Thursday, April 24, 2014

STRAIT-JACKET 1964

“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!” – Norma Desmond Sunset Blvd.

Perhaps that oft-quoted Gloria Swanson line is so memorable because it conveys so much Hollywood truth. I know I’m certainly of that opinion when it comes to Joan Crawford: the Oscar-winning actress (with a capital A) dubbed - with equal parts admiration and castigation - “The Ultimate Movie Star,” who saw her decades-long status as the last of the grande dames of the silver screen flounder as the bigger-than-life scale of motion pictures shrunk to television-size. Joan Crawford getting the shit kicked out of her by Bette Davis in the anteroom of their decaying Hollywood mansion in 1962s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was Crawford’s last onscreen pairing with anyone even remotely able to keep in pace with her particular brand of old-school (fading) star-wattage. Following that, every film role and episodic TV appearance only seemed to emphasize the brobdingnagian degree to which the 5'5" actress towered over her second-rate material and dwarfed the lilliputian talents of her co-stars and directors.
Joan Crawford as Lucy Harbin (close-ups like this don't just happen, folks)
Diane Baker as Carol Harbin
George Kennedy as Leo Krause
John Anthony Hayes as Michael Fields
There's no denying that Joan Crawford was an actress given to theatrically histrionic excesses; a to-the-manner-born camera hog, prone to mannered, over-stylized gestures and gimmicks that morphed over time into camp, self-parody. And sure, the severe, mannish extremes of her late-career physical appearance lamentably coincided with an accelerating artificiality and lack of concern for subtlety in her acting (which wasn't all that subtle to begin with) that caused her to come across more like a haughty female impersonator than one of the great beauties of Hollywood's Golden Age. But however one may feel about Crawford, it’s difficult to imagine anyone thinking the star of Mildred Pierce and A Woman's Face deserved the likes of William Castle; a charming, obviously sweet-natured guy, but arguably one of the most pedestrian movie directors ever to hoist a megaphone.
Rochelle Hudson and Leif Erickson as Emily and Bill Cutler
You'd think, what with my being such a devotee of entertainingly bad movies, I'd be among those who regard "King of the Bs" William Castle as some kind of patron saint of schlock. I certainly can attest to having my favorites (those being: Strait-Jacket, Homicidal, and I Saw What You Did), and even concede that the worst of them are so inoffensively lightweight that they're somehow always watchable, if not exactly enjoyable. But beyond having a nose for truly bizarre and offbeat material, Castle has always struck me as lacking the requisite vulgarity necessary for creating truly epic bad films. Something about him always seemed too bland and suburban, perhaps too decent or too sane, to ever really go to the dark places the topics of his films suggested.
William Castle was a showman, a producer, and an inveterate huckster, but as a director he appeared to have no demons to exorcise, no overarching ambitions, and was without that spark of neurotic lunacy that made the films of directors like Ed Wood (Plan 9 From Outer Space), Bert I. Gordon (Attack of the Puppet People), and his idol, Alfred Hitchcock, so compelling (and weird). In fact, one of my chief frustrations when watching a William Castle film is the nagging certainty that all of his films would be vastly improved had Castle stuck to producing and prohibited himself from directing them. (See: Rosemary's Baby).
When I was growing up, Joan Crawford's name was synonymous with B-horror movies. It was years before I knew her from anything other than Berserk, Trog, Strait-Jacket, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 
But while I'm of the opinion that an actress of Joan Crawford's reputation didn't deserve a director as mediocre as William Castle, there's also little question in my mind that at this particular stage in her career, Joan Crawford (and her ego) desperately needed a director as respectful as William Castle. From everything I've read, Castle was so beside himself at having actually landed a bonafide movie star for one of his typically bargain-basement horror opuses (blowsy Joan Blondell had initially been cast), that he treated Crawford in a manner more befitting her days as MGM's boxoffice darling than as the fading star of secondary roles in The Best of Everything (1959) and The Caretakers (1963).

