Posts Tagged ‘Joan Crawford’

Movie Reviews 441 – Trog (1970)

July 10, 2020

Hollywood is renowned not only for creating larger than life movie stars but for setting some of them up for a  fall later when their shine has withered, and none of those demises have been as shocking as the precipitous drop that befell former Film Noir reigning queen Joan Crawford. Like some of her predecessors, she managed to resurrect her flailing career, first with Mildred Pierce, and even a second time with Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But all that fame and glamour vanished and at the end her final feature film was a low budget horror movie called Trog.

Before I delve into the film itself, I must impart my fascination with this film which I cultivated upon reading a detailed synopsis – with the requisite gory film stills  to go along – in one of those 70’s horror pulp magazines, probably an issue of Famous Monsters. I read that article over and over laying on a mattress in the cargo space of the family’s station wagon on one of our yearly 400 mile vacation treks to the US. While I recognize it now as a modest, even feeble story, my then 10 or 11 year old adventure oriented mind was captivated by it. But without the multitude of media resources available today, it took more than 30 years before I could watch it, resigned to viewing it as an objective adult while at the same time relishing in seeing what my former imagination envisioned.

The story has three young men exploring an underground cave network with internal tributaries that eventually lead two of the spelunkers into the lair of a feral troglodyte. This “Trog” kills one and injures another but the third man escapes and brings his injured colleague to the hospital-laboratory of esteemed anthropologist Dr. Brockton (Crawford). She immediately demands to visit the cave herself and manages to snap a picture of the creature which reveals to her its scientific significance.

With a skeptical police investigating the circumstances of the deceased man, Brockton brazenly lures Trog out and once she has him in her lab begins to study the creature. But having a wild animal within the confines of a small town irks one of the prominent business men (Michael Gough), a longtime nemesis of Brockton, and he has the local council effectively put Trog on trial. But the eventual fate of the beast rests not in any authoritative proclamation of guilt or innocence.

To be sure, while the script attempts to tackle a semi-serious plot of a ‘missing link’ in the human evolutionary progression, the story is rife with plot holes, implausibilities and outright silliness. Crawford puts on a brave face but is resigned to deliver long lifeless monologues urging that science prevail despite her own almost clownish application of ‘science’. While great effort was put into Trog’s facial appearance, the special effects end there, the rest of Trog clearly being a loin-clothed regular man.

There are conflicting claims regarding Crawford’s on set behaviour at the time, numerous claims being that she was persistently drunk and relying on ‘cue cards’ for her lines, others denying the levels of her intemperance. Regardless, she never made a film after this one and to add insult to injury, after she passed away her daughter penned her infamous biography Mommie Dearest, later adapted to film, chronicling her abusive child rearing among other faults.

Hammer alumni director Freddie Francis employed nearly ten minutes of claymation stock footage of dinosaurs created by legendary artists Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen for another project, but even that feels as shoehorned in as some of Crawford’s diatribes. To be sure, this is a train wreck of a film, but one can argue whether the wreck is the film itself, or that of Crawford’s swan song. But sometimes you just have to see the wreck for yourself and I for one enjoy being a passenger on this particular voyage, Time and Time again.

Movie Reviews 429 – Mildred Pierce (1945)

March 26, 2020

Film Noir fans are all too familiar with the cliché beginning of a movie in which someone is shot (often in the dark), uttering a name or phrase, and then dying in a pool of (unseen on screen) blood, leaving audiences to figure out the murderer. In the case of Mildred Pierce, the man who dies whispers “Mildred”, is indeed her husband, and we see her fleeing the beach house scene of the crime, even managing to lock in someone who arrived minutes later with the hopes to pin them to the murder. Cliché aside however, nothing is as it seems, or to be precise, nobody is really as they seem in this Noir classic.

Starring in the title role, Mildred Pierce not only revived Joan Crawford’s then flailing career but earned her an Oscar, all later to be undone with the release of her daughter’s book and the film Mommie Dearest. But that’s another story.

Playing largely as one lifelong flashback we see how doting mother Mildred separates from her first husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) after he loses his job, makes do with a job as a waitress – much to the chagrin of her vain daughter Veta (Ann Blyth) – and with the help of Wally (Jack Carson) her former husband’s business partner, slowly builds a chain of successful restaurants. Eventually falling for and marrying wealthy heir Monte (Zachary Scott), her one driving force was devotion to her daughters Kay and Veta. When Kay sadly dies at a young age, all her attention, and money, go to Veta’s happiness.

