24 March 2008 | Doylenf
Surprisingly watchable as Joan tears into tailor-made role...
From what we all know of Crawford's life story, HARRIET CRAIG seems to be a character who has a lot in common with JOAN CRAWFORD, so it's no surprise when Crawford plays her in a manner that should certainly please her fanbase, if not film critics. And this remake of "Craig's Wife" gives her plenty of meaty material to work with while she steps over everyone else in the cast in her best domineering mode.
She rules over her household with meticulous attention to detail, no matter how much she makes everyone else tremble under her withering gaze and her harsh rebukes, even alienating the loyal house servants and a young female cousin (K.T. STEVENS) whose romance she breaks up by telling lies.
Hubby WENDELL COREY remains completely unaware of her machinations until two-thirds of the story when he starts to realize that Harriet has not been telling him the truth. Her biggest mistake is giving his employer the false notion that he's careless with money and heavy responsibilities. Corey gets wind of her little talk and then bit by bit he begins to strip away all the deceit and deception she's been practicing on him and his friends.
It's a well crafted study of a woman driven to possess someone but unable to trust any man because of her discovery (as a child) that her father was a two-timer cheating at the office with another woman. The character is very much like the one that Ben Ames Williams created in "Leave Her to Heaven"--Ellen--consumed by the need to possess someone and willing to lie at all costs to keep him at her side.
Crawford is effective in the role, only occasionally rising to moments of theatrical hysteria--cold-faced with eyes glaring in dramatic close-ups--but director Vincent Sherman keeps the performance well controlled throughout most of the film.
WENDELL COREY is excellent as the bamboozled husband, effectively underplaying in his usual style, but with such a direct gaze that his sincerity counteracts Crawford's well played deceptions. Their final confrontation, after a series of lies have been uncovered, gives the film a strong ending. LUCILE WATSON is effective as the sophisticated, aristocratic wife of his employer.
Summing up: Better than average Crawford vehicle with a well-written script.