February 22, 2016

Joan Crawford, Possessed

Possessed opens with Joan Crawford's Louise wandering around town in a state of disarray, a not-so-subtle imitation of the opening for Mildred Pierce. In that moment I recall some skepticism on my end--was a this an afterglow nomination stemming from the leftover goodwill from her recent Oscar win? Would this film be a casual attempt to imitate something that had already been done, that I had already seen?

As it would turn out, this performance doesn't bear heavy similarity to Mildred Pierce. In fact, I'd even go as far as saying that I thought this to be a much more superior performance to the one of which Crawford is so explicably known for, and I initially second-guessed myself for feeling this way. In discussing Crawford's performance, TIME Magazine said that Crawford performs "...with the passion and intelligence of an actress who is not content with just one Oscar," and I think that essentially sums up her work here quite well. Crawford is so evidently going-for-broke in this film, and does so while maintaining a level of self-assurance that makes her a gripping presence on screen. I won't comment about the film's depiction of Louise's love-induced schizophrenia, but I do feel that Crawford performs the spectrum of Louise's descent into madness rather convincingly. I thought that she captured Louise's love-lorn heartbreak very well--despite my feelings that she might have been a little too old to be acting such things out. But ultimately what really impressed me was the total dedication she brings to the table here--it's always going to be a hefty acting challenge to take on mental disorders in a film--not only do I feel that she does all that she's required to do very well, but I truly got the feeling that Crawford was immersing herself in Louise's idiosyncrasies. Over the span of a single sentence she masterfully veers from total desperation to threatening spite -- I was very taken by how she hits all of Louise's emotional marks all the while keeping up with the volatile oscillations. The way Crawford retools her voice throughout the film -- conveying Louise's longing, sadness, regret, and/or anger -- was especially wonderful. Her 'mad' scenes are sharp and visceral and wonderfully done. While some may deem these moments within the performance as too campy or over-the-top, I wasn't bothered at all--I saw those loud and stormy bits as fragments of a complicated puzzle. Crawford is all sorts of things in this film--a virtuous woman gone horribly astray, a lovesick tragedy, a femme fatale--and above all she's a dominant force to be reckoned with on screen.


  1. Mmh, I barely remember her but I was not that impressed the first time - maybe a re-watch whill change my opionion

  2. Surprised, It's my least favorite of her nominated performances, but a good one.

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  4. Joan Crawford always went-for-broke as an actress, sometimes to her detriment but often to her advantage. Here, I find it a bit of both although I must say, I think like many actors she improved as she learned and honed her technique. I like her in parts of this film and I especially enjoy how she uses the pitch and tone of her voice to express subtle changes in character. That said, I did find her 'mad' scenes overdone and a bit on the campy side. Still, I always enjoy Crawford and think she is a vastly underrated actress.

  5. It's been some 20 years easily since I've watched it. Now, I must again.

  6. Wow, wasn't expecting that! I wasn't a fan of this performance/film when I saw it last year. She's charismatic as all get out, but it's just a touch too campy/melodramatic for me, and not even great melodrama really. Van Heflin/Raymond Massey do not make for great romantic interests either haha.

    This does make me interested to revisit one day, though :)

  7. 5 Oscars???
    :D you are really testing us with this one.

    What I remember is that she was walking a really thin line with this performance, but I can understand someone being impressed by it. But not that impressed. :P

    1. I knew no one would agree with me!!! I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did as well :) I guess I wasn't as receptive to her perceived over-the-top-ness

  8. I don't think you're entirely wrong in your assessment. I think Crawford's great in the first 20 minutes of the film, where she barely says a word but lands every emotional moment. It's the melodramatic backstory that works against her and is easy to mock today. Miscasting also hurt the film. Still, she invests everything in this part and makes some rather mawkish moments believable. These are the films where Crawford rises above her material and is often not given credit for that. I think you got this one right.