Sunday, June 14, 2009

The 180 Tag: Joan Crawford

A little while back Casey of Noir Girl kindly tagged me for a "180" post which originated at Silents and Talkies.

The theme is to write about an actor you "start out despising...but ended up loving" other words, an actor on which your opinion has done a "180."

Click the title of this post for Casey's thoughts on Marilyn Monroe. Kate wrote about Glenn Ford at Silents and Talkies. (Kate, THE MATING OF MILLIE is a film I've loved since I was little!)

After mulling it over for a few days, I decided Joan Crawford fit the bill for my 180. Now, a disclaimer, I can't say I love least yet...but I've come so far, from absolutely hating her and refusing to watch her movies, that I think she's the perfect 180!

Over the last 18 months I've seen nine Crawford films -- the links conclude this post -- and I've gone from the point of deciding to tolerate her presence in a movie in order to watch other actors I like, to actively seeking out her films because I've enjoyed every single Crawford movie I've watched to date. The realization that Crawford was a common denominator in so many enjoyable movies was interesting; I liked the movies for more than simply the opportunity to watch some of my favorite leading men. I've come to enjoy Crawford herself, which I never would have thought possible.

I used to dislike Crawford for a number of reasons: her hard-edged makeup, particularly from the '50s on; the stories about her being a bad mother (although I've read stories of some actors, such as her neighbor June Allyson, validating some of the tales, I've also come to believe there might be another side of the story); and her association with movies which I found disturbing when I saw them as a child at neighbors' houses, including WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962) and I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965). I have a fairly early memory of hiding behind a chair while my friend watched the latter on TV (grin).

(I should have avoided the TV at the neighbors' houses, as it was at a different neighbor's house that I saw part of THE BLOB, which gave me nightmares for years. I didn't even know what it was until my husband figured it out a few years ago.)

I've come to admire Crawford's energetic, scrappy persona in her early films such as OUR BLUSHING BRIDES and DANCING LADY. I also like her polished performances in glossy comedies like FORSAKING ALL OTHERS and NO MORE LADIES, and especially in the very classy romantic comedy-drama THE LAST OF MRS. CHEYNEY, which might be my favorite of the nine Crawford films I've seen thus far. Finally, I like her willingness to go over the top and appear plain silly, as she did in SUSAN AND GOD and THEY ALL KISSED THE BRIDE.

Crawford worked with the best of the best in terms of Hollywood leading men: Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, Robert Taylor, Fredric March, Gary Cooper, and Spencer Tracy. She even married two of them, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Franchot Tone, although sadly the marriages didn't last.

Just last week I arranged to borrow an entire boxed set of Crawford DVDs from my father. I have a number of other Crawford films stacked up here to watch for the first time, including the other two films in her "flapper" trilogy, OUR DANCING DAUGHTERS and OUR MODERN MAIDENS; DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE; THE GORGEOUS HUSSY; DAISY KENYON; and of course MILDRED PIERCE.

If you'd told me just a couple years ago I'd be looking forward to seeing all these Joan Crawford movies, I'd never have believed it!



Blogger NoirGirl said...

Such a great choice, Laura! I'm still at the stage of barely tolerating Joan Crawford, for a lot of the same reasons you did plus a couple more. I can't stand the way she dances, and worse, how reviewers and critics go on and on about what a great dancer she was. It's just not true.

Also, she had the unbelievable good fortune to be married to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr and couldn't make it work! It's just unforgivable. ;)

That said, I do really like quite a few of her films: The Women, Susan and God, Mildred Pierce, The Last of Mrs. Cheney. The Women is in my top ten list of favorites. Must see viewing for women everywhere. Susan and God is great fun to watch as well as being totally fascinating on an intellectual level. (Although some of JC's clothes in S&G are totally crazy!)

Anyway, terrific post, as always. Can't wait to see your reviews of more Crawford films. :)

4:00 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, Casey!

I remember watching Crawford dance in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! way back when and thinking "Huh?!" (grin)

From this vantage point it's hard to imagine anyone splitting up with someone as handsome and charming as Mr. Fairbanks Jr. :) It's nice to know that he found nearly a half-century of happiness when he married again.

I agree about her wardrobe in S&G, Adrian created such beautiful things in many films, but the clothes in S&G are...I think I used the word "bizarre" when I saw it. I couldn't decide if he and Ms. Crawford thought they were really fashionable or if they were supposed to be over the top, thinking they were smart but really silly, like Susan's character. I'd like to think the latter!

Thanks again for the idea for this post! I really liked yours on Monroe. She's not someone I'm wild about, but I enjoy her in small doses; she's hilarious in ALL ABOUT EVE. Perhaps, like you, I'll come to enjoy her even more in the future. I've got a couple available including CLASH BY NIGHT, which you made sound very interesting, and NIAGARA.

Best wishes,

9:20 AM  

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