Obsequiously conceding to her every whim (approval over script, cast, and cameraman; 15% participation in profits; hefty Pepsi-Cola product placement), Castle gave Joan her first sole leading lady role since 1957s The Story of Esther Costello. So what if it was in another derivative, cut-rate homage/ripoff in Castle's tireless (tiresome) quest to duplicate Alfred Hitchcock's career? At least Joan and her falsies didn't have to compete with Bette Davis for camera time.
For Those Who Think Young
Crawford, "Star of the First Magnitude" and Pepsi-Cola Board of  Directors member, was not above a bit of old-fashioned hucksterism
An original screenplay penned by Psycho's Robert Bloch, Strait-Jacket casts Crawford as rural hotbox, Lucy Harbin (“Very much a woman, and very much aware of the fact”). First glimpsed in a 1944 flashback through a Vaseline haze we’ll come to grow progressively more familiar with over the course of the film, 57-year-old Crawford (unconvincingly) plays 25-year-old Lucy as a superannuated Sadie Thompson driven to murder when she catches her faithless 2nd husband (Rock Hudson protégée Lee Majors making his film debut) in bed with another woman (Patricia Crest). Seizing upon a nearby axe as her weapon of choice, luckless Lucy is nevertheless favored with a rare crime of passion twofer: the raven-haired honky-tonk homewrecker lying next to her husband obligingly keeps quiet and stays stock-still, patiently awaiting her turn until after Lucy has completed vigorously bisecting her hubby's head from his bare-chested torso.
From the repeated, wild-eyed hacks taken at the now literally separated lovers, it's clear Lucy has been driven crackers by the night's events and is soon carted off to the funny farm wearing the film's titular item of clothing. But winning by a landslide in the "worst evening ever" sweepstakes is Lucy's 6-year-old daughter, Carol, whose world-class kindertrauma encompasses being left alone in a desolate farmhouse while her father barhops; being awakened by said father and local floozy, who then proceed to make out in front of her without benefit of a closed door; finally to have it all capped off  with witnessing her axe-wielding mother going postal on the lovers while dressed in a garish, floral-print dress, cacophonous Auntie Mame charm bracelets, and tacky, ankle-strap shoes. The horror!
Vicki Cos as young Carol Harbin
Diane Baker wasn't required to play Carol as a child, but it's up for debate as to whether 25-year-old Baker would have made a more convincing 6-year-old than Crawford does a 25-year-old
Jump ahead twenty years: Carol is a lovely, well-adjusted (?), budding sculptress living on a farm with her uncle and his wife (Leif Erickson and Rochelle Hudson), about to embark on a new life with her rich fiance-to-be (John Anthony Hayes). The monkey wrench in the works is that her mother, who has been institutionalized all these years, is scheduled for release. Will she be welcomed or reviled? Has she been rehabilitated or is she still a raving maniac with questionable fashion sense? Any way you cut it (heh-heh), the stage has been set for a doozy of a family reunion.
Ethel Mertz: "Are you insinuating that I'm daft, loony, off my rocker, out of my head?"
Fred Mertz: "Well, that covers it pretty well... ."

