Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
USA, 1955. Columbia Pictures. Screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, based on the novel by Edna Lee. Cinematography by Charles Lang. Produced by Jerry Wald. Music by George Duning. Production Design by Ross Bellah. Costume Design by Jean Louis. Film Editing by Viola Lawrence. Academy Awards 1955.
Sweet and young Lucy Marlow travels south to the mansion of her cousin’s family, planning a visit with the relatives who previously funded her education and helped her family through hard times. She is most excited to meet her mother’s cousin Eva, a fiery and mercurial matriarch who is the centre of a group of people that Marlow doesn’t realize are actually very miserable: her cousin’s husband (Barry Sullivan) has a disfiguring scar on his face and is usually drunk by the time he wakes up, his sister (Betsy Palmer) is bitterly resentful of Eva and doesn’t want anyone to know of her engagement to the family’s business associate John Ireland. The brief visit of another relative (played in a short but unforgettable performance by Fay Wray) reveals that Eva has caused some trouble in the past that she isn’t ashamed of, and why? Because Eva is played by Joan Crawford, and you should know by this point in her career, where the wigs have gotten more illogical, the face stonier and the eyes wilder, no longer arguing with people who thought her evil, willing to parade into her new phase as campy queen, that no matter how entranced you are by her gregarious charm, you should never turn your back on her. Marlow learns it too late when she finds out that Eva has been carrying on with Garfield, then herself grows so fond of Sullivan that she turns Eva against her despite her having been safe this entire time. Aspects of its older-younger woman rivalry play like a flipside of All About Eve, with the sympathy thrown the other way, the whole thing is hilariously savage but enjoyably so. It’s a gorgeous movie, the Oscar-nominated cinematography and costumes make it one of the most beautiful monochrome films of the fifties, and doesn’t have a dull moment in it, right down to the only explosive ending that a story like this could possible have.