Della (1964)

 |  Drama
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A man trying to negotiate a property deal with a wealthy but reclusive widow becomes romantically involved with the woman's unhinged daughter.


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Paul Burke ...
Barney Stafford
Hugh Stafford
Della Chappell
David Stafford
Jenny Chappell
Robert Sampson ...
Joel Stafford
Walter Garrick
James Noah ...
Chris Stafford
Marianna Case ...
Addie Stafford
Sara Taft ...
Mrs. Kyle
Walter Woolf King ...
Sam Jordon
Eric Kline
Voltaire Perkins ...
Herb Foster
Mark Nodella
Jan Shepard ...


Della Chappell (Joan Crawford) is a very wealthy and incredibly reclusive woman. When a big company wants the land Della lives on, the town sends out Barney Stafford (Paul Burke) to talk to her. She invites Barney over to negotiate the proposal. Barney soon takes a liking to Della's equally reclusive daughter Jenny Chappell (Diane Baker). After spending some time with Jenny, he realizes that Della has a dark secret, one that keeps them from the outside world. Written by Joan Crawford & William Castle

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Also Known As:

Fatal Confinement  »

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


This film was originally the pilot episode for a new television series entitled Royal Bay. When it was not picked up, it was re-edited into a stand-alone film and renamed Della. The hallmarks of its televisual beginnings are still visible in the billing of Joan Crawford as a "special guest star". See more »

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User Reviews

hack job with some interesting touches
1 February 2014 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

If you're expecting a movie from the late period of Joan Crawford's career, you will soon realize "Della" is made for TV. In fact, it was a pilot for what seems to have been intended as a series about a lawyer and his clients, a sort of "Burke's Law" with a legal theme. In fact, by superficial coincidence, the star is James Burke.

Partly artistic (some of the blocking is obviously designed with geometric patterns in mind), partly hack (high lit, artificial environments, antiseptic props) part fashion show (every time we see Crawford she's wearing another exquisitely tailored ensemble), part generically boring (dull narration over dull opening montage, albeit with a fine, lush underscoring by Fred Steiner of "Perry Mason" theme-tune fame; dull men saying dull things in dull environments – featureless boardroom, picnic spot in nondescript city park with bland participants in spotless boring clothes, except for craggy, wild-haired, slightly rumpled Charles Bickford), part intriguing (references to pagan gods, stars and planets woven into a strong mother-daughter conflict with deep, mysterious roots). It's kind of like a rough sketch for a Eugene O'Neill play that never went beyond an outline and instead became a vehicle for Joan Crawford, who makes her usual post-"Baby Jane" style of star entrance, this time descending a staircase. Regal, defiant, tough; upswept silver-streaked hair, shoulders thrown back, menacing eyebrows. Trim and graceful in long shots, soft-focus in close-ups, she plays the title character, a wealthy recluse who, with her daughter (the attractive but undistinguished Diane Baker), has confined herself to her Downton Abbey-like property for several years except for occasional nighttime drives. What is she hiding? Vampirism? (If only.) Adjacent to her palatial domicile is a private garden festooned with statues of pagan gods that look like backyard kitsch from Walmart. The "moon goddess" wobbles when Baker leans against it; the sun god" ("mother and I made it out of clay when I was little") looks like a replica of a gape-mouthed Aztec temple carving and she feeds it flowers for reasons that are never explained. Baker spends a great deal of time gazing at the heavens in her private mini-planetarium which resembles a "Star Trek" set piece.

Into this weird world steps James Burke (a run-of-the-mill actor like Richard Basehart or Dana Andrews: not bad to look at, histrionically competent, but lacking electricity or charisma—in other words, the perfect complement to Diane Baker). Of course Crawford, with the help of the script and the direction, blows them off the screen, and not subtly either. But back to Burke. He plays a lawyer whose father, Bickford, is on the city council and both would like to convince Crawford to sell her property so that a large aerospace company can relocate its headquarters there and do wonders for the local economy. She agrees by phone to meet Burke to discuss the matter – at her place at 2am. Hmmm. While trying to persuade her to sell, he meets and becomes attracted to Baker (also awake and dressed to the nines in the middle of the night) and begins to wonder what is behind this reclusive nocturnal lifestyle. Pop (Bickford) happens to know the answer but he ain't talking'. Otherwise the movie would end at the 30-minute point.

In its time "Della" was probably dismissed as a hopeless clunker, the kind of thing that would have gone straight to video decades later. But through the prism of half a century, certain aspects of it become fascinating if you look at it clinically the way a car mechanic might look under the hood of an Edsel. But if you're expecting a well-conceived and emotionally involving dramatic experience, skip it.

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