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Two words: Joan Crawford. For fans of over-the-top Joan (that would be: everybody) who heretofore have had to content themselves with brief-but-welcome snippets of unchecked ham seeping through otherwise reined-in performances held in precarious check by watchful directors; Strait-Jacket (to use the hyperbole of old-movie publicity) gives you Joan Crawford as you long to see her…the Joan Crawford you love…the Joan Crawford whose take-no-prisoners approach to acting and total disregard for the performance rhythms of her co-stars sets the screen ablaze with the fiery passions of a woman’s dangerous desires!
Smokin'
You’ll never convince me that a director as uninspired as William Castle had anything to do with Joan Crawford’s performance in Strait-Jacket. Hers is a performance culled from hours of self-directed rehearsals and meticulous attention paid to doing “something” every single moment the camera is pointed at her. In fact, to hear co-star Diane Baker tell it, Crawford was, for all intents and purposes, the director of Strait-Jacket; everything she wanted, she got. And for that you won’t hear me complaining. Without Crawford, Strait-Jacket would be as sluggish as most of Castle’s other films. All the scenes without Crawford are inert, exposition-heavy sequences of inexpressive talking heads. 
Pepsi-Cola Vice-President, Mitchell Cox as Dr. Anderson
Maybe it was the contractually-mandated ice-cold sets she insisted upon (biographers have stated this was as much for makeup and skin concerns as keeping energy up) or the vodka she laced her Pepsis with, but Crawford’s scenes are substantially more “spirited” than anything else in the film. No wonder that, outside of promotional cardboard axes handed out to patrons, Strait-Jacket is one of the few William Castle productions released without one of his trademark gimmicks. Who needs gimmicks when you have Joan Crawford?
Now, how did that get there?
PERFORMANCES
Evoking Charles Dickens' antithetical quote: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," Strait-Jacket is one of Joan Crawford's worst films, yet strangely, also one of her best. Joan Crawford is one of my favorite actresses, and with each new film I discover, my appreciation and admiration for her grows. There's not another actor I can think of who is so good when they are being so bad. The joys to be had in watching Strait-Jacket is seeing Joan the terrific actress going mano-a-mano against Joan the free-range ham.
Crawford is rather remarkable in being able to wrest genuine sympathy and pathos out of the sketchily-drawn character of Lucy Harbin. She does some of the finest acting of her career in the sequence in which she gazes at the youthful image of herself sculpted by her daughter (actually sculpted by artist Yucca Salamunich on the set of A Woman's Face in 1941). She's so good and rather touching in making you feel the character's melancholy over the years lost and beauty faded. She totally outclasses the film in the sequence. As many have pointed out over the years, had Strait-Jacket not been such an obvious Z-grade exploitationer, the more quiet aspects of Crawford's performance (the early, post-asylum scenes are wonderful) would surely have been looked upon more favorably by critics.
On the polar-opposite end of the subtlety spectrum is the sequence that fans of over-the-top camp have made into Strait-Jacket's setpiece. In it, Joan's character undergoes a transformation akin to demonic possession when dressed in clothes similar to those she wore 20-years earlier. Shy and hesitant before, Lucy reverts (presumably) to her old ways and turns a polite meet-and-greet with her daughter's handsome fiance into the 1964 equivalent of a lap dance. 
The sight of a grotesquely-made-up Joan Crawford turning her man-trap wiles on a man young enough to be her son is more terrifying than anything Castle was able to accomplish with his fake-looking axe murders. In the 2002 book, Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography, the authors write that Joan was quite taken with the good looks of actor John Anthony Hayes, and in response to an admiring comment made by someone alluding that Hayes did his acting with his lips, Crawford is quoted as replying, "Yes, and such sexy lips, too!" All of which goes to set up, if not exactly explain, why Crawford's unique method of (wholly improvised) seduction during this sequence involves feeling about the actor's mouth like a Braille student and practically shoving her entire hand down his throat. Sexy.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
"Spot the Real-Life Parallels" is a game that gives zest to the viewing of any Joan Crawford film.
The Neatness Thing
"Is that the way you're going to do it?"
Judgmental Joan: No matter how hard you try, you know you'll never quite measure up
Daughter Issues
Joan always knew where to find the boys AND the booze
"Tina!! Bring me the axe!!"
THE STUFF OF DREAMS
I've never fully understood why it is so many "bad" movies outdistance more accomplished films when it comes to sheer entertainment value, so perhaps that why I treasure them so much. With boring and banal the most frequent by-product of professional ineptitude, there's something serendipitous about discovering...what can you call it...the perfect "hot mess" that is an enjoyably bad movie.
Meeting the In-Laws
Edith Atwater and Howard St. John as Alison &Raymond Fields
Strait-Jacket is a veritable laundry list of filmmaking flaws: a terrible, ill-used music score; bland performances (although I really like Diane Baker and George Kennedy); unsure pacing; flat cinematography and editing that appears calculated to enhance the artificiality of the violence; a cliche-filled script; and no distinct visual style beyond- make sure you can see it, make sure it's in focus. Yet it's a movie I can watch over and over and still find new things to enjoy. The breeziest 93 minutes of film you're likely to see. Of course, the one-of-a-kind, force of nature known as Joan Crawford accounts for 90% of this.
But whether you watch for the talent or the travesty, Strait-Jacket doesn't disappoint and is one of the few of my favorites I'd label a must-see! Certainly one of the last opportunities to see this particular big star before the pictures got smaller.
Watch Your Step, indeed!

