ of Raymond Massey. But she is unable to deal with the intensity and frustration of her unrequited love for a young engineer (Van Heflin). It all gets too much for her and she finally snaps culminating in a tragic final reel!
Crawford gives one of her great wide-eyed antagonistic performances with fine support from Van Heflin, Raymond Massey (in one of his more amiable roles), the ill-fated Geraldine Brookes (whose previous film for Warners just before this was as Errol Flynn's younger sister in "Cry Wolf") and Stanley Ridges as Crawford's psychiatrist.
From a cracking screenplay by Silvia Richards and Ranald McDougall (who also wrote "Mildred Pierce") the picture turned out to be a splendidly absorbing drama thanks to the smooth and solid direction by Curtiz Bernhardt, the stylish and sharp monochrome cinematography of Joseph Valentine, an effective score by the great Franz Waxman (featuring Schumann's rhapsodic "Carnaval - Opus 9" "played" by Van Heflin) and most of all to the outstanding performance of Miss Joan Crawford.
A nice package - extras include a ten minute featurette on the noir aspects of "Possessed", a good commentary by film historian Drew Casper and an excellent trailer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Obssessive love affairs have been a Hollywood staple for years upon
years now with varying degrees of success, and here the formula wins.
Joan Crawford, fresh out of her Oscar win in MILDRED PIERCE, acts the
hell out of her role as the ill-fated Louise Howell, a former nurse who
has collapsed in the middle of a street moaning "David... David.... "
The thing is, she is an unknown person in a strange town and a team of
psychiatrists try to find out the reason behind her madness.
POSSESSED is a good, soapy yarn told in flashback with some nice twists and turns, directed quite well by Curtis Bernhardt who gives the movie a moody noir feel, and while at times Louise's character can be quite unsympathetic, going from possessive to manic to moody (and more so once "David," played by Van Heflin, re-enters her life), there's a certain sorrowfulness about her inability to start again with her own life as a married woman, and thankfully Crawford is able to convey this perfectly. One powerful sequence which shows how great an actress (as opposed to star) she would have become if given true roles and a chance to emote while expressing little is the fantasy sequence where she imagines she has killed her step-daughter (Geraldine Brooks). Brooks has been going steady with Heflin and Crawford, not over him yet, is seething. When she confronts her, there is a struggle, secrets are revealed, and down the stairs goes Brooks. Then Crawford realizes this never happened, but to see her cruel eyes staring out from a face that looks tortured and evil and demented all at once as she waits for Brooks is chilling and the best thing in the movie.
The only flaw in the film is the need to explain Crawford's descent into schizophrenia at the end: it recalls the same procedure Hitchcock would adopt for PSYCHO. Madness is always best when left undiagnosed, but then it was deemed necessary, and this robs the film of what might have been a perfect ending: Crawford screaming "David! David! David...!" over and over again. Definitely one to seek and watch.
"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
(flashback, dark, moody photography, and a sinister, fatalistic edge to the
proceedings) raise this melodrama to nearly tragic heights. It should not
dismissed as a throwaway Crawford vehicle, or overgrown B
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For the young Joan Crawford, MGM was the perfect studio. All that
gloss, rags to riches, Gable, and gowns. But MGM had a hard time with
actresses as they aged and the old formulas weren't working anymore -
Shearer, Garbo, and Crawford being three such examples. The other two
quit, but Joan went over to Warner Brothers and revived her career.
It was a good move. I love the Crawford films at Warner's. They were grand potboilers enlivened by her presence.
Possessed is post-war, and after the war, the new rage was psychology. This movie is full of it. I'm not sure the diagnosis and terminology is correct in the film, but in layman's term, Crawford plays a total whack job. As her story unfolds to a doctor, she's a nurse taking care of Raymond Massey's wife, and she's seeing Van Heflin on a casual basis. When she falls in love with him, Heflin announces he's restless because of the war and is taking off. And that's when Joan takes off - emotionally. She becomes completely obsessed with him, and this leads to hallucinations, hysteria, and finally a psychotic break. She has able assistance by Heflin, who pops in and out and gets involved with Crawford's stepdaughter (Crawford is now married to the widower Massey). When the movie begins, she's wandering the street saying "David," which is Heflin's name in the movie.
One of the posters suggested Tyrone Power for this role. I'm all for him in any movie, and it's true, the presence of a big star as David would have elevated the film to a grander status. As it is, it's an excellent vehicle for Crawford, who runs the gamut of emotions.
