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Domineering Harriet Craig holds more regard for her home and its possessions than she does for any person in her life. Among those she treats like household objects are her kind husband Walter, whom she has lied to about her inability to have children; her cousin Claire, whom she treats like a secretary; and her servants whom she treats like slaves. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
"Harriet Craig" started out as a stage success obviously, it struck familiar chords and saw at least one previous film version (Craig's Wife, starring Rosalind Russell). Remade in 1950 with Joan Crawford commandeering the part of the domestic despot, the movie takes on a dimension that helped define camp. It also offers an unadulterated middle-period glimpse of the controlling monsters she had begun (Mildred Pierce, Humoresque) and continued (Torch Song, Johnny Guitar, Queen Bee) to play on film. (And, if there is a sliver of verity in her adopted daughter Cristina's report from the front lines, such roles paralleled her off-screen personality).
It's a parable about the dangers of social ascendancy, an illustration of Thorstein Veblen's view of the affluent wife as agent of conspicuous consumption. Joan Crawford's Harriet Craig has it all: a husband in a grey flannel suit on his way up the corporate ladder (Wendell Corey), and so can buy her what she most desires: property and position. She's obsessed with who does and does not fit in with what she refers to as `our set' as she strikes poses in her perfect (and perfectly dull) upper-middle-class abode.
That her only interest in her husband is as a meal ticket is revealed by her avoiding her wifely obligations under the pretext that bearing children would be dangerous. But she's not content to leave him be, maybe to enjoy a little action on the side; what might the other members of their `set' think? She craves total control. When he's about to go out of town on a business trip, thus slithering out at least temporarily from under her oppressive thumb, she intervenes, lying to his boss that he's a compulsive gambler. Finally, of course, the worm turns.... But, in the closing shot, when Crawford regally ascends her curved staircase alone among the splendor of her possessions, you wonder who's really won after all.
This soapish melodrama remains surprisingly riveting. Perhaps it's the extra touch of authenticity Crawford brings to her portrayal (Mary Tyler Moore played a later version of this upscale shrew in Ordinary People; then of course there's always Martha Stewart). The movie preserves an uncanny sense of upward mobility in America, circa midcentury, a lugubrious self-importance that has not, alas, vanished from the land.
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