BONUS MATERIAL
The absolutely delightful "How to Plan a Movie Murder" featurette for Strait-Jacket with Joan Crawford, William Castle, and screenwriter Robert Bloch: HERE

Diane Baker enjoyed a good relationship with Joan Crawford and appeared with the actress in The Best of Everything and Strait-Jacket, but according to Baker, that relationship soured during the making of Della (originally titled Fatal Confinement) an unsold 1964 pilot for a Paul Burke TV series called Royal Bay. See the episode in its entirety on YouTube  HERE

Joan Crawford's wardrobe & makeup tests for Strait-Jacket HERE

1964 audio only interview with Joan Crawford in which she speaks of Strait-Jacket HERE

1970 David Frost  Interview with Joan Crawford HERE

1982 Interview with Steven Spielberg on working with Joan on Night Gallery HERE
Pure William Castle
The Columbia Lady loses her head
Copyright © Ken Anderson

30 comments:

  1. You have summarised everything that I love about a Joan Crawford picture/performance. Her screen appearances are quite literally the stuff of dreams, walking that fabulous line of kitsch, camp and classic film.

    I found myself re-reading your post on 'Mommie Dearest' not too recently and it inspired me to go digging for more Crawford hidden gems (meaning her post 1940s-work when her name became the defining cornerstone of the film/television appearance she was attached to, rather than the work itself)

    Last week I watched, for the first time, her performance in the pilot episode of Night Gallery, 'The Eyes'. There are no words.

    Great post Ken :)

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    1. Thank you very much, Mitchell! I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and that, as a Crawford fan, you're seeking out some of her later work. I saw that episode of "Night Gallery" you spoke of back in 1969 when it originally aired. It's cool to know that it still holds up after all these years!

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  2. Another perfect post! You hit all the nails on the head -- with an axe!

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    1. Ha! Much appreciated, Thom. So much of this movie is perfection. I hope no one ever gets the bright idea to remake it. All those remakes of Castle's other films were dreadful.

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  3. Oh, Ken, what a delight to wake up to this wonderful article that freeze-frames a critical juncture in this legendary actress's career. This is, in fact, the very last time that Crawford headlined a big-screen motion picture as leading lady. After Straight-Jacket, Joan's roles became smaller and smaller, even when her star power still commanded top billing.

    I agree 100% with your assessment of Straight-Jacket. Joan breathes life into a film that is uninspired, practically a programmer. But I think her cameo role in the following year's I Saw What You Did (another Castle epic) is even better, as she terrorizes a pretty young girl by screaming at the top of her lungs: "Get out of here!!!" while slamming the car door in her face...

    Unlike Bette Davis, who became a consummate character actor, Crawford stayed a glamour star till the bitter end. Remember her impressive still-shapely gams and hourglass figure as the ringmaster in Berserk? (Her leotard was designed by Edith Head!)

    But my favorite mature Crawford performance is in Night Gallery. Even though TV was considered a comedown for a big star like Crawford, her amazing performance as the wealthy blind woman in that pilot easily trumps the pedestrian Straight Jacket, to use your apt description.

    Thank God for television, though; mature actors of this era were still being given the opportunity to do interesting work when their box office power fizzled out. Much like the great stars who now do films and series on HBO and Showtime when they can no longer "open" a major motion picture.

    I too just saw Della on TV. I didn't know it was a pilot for a series, or that there had been trouble with her friendly costar Diane Baker. As the years went by, Crawford became very jealous and bitchy with her pretty female costars, including Janice Tule and Hope Lange. But I thought she liked and trusted Baker...give us the scoop!!

    Another inspired essay on classic film, Ken! Your posts are all more delicious and refreshing than an ice cream sundae on a hot summer afternoon!

    -Chris

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    1. Hi Chris
      You always are so flattering tome about my posts. It certainly does me good to know that you find them enjoyable. Thanks!
      Llike you, I'm a big fan of Crawford's brief turn in "I Saw What You Did"...that yelling scene you reference is literally the most frightening few moments of the film!
      As for the "Della" news, I was just researching Strait-Jacket online and came upon a brief interview Baker gave at a screening of the Castle film in 2009. When asked about "Della" Baker responds:
      "We really didn't get along very well on that, " then goes on to explain how she drew Crawford's ire by daring to ask if Crawford were really going to strike her when it came time to shoot a slapping scene.(you know there's got to be a slapping scene in a Joan Crawford film).

