Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1953. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Story by I.A.R. Wylie, Screenplay by John Michael Hayes, Jan Lustig. Cinematography by Robert H. Planck. Produced by Henry Berman, Sidney Franklin, Charles Schnee. Music by Adolph Deutsch. Production Design by E. Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Helen Rose. Film Editing by Albert Akst. Academy Awards 1953.
Joan Crawford is excellent as a famous Broadway actress whose routine of hard work at night and managing her career during the day has given her a tough and mean outer shell. When her regular rehearsal pianist quits on her, citing an inability to deal with her unreasonable demands, she is given a blind pianist (Michael Wilding) with whom she doesn’t feel she can get anywhere. When he turns out to at least be skilled enough to get through her routines, she relents, but then when they spend more time together and he threatens to melt her icy exterior, she retreats from him in fear for her own security. This is far from the most lavish production that Charles Walters ever helmed during his successful run of hits at MGM, but it’s one of his poignant and moving, as Crawford, who was appearing in Technicolour for the first time in years, is clearly anxious to get everything right, from the porcelain-perfect look to the razor-sharp dance moves that she pulls off in a few musical numbers. Truth be told, her dancing is a bit stiff, as the actress is clearly working too hard to get it right instead of having a good time with it, mirroring her character’s trying to stay above all human weakness instead of enjoying something as wonderful as someone being in love with her. The two elements combined make one feel a great deal of sympathy for this hard-edged but technically awe-inspiring actress, so if you can endure the film’s one glaring misstep, a terrible song called “Two-Faced Woman” that Crawford and company perform in blackface, you will enjoy this sharp character study. Marjorie Rambeau appears in a small but effective supporting role as Crawford’s mother, and that’s director Walters himself dancing her routines with her.