Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Woman's Face 1941

A disfigured Joan Crawford, planned child murder, weird accents and Ma Kettle comes together in this flashback-filled film that contains Joan Crawford's best performance (that I've seen anyway).

Anyway, Joan Crawford is Anna Holm, who had the side of her face disfigured in a childhood fire that took her family. Suffering a life of mockery and abuse, Anna becomes a cold-hearted blackmailer. She meets a plastic surgeon who is able to fix her disfigurement, but she is tempted to go back down a the dark path when the man she is in love with concocts a scheme to murder his four year old nephew that is currently set to inherit his family's fortune.

The film is presented in a series of flashbacks during a murder trial in which Anna is the accused. It allows for the film to unfold almost like a mystery as it plays with our expectations and goes into all sorts of directions.

As I said, the film is the best Joan Crawford performances that I've seen. She has to play such a nuanced character, someone who has suffered a very hard life, but begins to let herself love and grow, and she pulls it off believably.

Unfortunately, the film falls into some predictable territory once the 4 year old nephew (Richard Nichols, who was also in Kitty Foyle and the Bette Davis film All This, and Heaven Too) enters the picture. The kid is overtly cutsey and "golly gee whiz, I love ya" and you begin to get an idea where Anna story arc is going to go. In addition, the other characters are not nearly as interesting as Anna. The plastic surgeon, Dr. Gustaf (Melvyn Douglas) is a fairly boring character who oddly offers to fix Anna's face in the middle of a break-in, and Anna's love, the sinister Torsten (Conrad Veidt) has a rather peculiar and unbelievable character arc where he descends into homicidal madness.

But the film is worth seeing alone for Joan Crawford's performance, because it really does showcase her talent for playing a variety of characters, having to be both cold-hearted and spiteful as well as vulnerable and maternal.

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