Female on the Beach (1955)
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And if there is an era that defines the Crawford that we remember most vividly, it's the decade-plus, from her Oscar-winning turn as Mildred Pierce in 1945 through her last `really top' movie, The Story of Esther Costello in 1957. In her valiant assault, as she moved into middle age, against time's winged chariot, she had vehicles built around her that helped define the canons of camp but retain a fascination that transcends camp. This dozen or so includes: Humoresque, Flamingo Road, her second Possessed, The Damned Don't Cry, Harriet Craig, This Woman Is Dangerous, Sudden Fear, Torch Song, Queen Bee and Autumn Leaves. Though we may howl at some of them (or at parts of them, for they range from rather good to quite dreadful), we're always aware at times discomfitingly so of the human drama that underlies and links them all: the Joan Crawford story.
In Female on the Beach, she plays a recent widow taking up residence in the coastal California home her wealthy husband owned. Her arrival proves ill-starred, for a broken railing on its deck marks the spot where its previous tenant another woman battling age and isolation plunged to her death. Did she jump or fall or was she pushed? It unfolds that she had fallen prey to a youngish beach bum (Jeff Chandler) operated by a pair of older con-artists (Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer); Crawford is targeted as their next mark.
Obsessively guarding her privacy, however, she proves to be a tough nut to crack. Her too familiar realtor (Jan Sterling) is swiftly shown the door when she makes the mistake of taking Crawford for granted. And Chandler, turning up unbidden in Crawford's kitchen one morning, encounters that same rough hide; asked how she likes her coffee, she icily replies `Alone.'
But tanned muscles and prematurely grey temples do not count for nothing in affluent oceanside communities, so Chandler slowly wins over the armored Crawford. But the course of true love never did run smooth, as the Bard of Avon warns us. Crawford just happens to find the dead woman's indiscreet diary (it's hidden away behind a loose brick in the fireplace!), a sad yarn of being cheated in card games and bilked for loans by the larcenous old couple while being strung along by Chandler.
No fool she, Crawford hands the gigolo his walking papers. But then she sinks into a sump of liquor and self-loathing, staggering around waiting the phone to ring like a torch-carrier out of a Dorothy Parker story. Finally, of course, Chandler does call and, better yet, wants to marry her! But fate has a few final cards to deal, including an uninstalled fuel pump Crawford had bought for Chandler's boat....
That staple of genre cinema, the woman-in-jeopardy thriller, generally features dithery, hysterical young things as straw victims. Crawford in jeopardy, by contrast, turns all the conventions upside down. The coquettish bulldozer she has constructed of herself at this menopausal juncture in her life, with her face as fiercely painted as a Kabuki mask, seems designed to repel to crush any threats. (Of course, like most such postures of domination and intimidation, It's a construct of fear her fears of falling short as a serious actress, as a mother, as a woman; fears of aging and no longer being able to lure her directors and costars between the sheets; fears of not mastering her own unachievable goals.) The facade of control and self-sufficiency proves all the more arresting when it comes under siege from the cumbersome twists and turns of these situations held over from nineteenth-century melodrama.
Hence, Female on the Beach and its ilk. An indomitable woman of a certain age flies solo into the perils of mid-life, only to triumph against all odds. That was the life Crawford was living at mid-century, the life reflected in these films, by turns appalling and transfixing. Not since the Brothers Grimm has such a string of cautionary tales been issued.
Apart from Crawford, the movie was quite good and unusual. It is the love affair between two middle-aged people who are less than admirable. She married money, and he would like to. They are both rotten, useless, and they deserve each other; and yet, they are human and touching and you want them to find happiness. Too many movie heroes are morally pristine. A wonderful movie. Is there such a thing as a bad Crawford movie? I can't think of one. Watching any Crawford movie is like entering a world of high intelligence, relevance and fine humor.
I am more eager than ever to see every single Crawford movie. I always liked Crawford, but I am now beginning to suspect she was a genius. She is the only actress who has yet to disappoint me. I wish she had kept her real name Lucille Lasueur. It suits her French looks much better. Crawford never loses her dignity, not even in a sordid drama. She makes tawdriness classy. This is also one of Chandler's most memorable roles.
A beach bum (Jeff Chandler as Drummy) has moored his boat to her pier, and apparently thinks he can pick up with Lynn where he left off with Eloise and doesn't seem to have the phrase "personal space" in his vocabulary. Lynn is not just another bored lonely near middle age socialite. She's an ex-specialty dancer from Vegas and she can see right through Drummy. However, time and the solitude she says she's always wanted begin to have a negative effect on her x-ray vision. Nobody dresses to the nines every night just to pace the floor of their dark empty beach house.
