Day 19 of Noirvember: Joan Crawford in Possessed (1947)
In her second film noir appearance – and her second film with the same name – Joan Crawford starred in Possessed, released by Warner Bros., in 1947. It’s airing Thursday on TCM – I strongly recommend that you give it a look.
The film opens with Crawford’s character, Louise Howell Graham, wandering the streets of Los Angeles in a stupor, looking for “David.” She winds up at the psychopathic ward of a hospital where doctors give her medication that allows her to share with them the events that led to her catatonic state. Turns out that while working as a nurse caring for a mentally unstable invalid, Louise had developed an obsessive love for engineer David Sutton (Van Heflin), who lived nearby.
“I want a monopoly on you, David,” Louise tells him in an early scene, “or whatever it is that people have when they don’t want anyone else to have any of you.” Feeling smothered by her affections, David abruptly ends their relationship – an action that triggers Louise’s descent into insanity.
Directed by Curtis Bernhardt, Possessed also stars Raymond Massey as the husband of Louise’s client, and Geraldine Brooks as his daughter.
Crawford offers a striking portrait of a woman consumed by madness, a performance that was undoubtedly aided by her daily visits to a mental hospital to observe patients subjected to straitjackets, shock treatment, and truth serums. “Those days taught me compassion for people suffering from emotional and mental illnesses,” Crawford stated later. “Normally, I’m a happy person. But after I finished making that film I was melancholy for two months. Although I was exhausted, I knew I had done a good job – had met the challenge. That was important to me. Give me a challenge any time and I’ll come out a better person for it. Meeting the challenge of Possessed made it my favorite film.”
(Incidentally, during one of her visits to a mental hospital, Crawford and the film’s director reportedly observed – without prior permission – a patient receiving shock therapy. It’s said that Warner Bros. later had to pay significant damages to the woman, who accused Crawford and Bernhardt of invading her privacy.)
Crawford received her second Academy Award nomination for this role (losing to Loretta Young in The Farmer’s Daughter) and critics raved about her performance. “Miss Crawford is generally excellent,” said James Agee of Time, “performing with the passion and intelligence of an actress who is not content with just one Oscar,” and Harrison Carroll of the Herald Express stated that Crawford was “all too convincing in the most taxing role of her career.”
By the way, y’all know how I love spotting goofs – here’s one for you to look for: in the beginning of the picture, when Louise is wandering around L.A., take a gander at her shoes. At first she’s wearing pumps – and then, like magic, they’re slingbacks!
Make an appointment with Possessed – you only owe it to yourself.
And join me tomorrow for Day 20 of Noirvember!