      “I finally said – at the end of the scene – are you going to hit me? I said ‘I just need to know so I can prepare’ and she said ‘of course, I would warn you if I actually slapped you! I would NOT do it on rehearsal. I have NEVER done it on rehearsal!’” ...and I guess things grew frostier between them, as this was said loudly and in front of the crew.

      I've read conflicting accounts as to why the original actress in "Strait-Jacket" was fired (some sources say TWO actresses were fired before Joan asked for Baker), in a TV interview, Baker said that one was fired merely for forgetting decorum and referring to Miss Crawford (Star of the First Magnitude) by the all-too-chummy "Joan"!

      True or not, these are great tales! Thanks, Chris!

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  4. I worship at the altar of Joan and adore this crazed movie, too! Thanks so much for your insightful assessment of it and of Miss C.'s career. She's just riveting, whether good or bad! But her work as the newly-released, tentative Lucy is very strong here. I also think that Joan had one of the greatest crying, agonized screams, able to achieve amazing volume and power - very balls out - and not everyone can do something like that. I wonder if anyone ever got Anne Helm's (original Carol) take first-hand regarding her firing and how she got on with Joan prior to. The best part about this whole thing is that even as captivating and enjoyable as your post is, some of the very best hooty moments aren't even revealed here, lest they be spoiled for new viewers. This is a must-see movie for a ton of reasons. Thanks!

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    1. Oh, and if I can be so bold as to provide even more Bonus Material, this link goes to a WONDERFUL interview with Joan in which she talks about "Strait-Jacket" and her roles in thrillers (as well as her extraordinary control when it came to dieting! Wish I had half of it...) I love to hear her speak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKmeABbHzFc

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    2. Hi Poseidon
      Thank you VERY much for that great interview link! I too get such a kick out of hearing her speak. She is so...disciplined...it almost borders on self-abuse!
      And yes, she is a wonderful screamer and crier. What chops! The scene from the screencap above that has her yelling...I'm surprised she didn't singe the other actress's eyebrows off.

      I've always wanted to know the real story behind Anne Helm getting the axe too. I was going to post a picture of Helm to show the contrast with Baker. I can't attest to Helm's talent, but her look has a certain sexual frankness I can't imagine Joan tolerating in any female co-star.

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    3. Speaking of interviews, I chanced upon this one the other night. It's worth checking out just to see her outfit. Plus, I think someone's been drinking...

      http://youtu.be/2IfmLqr-f3Q

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    4. You know, I found that clip when I was researching this post, and although I only intended to watch a minute or two, I couldn't turn it off. She is utterly fascinating to watch. That outfit, the off-color jokes, the sternness (the firing of her hairdresser story is almost blood-curdling), the witty anecdotes (the shoulder pad story)...I loved it. Thanks for including the link, Thom. It's quite the feast for Crawford fans.

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  5. I first saw this film in a revival theater many years ago with a film-studies friend, and I have a fond memory of a scene of Joan unpacking groceries and my friend shrieking out, "Oh my god---PEPSI!" Thanks so much for such a TERRIFIC post, Ken; I relished every bit of it. You really hit on what's so wonderful about Joan in this film and why her fans adore her. And I agree with your point, that her quiet work in this film is lovely; her fragility,hesitancy, her tentative hold on sanity in the scenes when she first meets her family after 20 years are extraordinarily affecting (and Crawford with her graying hair and little make-up actually looks quite beautiful). And you're right that Crawford really holds this film together and gives it life. Another 1964 Castle film with a fading star, Night Walker with Barbara Stanwyck, is dull and drippy. Stanwyck, unlike Crawford, played her role with restraint; and, while she gives a good, valid performance in B-material, the film just drags and peters out. Whereas Joan comes out swinging and gives her all, and keeps things hopping.

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    1. I've always longed to see this with an audience! I'm sure it would be right up there with "Rocky Horror" and "Sextette"!
      I know you are a fan of Crawford, both good and bad, so I'm pleased you enjoyed this post. (By the way, I so whole heartily agree that Crawford looks quite lovely when she is "drabbed down" in this film. She has such a remarkable face, I've never understood why this more subtle look wasn't adopted by her in real life, where she often looked grotesquely over made up.)
      I haven't seen "Night Walker" in years, but it left so little of an impression on me I suspect you're right about it being draggy ( I find that to be the case with most of Castle's films). Thanks, GOM...always a pleasure!

