Many writers consider Possessed Joan Crawford’s best performance, mainly because she goes colorfully mad in it. Her work here, though, is uneven. There are times when she clutches her head and rubs her temples in a clichéd manner in order to let us know her mind is unraveling. But she has lots of boldly original moments too, and this is partly because Crawford went to mental institutions to meet and observe some patients before shooting the film; this preparation paid off. In her best scenes, she shows her character’s illness subtly and accurately without going over the top. Crawford saw that mental illness shows itself above all in the eyes, in the way they seem to stare inward instead of out at the world, and she replicates this quite strikingly. Crawford plays Louise, a chilly nurse who nurtures a fatal passion for David (Van Heflin), a wastrel engineer. Like a bad penny, David keeps coming back into her life and tormenting her. Eventually, she starts hearing noises in the night, hallucinating all over the place, chattering irrationally and breaking into laughter for no reason. It’s hard to care about Louise or David, but Possessed does have a few very good insights into the self-abasing aggressiveness of unrequited love. The script is often silly, especially when dealing with hospitals and psychiatrists, and Curtis Bernhardt’s direction is uninspired, but the acting is exceptional. Crawford dominates, of course, but she has expert support from Raymond Massey as an oil man she marries, Geraldine Brooks as his daughter, and Heflin as her sexy, sadistic object of desire. It’s at its best when it’s most subjective, putting you into Louise’s mindset, and at its worst when it slows its pace down to a crawl in back-and-forth dialogue scenes. The film is flawed, and so is Crawford’s performance, but the paranoid animal glint that flickers behind the star’s eyes in her most lunatic moments is definitely memorable.
- Warner Bros.
- 108 min
- Curtis Bernhardt
- Ranald MacDougall, Lawrence Menkin
- Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks, Stanley Ridges, John Ridgely, Moroni Olsen, Erskine Sanford
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