Now putting all that into context of the murder. The victim is her husband Monte, Wally is the one Mildred briefly tries to entrap to take the rap, and Bert, her first husband surprisingly and out of nowhere turns himself in and confesses. Mildred is stunned to find that she isn’t even a suspect. In trying to solve the murder mystery none of this makes sense taken at face value. But taken from a different angle, largely hinted at throughout the film as the characters are peeled back to reveal their true dispositions (hint: often the opposite of what we believe at first), in the end everything makes sense as the killer is revealed.

Crawford donning her signature epaulette shouldered dresses is remarkably solid, although I confess I thought she was even better in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. While I can’t say the script was anything stellar, the story itself and the manner in which the mystery is built up does make this a riveting film. Welcome additions include Eve Arden (better known for her sitcom Our Miss Brooks) as a feisty waitress who works up the ranks in Mildred’s enterprise and Butterfly McQueen as Mildred’s servant.

My Warner.- Turner 2005 DVD with remastered transfer also contained the documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star on the flip side, which I would also heartily recommend for those wanting to learn more of this former diva. Almost as long as the movie but well worth it for details on her legendary feud with arch rival Bette Davis alone.

Movie Reviews 261 – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

April 9, 2016

What Ever Happened To Baby JaneExhibiting the greatest sibling rivalry and betrayal since Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis, silver screen divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford give landmark performances in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, a movie that not only delivers a thrilling drama, but borders on horror, both on and off screen.

Davis and Crawford, both former screen vixens that were themselves aging legends at the time of filming, perfectly fit the roles of Hollywood stars past their primes and now long forgotten. Sporting golden curly locks, “Baby” Jane Hudson (Davis) was a cherubic vaudeville child star on the scale of Shirley Temple who not only had adoring children panting for Baby Jane dolls but boasted a signature hit song “I’ve written a Letter to Daddy” that had adults tearing up as well. Conceited and vain, Jane’s later Hollywood career did not amount to much and ended on a scandalous note. Her sister Blanche (Crawford) was overshadowed on stage and bullied by Jane as a child, forever standing in the wings as Jane basked in the glow of her adoring fans, all the while simmering and vowing not to forget. In contrast to Jane, Blanche later blossomed into a headline Hollywood star, eclipsing her sister’s languishing career.

Both sister’s fortunes came crashing to halt one faithful night when a car accident leaves Blanche a paraplegic and bound to life in a wheelchair while sister Jane took the rap as the driver of the car that rammed Blanche. Now, years later and living together in a shared house, the women are all but forgotten when a retrospective of Blanche’s movies airs on TV, regenerating interest and fond memories by Blanche’s fans.

The combination of seeing Blanche’s resurrected fandom and the impending sale of the house they share becomes the tipping point for surly Jane. Her former mere annoyance now becomes outright terror as Jane first toys with her sister, now a captive, and then as she spirals down in  drunken insanity, begins to plan a more permanent deadly solution. Delusional and reminiscent of her past glory, Jane also decides that Blanche isn’t the only one that can rekindle a stagnant career and hires a musician via the want ads so that she can practice her signature song again. She entices a burly session player (Victor Buono) looking only for a quick buck who plays along with her off key parlour rehearsals. But it isn’t long before Jane’s every more complicated conniving becomes deadly, leading to a final scene on a beach where Jane creepily dances on the sand after being subjected to one more shocking surprise.

The screen sibling rivalry was nothing compared to be behind the scenes maneuvers exercised  between two combative divas. The studio tried to make light of that strain even going so far to try to dismiss the friction with select quotes in the DVD extra features, but over the years many other sources have documented the on-set battles. Knowing that Crawford was married to the president of Pepsi Cola, Davis had a contract stipulation that a Coca Cola vending machine be made available on the set. Not to be outdone, Crawford donned hidden lead weights prior to shooting a scene where Davis had to lift her. So celebrated was this feud that books and even a documentary capture the public jabs and taunts they inflicted one another over the years.

Despite the animosity, or more likely because of it, both women gave the performances of their careers, which for a time rekindled their own Hollywood postures, Davis even getting a Oscar nomination for her portrayal as Jane (as did Buono). Sporting a ghoulish caked makeup and shrivelled braids, Davis’ menacing look is unforgettable especially in one scene where she seems to undergo a physical transformation after seeing her own horror in the mirror. Swaying from  utter calm and the voice of reason to flat-out caged terror, Crawford elicits compassion and sympathy as the duel escalates.

So positive was the response to the movie that director Robert Aldrich and the writing team  planned to reunite the diva duo in Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte again in 1964, only to have Crawford exit the film shortly after production started.  Oh, what could have been…