Raymond Massey is stoic and solid as Crawford's new husband, and the lovely Geraldine Brooks, who died too soon, plays the stepdaughter. Her youthful vivacity is in sharp contrast to Crawford's borderline insanity and makes for great watching. Heflin, as the object of all the possession obsession, is smooth and detached.
But make no mistake about it. This is Joan Crawford's show and she makes the most of it. The script will keep you interested, and you won't be able to take your eyes off of Joan descending into madness.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Never underestimate a woman in love. Such seems to be the message of
"Possessed", a film that was obviously tailor made for its star, Joan
Crawford. As directed by Curtis Bernhardt, this film will not bore the
fans of the genre, or its star.
If you haven't seen the film, maybe you should stop reading here.
"Possessed" presents us Louise Howell, a nurse, for the ailing Mrs. Graham, a wealthy recluse. Louise's charge is a woman from hell. When this woman dies under mysterious circumstances, it appears to herald the end of Louise's employment. Prior to that, we see Louise during a tryst with a neighbor of the Grahams, David Sutton. They have had an affair and David decides to end it, much to Louise's chagrin.
Dean Graham, the rich widower, asks Louise to stay after his wife's death. Will a marriage proposal be too far behind? Well, Dean proposes and Louise accepts. Her life is transformed from mediocrity into a life of luxury. The only sour point in Louise's new found happiness is Carol Graham, the daughter of the dead woman who blames Louise for the accident and death of her mother.
Will Louise find happiness with Dean? Will David see how much Louise loves him and come back to her? Will Carol and Louise ever be friends? Those are the questions that will be answered in the movie, not by this observer. The film is involving, although having seen some of these melodramas prepares us for all possible answers.
Joan Crawford does an impressive job as Louise. This woman gave the star one of her best characters ever. She goes through a range of emotions right before our eyes. Van Heflin, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have been the obvious choice for David, although he was an excellent actor, but in this movie doesn't have much to do. Raymond Massey, as Dean, is enormously appealing. He shows us a Dean who is a generous man. A young Geraldine Brooks makes a good impression as Carol the girl that is deprived of her mother at an early age.
"Possessed" is a wonderful film. It will not disappoint the fans of this genre.
This movie takes the smoldering talents of Joan Crawford and lets them
burn the screen down, right before your eyes...she's utterly convincing
as a fairly demented "possessed" lover, torn to pieces by hideous
dysfunction. The lowest of lows, and not many highs...
Mildred Pierce laid the template down; Possessed fills the template and makes it its own. What I personally love is the "Hollywood Gothic" aspect, the redolence of that: every frame is steeped in it, every moment is cradled in its embrace. One of those movies that you watch, mouth agape, and whisper to yourself, "Christ, the aesthetics...was the world ever really like that?" Apparently so.
Oh, and for the record - it was a better world.
Before "Play Misty For Me" (1971) and "Fatal Attraction" (1987), comes this story of a nurse (Joan Crawford) who's attached to a man (Van Heflin), who eventually finds her too possessive and breaks it off, but she can not let him go. When they meet again at her employer's (Raymond Massey) residence, she wants to resume the relationship, saying its awful for a woman to lie down at night and not be able to sleep, but he still won't take her back. She eventually accepts widower Massey's marriage proposal, explaining that it's terrible for a woman to be unwanted, although she's not in love with him. Eventually, Massey's daughter Geraldine Brooks starts to date Heflin, further complicating matters, and putting Crawford over the edge. Script, photography, direction, music are exemplary, the 4 leads are memorable, but Crawford is particularly riveting. Her first breakdown (at Massey's waterfront mansion) with Heflin might be considered over-the-top 40s style acting (pre-Method), but she delivers it beautifully, her face and expressions a towering display of emotion and angst. It's a performance that Crawford must have pulled from her own life experiences to achieve such rising momentum. No wonder actor Cliff Robertson (her co-star in "Autumn Leaves - 1956) once stated in a documentary that she's "a damned good actress."
i love this movie. it's classic film-noir. the storyline is superb. all of the characters are compelling to watch. Joan Crawford truly does an excellent job in the role. there is a darkness in many of the scenes that adds to the feel of the movie;you feel as if you're right there on the scene. Joan's performance was academy-award worthy.the movie gives you the feel of the 1940's...the dress, the furniture, the cars; even the hospital-medical atmosphere and thinking of the times. the architecture of the homes and waterfront cabin speak of a time when things were built with detail, style, and authentic woods. the movie totally takes you back in time, and i know i can watch it again and again.this movie should always be kept available. as good a performance as Mildred pierce; in the film-noir aspect possessed exceeds Mildred pierce; for film-noir, story and acting it get,s a 10! you just have to believe that she eventually recovers from her illness and goes on happily married to that gem of a husband she had.