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  6. Hi--just discovered your wonderful blog through John at Pretty Sinister Books who linked to your review of Altman's That Cold Day in the Park. I've spent a wonderful couple of hours paging through your thoughtful, interesting, and well-written reviews. Regarding Joan Crawford on Night Gallery: That episode was directed by a very young Steven Spielberg. It may have been one of his very first credits.

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    1. Hello...may I call you 3-D?
      Thank you for the complimentary words and for exploring the blog a bit. It makes me happy that it kept you around for a while.
      Also thanks for passing on to me the info about the linking site. I just visited it and it may become a new favorite!
      And yes, you're right about Spielberg directing that episode. He was 21 at the time, and i recall Crawford on some TV show back then talking about him as this "new and exciting director" and how much energy she got from working with young people.

      There's a clip of him talking about the making of it on YouTube (the source of all these days):
      http://youtu.be/2EeRJCJe88g

      Sounds like Joan was again the consummate professional with him. Thanks once more for stopping by. Hope to hear from you again!

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  7. Of the rough lot that Joan wrapped her career up with I suppose this could be considered the best of the theatrical lot after Baby Jane. That's a low bar for sure but this does have a bit more snap than Berserk and most assuredly is a cut above Trog (what isn't?).

    I have a hard time envisioning the warm and motherly Joan Blondell in the part as was the original intention. She was an awesome actress so I'm sure she would have found a way into the part but it was probably better for her long range career that she had to bow out. Although she only survived Crawford by two years her output post this was quite long and varied and outside the horror genre, mostly guest work but she had a featured spot in the series "Here Comes the Brides" and a gem of a role which she played wonderfully in Cassavetes "Opening Night" whereas Joan C became mired in horror junk and withdrew from public view.

    As you said Joan does some very good acting in amongst the scenery chewing which is surely a bow to her super professionalism. Many people in her situation would have thrown in the towel, collected their paycheck and phoned in a performance, Robert De Niro and Nicolas Cage do it regularly now, thereby cheating their audience. Crawford's training and commitment would never allow such a thing and even in the swamp of Trog she continued to do whatever she could to breath life into dross and if not exactly spin it into gold at least elevate it a step above what it was.

    I've just discovered that there is a documentary on William Castle called Spine Tingler! that is available from Netflix, I've queued it and am most anxious to see what it says about Strait-Jacket as well as the rest of his odd output. Diane Baker is listed as a participant so hopefully she'll share some stories.

    I recently was able to catch Della on TCM during the month that Crawford was star of the month. It wasn't a terribly involving drama but it's a major star vehicle for Joan. I'd say this was actually Joan's last hurrah as a top flight star in a quality production with a kaleidescope of 60's fashions and a feast for any vintage car aficionado since all the characters drive fantastic automobiles in vibrant colors.

    Unlike the low grade horror films where everything including her wardrobe was on the cheap every effort was made to make her look as glamorous as possible. In every instance the walls and surrounding decor complimented Crawford's hair, make up and clothing making sure she dominates the scene. As befits a grande dame of a certain age there are scenes where the soft focus on her is so strong she actually appears hazy! With gravity defying hair and a total command of the screen she is never less than compelling treating the script's absurdities as if they were masterworks. Crawford steamrolls right over the male lead Paul Burke, a stiff blank slate, any time they occupy the same scene. It does almost irreparable damage to the film but Joan's professionalism saves it. Diane Baker gets a scene or two of anguish but she doesn't stand a chance against the Crawford juggernaut. Speaking of Diane Baker she's not the greatest actress but she's appeared in some wonderful films, a lot of bad ones too, and I've always been fond of her. Happily she continues to pop up in small parts every now and then and unlike some stars of the golden era she is glad to share her memories of those times.

    Thanks for you once again entertaining us with a great overview of this somewhat bizarre relic of Hollywood's past.

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    1. Hi Joel
      I think you will like the William Castle documentary. They showed it on TCM some time ago and I remember liking it, but can't recall the "Strait-Jacket" stuff.
      I had heard of Della for years, and was glad to see it on TCM, too. As you say, guest star Crawford is so much more compelling than the so-called leads, it makes you wonder if they should perhaps have chosen a guest for their pilot who didn't draw attention to their weaknesses.
      Thanks for your informative and enjoyable comment, Joel. Always nice to hear from you!