Drummy's story - he's hired beefcake by a couple of refined card sharks, Osbert and Queenie Sorensen, who need a steady flow of cash through loans and ill-gotten gambling debts to keep them in the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. The source of that cash had been Eloise, but now the Sorensens are eying bigger fish - next door neighbor Lynn Markham.
Throughout the film a cop investigating Eloise's death will pop up out of nowhere (Charles Drake as Lieutenant Galley) spouting come-ons mixed with veiled warnings while flashing bedroom eyes. Does he suspect murder or is he just trying to squash the competition by casting Drummy as a murder suspect?
So who if anyone did kill Eloise Crandall? Drummy to get rid of her? The card sharks to make sure she didn't go to the police about the ruse? Someone else I'm not telling you about just to keep it interesting? Watch and find out. Watch and find out if Lynn thinks she's getting so close to the truth that she thinks she is in danger too.
This is A1 late-career Joan Crawford material all the way.- great fashions, good speeches, Joan tough yet vulnerable, and angry confrontations mixed with pure lust. Plus great beefcake shots of Jeff Chandler and the fact that no female seems immune to this beach bum's charms even though he's not exactly your prototype ideal man of the 50's ... or maybe that's exactly WHY they pant after him! After all, Ward Cleaver clones might be dependable, but variety is the spice of life. I highly recommend it if you can find a copy.
I have a friend who pointed out that the first half of the movie consists of Joan Crawford repeatedly throwing people out of her house, which is kind of fun to note; perhaps it's an indication of a bit of clumsiness in the script. One could also perhaps say that Crawford leans a bit too much on toughness in her characterization and not enough on the bewilderment the character would have felt as she unwittingly walks into the situation she finds herself in.
The film does keep the suspense going, though, in that it continues to fan the ambiguity of who the house's previous occupant (recently dead as the movie starts) really was and what her relationship was to the various supporting characters. The film is full of manipulative characters with mixed motives, so you find yourself drawing conclusions about the dead character, but then resisting those conclusions because it seems like you're being led to them by pretty slippery characters.
Overall, the film is definitely worth a look; sums up the type of movie Joan Crawford was best known for. To get a look at her lighter side, try "Love on the Run," one of a handful of comedies she did, in which she co-stars with Clark Gable.
She plays Lynne Markham, a rich widow who moves to the beach house she has never seen that was owned by her late husband. She moves into a mess, the previous tenant, a lonely rich woman who couldn't handle her booze or the sleazy beach bum, Drummond played by iron jawed, steel haired Jeff Chandler, died under mysterious circumstances. Did she commit suicide or did she have a little help?
Joan emotes shamelessly in this tawdry soap. She swoons, flares her nostrils, almost passes out as Drummond savagely paws her, this borders on rape and Joan's character absolutely LOVES IT!!!! She spits out such classic lines as "You're about as friendly as a suction pump" with a completely straight face. What a hoot!!!! The storyline is a camp classic, the rich, lonely widows who succumb to the wiles of Drummond and the con artist neighbors, played by Natalie Schaefer and Cecil Kellaway and the beautiful Realtor played by Jan Sterling all mix together for a movie to die for. It is a must see for all Crawford fans. At this stage of her career she had become a phenomenon, a steel rose, the makeup and hair becoming more surreal and harsh the older she got, amazing, transfixing. You have to see it to believe it.
In this outing, she is a former "specialty dancer" (read what you will into that appellation)who moves into a beach house next to hunky gigolo Jeff Chandler. He takes one look at her and decides that she is a target for his con game of fleecing defenseless women although Crawford can hardly be categorized as defenseless. Joan reads the diary of the former (and mysteriously dead) beach house tenant, a slave to love of Chandler who was bleeding her dry and Joan still doesn't get it. Needless to say, Crawford marries Chandler anyway and we spend the rest of the film wondering if, how, or when he will murder her.
Crawford was years too old for the part and she swans around like a twenty year old in the fashions of the time, including many shots in a dazzling variety of negligees. But remember, this is Joan Crawford and during this phase of her career it was exactly what we expected. Nobody did this better than she did. It epitomizes the term "camp" and you can't help but love it. Whew!!!!