Just what does Van Heflin's David have the makes Joan Crawford's Louise go
literally mad for him?
Doesn't appear to be that much in the looks department. Perhaps just that special touch that signals, "either you've got it or you haven't."
Whatever the case, Louise pleads, cajoles, rants and raves for David the entire film. What does our David do?--merely tell Louise the truth: that he's simply not in love with her.
Granted, David's rather flippant, self-absorbed and bored, but that's his prerogative. Instead of accepting this and moving on with her life, Louise insists on minding David's old business and clinging to bygone days.
All this "to-do," when a simple scan of a Dale Carnegie text might have solved the problem.
Louise does have her supporters: young stepdaughter Carol and aging hubbie Dean do what they can to bolster Louise's confidence. Since Geraldine Brooks and Raymond Massey portray these respective roles, there's sure to be strong convictions expressed.
Made just two years after her Oscar-winning turn in "Mildred Pierce," Crawford is in her mature mettle here. Although the same title was used for a Crawford film 16 years earlier, the similarity is in name only.
"Possessed" allows Joan to suffer royally and she does, pulling out all the schizophrenic stops to slam this one home. Since no one reels better than Crawford, it's an engaging performance in an engrossing film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The acting was good all around, especially Joan's, and my only gripes with
the film are how the plot was resolved and the idiotic explanation of
illness. MAJOR SPOILERS follow, so if you don't want to know what
in the movie, don't read on!
Joan Crawford's body language at the beginning is excellent, she moves forward as if sleepwalking, yet not as a robot. Her steps show an abandon and lack of balance as well, which one learns is a reflection of her mental state. At this moment, I wondered why they called the movie "Possessed", and only later understood when the doctor explained it, but her gestures did seem like those of a woman possessed by fear and in a cloud of confusion.
Another thing I found myself wondering about was why they did her makeup the way they did at the beginning of the film. When dressed as a nurse (in flashback), Louise's coloring looked normal, but when dressed in the dark dress that she was found in (in the present) or in the cream colored clothing at the hospital, she looked unnaturally tan or flushed, even in black and white. By the end of the movie, once we'd gotten through the flashbacks, her coloring no longer looked this way. Bad camera work or lighting, perhaps?
Van Heflin was also excellent, though I imagine that his style of acting could make others cringe. I do wish they hadn't included the obligatory drinking scenes. As the adored David, he did his usual competent job. I enjoyed his sardonic delivery and the fact that he got the wittiest lines in most scenes, such as when he told Graham's young son, "The last time I saw you, you weren't even shaving yet."
Joan's mental deterioration is masterfully done and is the main reason for seeing this movie. In the beginning, Louise says that before she'd fallen in love with David, she'd never felt anything for anyone before, she'd kind of gone through life sleepwalking. The cracks in her armor become ever more evident as the events unfold in flashback. At moments, she seemed so psychotic that she was ready to break. Had I been Mr. Graham, played acceptably well by Raymond Massey, I would have backed up very quickly when she greeted my proposal of marriage with maniacal laughter. He didn't notice how dangerous she could be and how fragile her hold on reality actually was. The fact that no one noticed her mood swings and inconsistencies was a bit odd. Perhaps after what they'd all been through with the first Mrs. Graham's long illness and irrational accusations, Louise's quirks weren't as noticeable. Perhaps Graham's own pathology was that he was attracted to mentally deficient women.
At first I was bothered by what I thought were holes in the plot. For example, I found myself wondering why Van Heflin didn't realize more than anyone else that Joan was missing more than a few of her marbles. He was so reserved and her delusional behavior was all too evident. When Louise was talking to Carol, Graham's daughter, and found out that David had made accusations against Louise, saying that she had killed Mrs. Graham and married Mr. G. just to get David back, I couldn't believe that this was his way of handling matters. Anyone's natural reaction would have been to run. David had so ably avoided commitment and possessive behavior on Louise's part in the past, that this plot turn didn't ring true.
Then I realized that that was all part of Louise's delusion and wasn't really happening at all! Carol was really sweet and innocent and had no idea what was really going on. The fact that she was dressed differently in the fantasy than she had been at the theater was a detail that the viewer realizes only after the fact. That's when I started paying more attention to the clothing, to try to see where Louise was really going through something and where she was inventing it all in her own mind. The movie drew me in completely at this point.
When Louise asked Mr. Graham for a divorce, she played her paranoia perfectly. I was very impressed with Joan in this scene. Of course, when poor Mr. Graham decided that the only way to get Louise to overcome her fears of Pauline (his first wife) was by going to the lake house and facing those fears, it was so obviously the wrong thing to do under the circumstances. I guess he didn't know what those circumstances were, the poor idiot.