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  8. What a great review! Surely you've seen this already (Joan's wardrobe and makeup test for Strait-Jacket): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EMbnZUgLSk

    It's quite a hit a our house (I've watched it literally dozens of times) and I can never hear "There Goes That Song Again" without hearing those ominous minor-key transitions into what sounds like theramin! But that video really gives you a window into what fun Joan was having making this movie; I'm sure she knew it was trash but she wasn't going to let that stop her from giving it her all!

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    1. Thank you, Peter! I know a lot of people who find this to be the most watchable of all of William Castle's films. And as for that oft-repeated song, I absolutely love that you referenced the theramin! I hadn't heard that word in years!
      All during the 70s, every "Night Gallery" like TV show seemed to have that sound and I never knew what it was or how it was made. Castle seems to love it (however it's made, it's like am musical motif in his films.
      Thank you for the link to the makeup and wardrobe tests. I have seen it, and I too think it's a great glimpse into a somewhat relaxed Crawford and how much she must have enjoyed working. Even Christina couldn't argue with that. Thanks Peter!

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    2. I don't how many times I've seen this movie and now, thanks to your post, can't wait to watch it again soon. This 60s period Crawford is the Crawford I was introduced to when I was a kid. "I Saw What You Did" was the first movie of hers that I saw in a theater and assumed that everything she was in was going to be "scary." ("Queen Bee" can be terrifying, though.). Long before video you'd really have to scour the TV Guide so as not to miss anything. I still remember catching Crawford in an episode of "The Sixth Sense" called "Dear Joan We're Going to Scare You to Death." I think she's really one of the most underrated actresses ever. The general consensus has always been that Bette Davis was the actress and Crawford was the star but I can see Crawford in more of Davis's roles than the other way around. And hands down "Sudden Fear" is among my top-five favorite Crawfords. You're also right about Castle--this and "Homicidal" are his absolute best. Although I do like "Night Walker" if mostly for the incredible Vic Mizzy score. Have you ever seen Crawford's cameo, playing herself, in "It's a Great Feeling"? All of thirty seconds and she steals the picture. Anyway, the best piece on "Strait-Jacket" I've read. Thanks!

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    3. Hello Max
      Your childhood impression of Joan Crawford as an actress in exclusively "scary" movies reflects my own- down to the need to scour the weekly TV Guide as the only means of finding one's favorite films.
      A thing of the past I suppose now that kids can saturate themselves on their favorite films immediately; but I recall what a thrill it was having to wait for a fave film to pop up on TV, not knowing how long it would be before you could see it again.

      Love that you saw "I Saw What You Did" at the theater!

      I see that "Night Walker" is on YouTube, so I'm going to check it out again to see how it holds up. It's been a long time.
      And yes, that cameo in "It's a Great Feeling" is REALLY wonderful. It came as such a happy surprise to me when I first saw it, and its the single thing I still remember from the film today. Definitely an underrated talent, that Joan.
      Thank you very much for the compliment, Max, and for taking the time to share your very nostalgic (for me) early Crawford memories.

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  9. Hi Ken-
    This movie is a fascinating mix of a Carol Burnett spoof and Charles Busch! With a little RuPaul thrown in!
    You're too kind regarding JC's age...most sites now put her birthyear as '04, making her 60 at the time of this movie.
    My two favorite moments: the scene where she gets off the train in as 29 year old Lucy...and pauses on the train step so we can all admire JC in all her hoochie mama glory. The second is where Lucy's lighter doesn't work in the party scene, so she strikes a match on the record player...the sound effect is right out of The Three Stooges!

    Strait Jacket would also make a great pairing with Die Mommie Die!

    Glad you offered your take on this camp epic ; )

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    1. Hi Rico
      I think you're right about Joan's real age. I used the birth date given on IMDB (never a fully reliable source) which is probably more in line with the years she shaved off her real age throughout her career. I considered changing my post to reflect her true age, then remembered how Faye Dunaway said she was haunted by the ghost of Joan Crawford while making "Mommie Dearest" Not welcoming the thought of having a pissed-off Joan haunting me, I figured I'd be better off flattering her memory with the "official" age she gave.
      By the way, I love those two "Strait-Jacket" moments you mentioned. Particularly that match striking bit. Classic Joan! Thanks very much for commenting, Rico!

