Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Director: Curtis Bernhardt
Screenwriter: Silvia Richards, Ranald MacDougall
based on the story of Rita Weiman
Music: Franz Waxman
Cinematography: Joseph A. Valentine
A Joan Crawford’s star-vehicle directed by German émigré Curtis Bernhardt, in POSSESSED (not the namesake film Crawford made in 1931 with Clark Gable), Crawford plays Louise Howell, an erotomaniac possessed by her desire over David Sutton (Heflin), an engineer who cannot reciprocate her with the same obsession.
The film opens with a frazzled Louise roaming in the streets of Los Angeles, unable to utter another word besides “David!”, she succumbs to a stupor and is taken to the hospital, under the treatment of Dr. Willard (Ridges), she lets up her stories in flashback from the falling-out between her and David, he considers her as a mere intermezzo in his life, yet she contends to be his theme song (aka, Schumann’s Carnaval, Op. 9 piano solo), the music cue plays a significant role in the later stage which compounds Louise’s descent into psychosis.
A trained nurse hired to minister to the invalid wife of the wealthy industrialist Dean Graham (Massey, a salt-of-the-earth ilk but also mulish enough to seek the impossible) and after a horrific event crops up near the family’s lake house, leaving Dean a widower, Louise choose to stay on with the Graham family in Washington D.C. on the strength of seeing David again, since Dean is his boss.
When David reappears in her life, Louise goes all out to reignite their romance, but the latter is completely out of love with her, humiliated and disillusioned, she accepts Dean’s marriage proposal in spite of both twig that she isn’t in love with him. Loveless-but-affluent marriage usually functions well for most people, but Louise receives a bolt from the blue when she finds out David and her step-daughter Carol (a debutante Brooks) have become an item, which is the tipping point driving her into further hallucination where reality and unreality has blurred their finitude. Two murderous occurrences are confected, only one transpires to be veridical (the other sending up its blasé staircase confrontation trope), but the ending, nevertheless, ladles out enough psychobabble to augur everything will be fine for the misfortune-ridden Louise.
Nabbing her second Oscar nomination, Ms. Crawford makes for a barnstorming presence, histrionic occasionally, but speaking of a tarnished soul desperately hanging on her tapering pride, she is magnificent to behold (decked by jewelry and finery if she sees fit), less savory if she has to play the smitten lover against a miscast Hefin, whose thuggish comportment is a far cry from a mathematical engineer, one basically feels apathetic to his character’s comeuppance, and wonders what women see in him is so deadly irresistible? That said, POSSESSED shows up Bernhardt’s expressionist flourishes in his spooky orchestration that torments Louise’s sanity and boosts a strong showcase for its middle-age conscious star, who refuses to be sidelined, neither by the man she yens for nor by the ageist and sexist system, into which she has been sinking her teeth for over two decades starting from its bottom rung.