The lighting when she enters the house, the fact that she sees a woman's arm shutting the window and reminded her of her former invalid patient and supposed murder victim, all of it was so well done. Louise's relief when she lights the fire, turns the light on in the room and makes things seem "normal", is done wordlessly and very well. Her fear at seeing the housekeeper an hearing her voice, then her terror when the buzzer started going off and her disorientation at feeling as she had when Mrs. Graham used to summon her, all of it was accomplished in a single scene with no dialogue. The camerawork was perfect too, because as Louise passed the mirror she entered the darkness again and returned to her delusional version of things. The fact that the buzzer sounds to her like her own name, Louise, and the fact that the lights still say Mrs. Graham's bedroom on them were perfect touches.
When we hear the screams from Mrs. Graham's room, we assume the worst, and this movie is great while letting us imagine what Joan might be imagining. It's when it shows us things explicitly a little further one that it begins to disappoint. When Mr. Graham ran up the stairs and confronted the so obviously imbalanced Louise, his reaction seemed too pat and simplified to me. "Look, there's no one there," was his contribution to bring her back to reality. As if the problem were that easy to solve. When Mr. G. asked Louise, "What on earth do you mean?", it seemed so silly. As if he had been dealing with a rational person. Louise's convoluted explanation that Pauline (the first Mrs. G.) would be waiting for her by the lake and that Pauline wanted Louise to kill herself was an explicit show of her mental illness. Anyone should have realized that Louise's problems were deep-rooted. Then the writers gave Louise a moment of lucidity, which Joan played perfectly. She admitted that she couldn't tell the difference between reality and fantasy. When Louise confessed that she had killed Pauline, that she helped her commit suicide, the writers blew it. They made Mr. G. wrap up everything and "solve" the problem too easily with Massey's explanation of what had really happened the night Mrs. G. died. He knew that Louise hadn't killed Pauline, but by telling her that, he should have realized that it wouldn't make things right. "If you'd told me before I could have helped you." How could he think that things would be so easy to solve? Well, perhaps that's why his first wife was driven to suicide. Maybe he habitually offered pat solutions to huge problems.
The happy music right then almost made my stomach turn. When I saw Joan at home again with all well with the world, I suspected that the writers were taking the easy way out. Thankfully, the movie had a few more good moments before slipping into tying up the loose ends. Louise had to face David at the nightclub and fell once again into that maniacal laughter, I for one wondered why no one else noticed that something was seriously wrong.
Louise's confiding in Carol about David, when she shut the door and told her that David was in love with someone else, that it was Louise in fact, and that he only used Carol to see Louise, showed that her delusions were finally totally out of control. The viewer knows that everything will blow up before too long. This is where things started getting resolved in less than satisfying ways for me. Mr. Graham's dealing with David, Carol and Louise, confronting his wife with her lies. I know that people do go into denial, but his treatment of her seemed to be too much, especially since he'd already been through the suicide of his first wife. The shooting of this scene was interesting, though, and I couldn't help wondering whether it wasn't another of Joan's delusions and not really happening. When Graham said that he had called in a "mental specialist", I thought, this is in her mind, this is what she fears and isn't what is happening. Then I saw that she had on the same dress that she has found in when she was walking around at the beginning of the movie, and I knew that we were cutting to the chase.
Joan's final confrontation with Van Heflin was a good one, and I liked some of his lines a lot in this scene, especially when he slapped her and said, "I'm sorry Louise, I seldom hit a woman but if you don't leave me alone I'll end up kicking babies." Their interplay was interesting, and VH's attempts to regain control of the situation and save his own life were well done, I thought. Later, Louise's memory of David's murder was vivid, but I once again found myself wondering whether I was seeing her delusion or reality. I was eating it up!
Unfortunately, that's when the movie took a downward turn for me. Graham showed up at the hospital and confirmed that Louise had indeed killed David. The doctor's hogwash explanation about her being possessed of the devil was really off the wall. Plus the way he said that she didn't suffer at all in her current state, after having just seen her relive the murder and have to be sedated screaming, "David, David, I killed him!" I would have fired this quack in a heartbeat. The elementary explanation of the insanity defense available to her seemed too pat and Graham's determination to make things as they were, even after this woman had killed someone due to her delusions also seemed too pat. Just one more example of not being able to end a movie correctly. Don't know how I would have ended it, but differently.
Joan was given a great part and did a lot with it. I give it ***1/2 out of ****, for Joan's performance. The half point is my nod to the plot deficiencies.
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