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  10. I've yet to see this film!

    If I've not mention it already, I saw "Trog" on television when I was a small child, I quite enjoyed it! I must say, when I saw it (I must have been about nine or ten). I had no idea who Joan Crawford was, never mind her stature as an acting legend. One day I must revisit that film...

    The decapitated version of the Columbia Lady reminds me of "Thank God It's Friday", where the Columbia Lady busts a move or two, before resuming her typical pose. I absolutely adore stuff like this, like when the Marx Brothers had some fun with the MGM logo. Groucho and Chico lip-sync the lion's roar, but Harpo, being mute, can't roar, so instead he pulls out his trusty horn and gives it a honk!

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    1. Mark, I also remember the Columbia Lady being Annette Bening in one of her films, the one with Garry Shandling. Not a good movie, but an iconic Columbia Pictures moment...just found it, it was What Planet Are You From:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTg4tsULG1w

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    2. Hi Mark (and hi Chris!)
      You've definitely got to give this film a look sometime. I'm positive you'll enjoy t.
      I saw "Trog" as a kid too, but those college boys stripping down to their underwear in the first sequence made the biggest impression on me at the time. Only later did I even remember it was a Joan Crawford film ("Get me my hypo gun!") ...I have to write about that one sometime.
      I too like when movies take liberties with the studio logos. Of course, my favorite is the time-travel transformation of the Universal Studios globe that kicks off "Xanadu".

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    3. I saw Trog for the first time earlier this year when TCM ran it. So happy to finally see it, tho I think I did fall asleep…! (I love Strait-Jacket. Honestly, it's part of a repressed memory I have from seeing it on television, on The Early Show' matinee in the 60's. I picked up a copy of it on BETA (!!) at a video store selling out that stock in the mid-80's. Luckily, my partner's (at the time) family still had a beta-max so we could watch it. Seeing it, I remembered asking my mother about a strait-jacket, presumably after The Early Show screening. I plotzed when the Columbia dvd was announced and I could finally retire the 'dog-eared' beta-to-vhs tape that I dubbed.)

      ANYWAY…..back to Trog. The ONE interesting thing about it….perhaps you've already done so, but google image, John Hamill, one of the stripping down 'college boys' you mentioned for a real treat…!

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    4. If you knew what I perv I am you would know that I covered that base LONG ago! And you're right, John Hamill as a physique model is considerably more interesting than anything in Trog (though watching Crawford clinging to the final shreds of her dignity while talking to a man in a bad ape suit comes close).
      Thanks for bringing this to the attention of anyone reading these comments, though. I'm sure lots of people are not familiar with Hamill's second career!

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  11. This experience is surely what gave Diane Baker the necessary mettle to face Hannibal Lecter 25 years later. I'm a fan of hers and I think she may have been the perfect young actress for this part; in addition to her resemblance to the young Crawford, she has a balance of talent, beauty, common sense and poise that allows her to "bring it" to the screen without ever making our beloved Joan feel threatened. In fact, you get the sense (especially in those early "re-entry" scenes you described with such insight) that JC actually wants her to do well, which must have been a relief to everyone on that ice-cold set.

    Ken, I can't tell you how much I've been enjoying bingeing on your wonderful writing. I think I may be up for one of those, "most posts viewed in the shortest time" awards. Keep "bringing it"!

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    1. Hi!
      And thank you very much for sharing with us your appreciation of Diane Baker and your flattering words about the blog.
      I like Diane Baker too (I actually forgot she was in "Silence of the Lambs") and you're allusions to her having put in her training is time with Joan is as apt as it is funny.
      I agree with you that the very qualities you site must have been what made her someone Crawford looked upon as a colleague and not a threat.
      And you DO get a sense of Joan working with Baker in the scenes, not flying solo, as is her wont.
      You sound like a very perceptive fan of film, and thus I am overjoyed that my essays have kept you entertained. I'm always trying to improve my writing and cut down on all those typos, etc. Comments like you'rs are very encouraging. Please come back again!

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