"These days, all it takes to be labeled a diva is to release a couple of pop albums in a row and exhibit some bad behavior in public" - that's Dave Kehr reviewing a bunch of DVDs in the new york times. I was reminded of this while thinking of making a list of all films of Joan Crawford that I have seen so far, probably the greatest diva of all time, if not the greatest actress. It didn't matter who the director was or who her co-stars were, she always had to be in the foreground in every scene, always occupying the center of the frame with her face strategically lighted. Not a beautiful face in a conventional sense, at least not in her 40s movies, but a face you can't take your eyes off. It also helped that she remained always in the high-drama mode.
I had seen some of these before and some I saw recently in the last few weeks. From the rest of her oeuvre I really want to see the 1931 Possessed, The Women, A Woman's Face and most of all Johnny Guitar. For now, in order of preference (all are heavily recommended, except may be the last one)...
Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1945): One of the greatest achievements of classical Hollywood film making, it also captures the essential elements of Joan Crawford's screen persona, at least of her later career. She mostly seemed to be going through the same motions as a character even when the story and the settings were different.
Possessed (Curtis Bernhardt, 1947): Film noir filtered through the tropes of woman's film with good dose of amateur Freudianism thrown in the mix. It is absolutely first rate overall, the only weak link is the hopelessly dull male lead Van Heflin (not that it matters in a Joan Crawford picture) but since she is supposed be possessed by her desire for him it just felt unconvincing. Also, rare for her she even sheds her diva image for a few scenes and appears on screen without any makeup.
Daisy Kenyon (Otto Preminger, 1947): Joan Crawford is pursued by two of Hollywood biggest stars and both very good looking actors - Dana Andrews and Henry Fonda. It is pretty unusual for a hollywood film of that time, the characters talk so much and are so complicated that it almost feels like a suspense film. Even at the last scene one are not sure who she will go with finally. She is confused herself as well. All the talkings and to and froing gave me a headache so much so that I felt like asking her to toss a coin or even better agree on some kind of menage-a-trois arrangement.
Humoresque (Jean Negulesco, 1946): It starts of as a film about the John Garfield character (the story starts from his childhood) and Joan Crawford doesn't even appear until after half an hour as passed but then soon enough Garfield goes duly in the background and Crawford takes the centrestage. Even when he is playing the Humoresque it is Crawford's face the camera is more interested in. Her final scene is very beautifully shot. There is also a very funny and annoying supporting character who supplies most of film's wisecracks.
Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding, 1932): I have already mentioned it in a previous post. Rare for her, she actually doesn't have much to do in the ensemble cast but she is very beautiful and unforgettable in whatever she does.
Sudden Fear (David Miller, 1952): Crawford plays a successful playwright who refuses to cast Jack Palance as a romantic lead in one of her plays thinking he is not suitable for the part. Soon after she falls for his charms herself and marries him but then gets suspicious of his intentions about murdering her. The film also has Gloria Grahame in a supporting role who deserves a list of her own.
The Damned Don't Cry (Vincent Sherman, 1950): This is Mildred Pierce redux. Crawford plays woman from a poor and ordinary background who won't stop at anything to realize her ambitions. Things get tough when she finds herself mixed up with the underworld gang.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (Robert Aldrich, 1962): Unpleasant, pointless and totally avoidable. It is not really her picture, it belongs mainly to Bette Davis who does a caricature of all the screaming harpies that she was such an expert in playing.