Crawford looks swanky throughout and even dons a bathing suit to show off her still svelte figure--and, of course, JEFF CHANDLER gives the ladies a chance to ogle his own brand of masculinity, although he's a bit overage as a boy toy.
It's a ton of fun for Crawford fans, but everyone else will have a hard time swallowing the story's resolution to the mystery of who the killer is. JAN STERLING, NATALIE SCHAEFER, CHARLES EVANS, JUDITH EVELYN and CECIL KELLAWAY do very nicely in assorted supporting roles.
Actually, Jeff seems a bit old for his part. Isn't "37-year-old-beachboy" sort of an oxymoron? But it's great to see Judith Evelyn during her "Golden Age." Just the year before, she played "Miss Lonelyhearts" in "Rear Window" and the Queen Mother in "The Egyptian."
Ed Fury pops up briefly in one scene. Maybe he should have played Jeff Chandler's part!
I noted that Female On The Beach was based on a play that according to the Internet Broadway Database did not make it on Broadway. So author Robert Hill got it sold to Universal and he helped adapt it for the screen. For some of the themes this play was exploring Tennessee Williams would have been ideal.
Chandler is a guy without visible means of support. Courtesy of the late tenant Judith Evelyn he ties his boat on her dock. Whatever he's got every female in heat wants, Crawford, Evelyn, real estate broker Jan Sterling even Natalie Schaefer who is married to neighbor Cecil Kellaway. The two are a pair con artists, but you can Schaefer checking Chandler out.
Chandler is part of a come on to get lonely women to gamble their life savings with Kellaway and Schaefer which is what he did with Evelyn. But he's starting to get pangs of conscience with Joan.
Female On The Beach is the kind of film that is perfect for Joan Crawford. But it needed two things, Tennessee Williams to write it and it also is flawed in its ending. It has the same problem as the Alfred Hitchcock classic Suspicion and the ending that Hitchcock was forced to make there.
Our story starts with drama at a beach property being rented by Eloise Crandall. The next door neighbors Osbert and Queenie Sorenson (Natalie Schafer) can hear her crying and pleading with their housemate Drummy. Eloise is drunk and distraught about something, and mutters about going to the police. Then we see her rushing through the darkened house after (the unseen) Drummy, out onto the deck, where she crashes through the railing, and falls to her death, sprawled out like a swastika on the beach rocks below.
Lynn Markham (Joan Crawford) arrives the next day. She owns the house. Her wealthy husband had passed away recently and she decided to move into the property for some quiet reflection. The real estate rep, Jan, shows her the house, explaining that the previous tenant moved out in a hurry, and avoids telling her the truth about what happened the night before.
It isn't long before Drummy (Jeff Chandler) shows up and does his best to charm Lynn, but Lynn is having -none- of it ... for now. You can see where this is heading, but it's still fun getting there.
The bottom line is that Osbert and Queenie have made an "inve$tment" in Drummy, and his job is to woo wealthy widows and drain their bank accounts. Will this work on Lynn, the way it worked on Eloise?
Nobody can deliver a sarcastic line like Joan Crawford. There are way too many to choose from here but one of my favorite is when Osbert and Queenie show up unannounced at her home and Lynn says "I'd like to ask you to stay for a drink, but I'm afraid you might accept." And she -continues- to read them for filth!
Drummy: "How do you like your coffee?" Lynn: "Alone!"
When Drummy keeps popping up at the house Lynn says, "You must go with the house, like the plumbing."
Lynn: "I wouldn't have you if you were hung upside-down with diamonds!" ... Um. WTF?
There's a fair amount of physical violence in this film. Lynn throws a drink in Drummy's face, she slaps him, bites him, and smacks him in the head with a telephone receiver. Drummy also manhandles Lynn and tears her dress ... just before she is "overcome with passion" and they get to bangin'.
There are some odd choices when it comes to Lynn's wardrobe. In addition to the aforementioned "strolling the beach in heels" scene, we see her wandering her darkened home alone, listening to music, dressed in a gorgeous gown, face and hair fully made up, and flashing jewelry ... At home. Alone. Then there's the scene where she wears a big long sleeve jacket over her bathing suit while she huddles by the fire for warmth. Um. Maybe she should put on something to cover her legs if she's cold?
The theme music by George Gershwin is wonderful, and very atmospheric.
There's a twist at the end! Can you see it coming?
One can make a pretty strong argument that this isn't a very good film, but those flaws are what make it so enjoyable!