Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Female on the Beach (1955) at the Noir City Film Festival

How to explain FEMALE ON THE BEACH, which this evening launched the final week of the 13th annual Noir City Film Festival?

I couldn't precisely call this melodramatic tale of a lonely middle-aged woman romanced by a gigolo a good movie -- and yet I had a thoroughly good time watching it!

Joan Crawford plays the woman in question, a widow named Lynn Markham who moves into her late husband's Newport Beach home for the first time. Lynn's real estate agent (Jan Sterling) neglects to tell her that the preceding evening her tenant Eloise (Judith Evelyn) took a dive off the balcony to her death on the beach below. It's that kind of movie.

Eloise's onetime boy toy had been the younger Drummond Hall (Jeff Chandler), a hunk who lives with the older couple (Cecil Kellaway and Natalie Schafer) next door. "Drummy" soon sets his sights on Lynn, but is he interested in Lynn or her money? And how did Eloise die, anyway? Police Lt. Galley (Charles Drake) is determined to find out.

I don't really "get" Joan Crawford at this stage of her career, with her severe hairstyle and makeup at odds with her sashaying around in the wardrobe of a 20-year-old. Chandler is a definite hunk, but the notion that he drives women to drink -- or far worse -- when he doesn't phone gave me the giggles. The dialogue alternates between suggestive and downright silly; the movie at times is as hokey as all get-out.

And yet...what a fun movie! It sped by and I was completely entertained. The combination of the lead actors was rather unique; say what you will, they both had charisma. The plot kept me guessing till near the end, although in retrospect, "whodunit" should have been far more obvious to me. The film looked and sounded great, with beautiful set design as well as gleaming black and white photography by Charles Lang. Charles Drake is engaging as the wily police lieutenant.

In short, it was an 87 minutes I thoroughly enjoyed, and I'd definitely watch it again.

I like the three-star review by Stephen Scheuer: "Socko combination of glossy soap opera and lady-in-distress thriller, as Joan suffers agonies of indecision over whether the handsome hunk she's just wed is a murderous gigolo."

The film was directed by Joseph Pevney, whose credits also include TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR (1957) and THE CROWDED SKY (1960).

FEMALE ON THE BEACH is not available on video or DVD. (Update: This movie is now out on DVD in TCM's Women in Danger - 1950s Thrillers collection.) (November 2018 Update: This film will be released on Blu-ray next month by Kino Lorber.) (January 2019 Update: My review of the Kino Lorber Blu-ray may be found here.)

The second half of the double bill was the most entertaining HAZARD (1948), starring Paulette Goddard and Macdonald Carey.


Blogger Vienna said...

I'm with you on this film, Laura. Very entertaining!
The actress who played Eloise was very moving and had some good scenes.
And Jan Sterling is always good.

1:12 AM  
Blogger mel said...

I watched this for the first time last evening (Kino Lorber did a brilliant job with the BluRay), and I concur with everything you wrote about it, but I have to say that any movie I've enjoyed watching I'd describe as a "good" one (it doesn't matter to me what the critics, or anyone else for that matter, thinks!

12:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm so glad you liked it also, Vienna!

Mel, I'm so glad you got to see it and enjoyed the Kino Lorber Blu-ray. They've been doing great work on their releases. That's true, if a movie has been an enjoyable watch it's by definition "good"! :)

Best wishes,

10:24 AM  

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