Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Late Joan Crawford

I taped Strait-Jacket when TCM showed it a week and a half ago, and finally got around to watching it. What a riot.

Crawford stars as Lucy, a woman with a mental condition. We first see her twenty years before the main action of the movie, coming home early from a trip, only to find her husband (Lee Majors, in an uncredited role) sleeping with another woman. This enrages Lucy so much that, in a fit of jealousy, she grabs the nearest axe and murders both her husband and his girlfriend! (Yes, Strait-Jacket is that scholocky.) However, apparently she was able to get off on an insanity plea, as she wasn't sent to a prison, but to an asylum.

Fast forward twenty years, and Lucy is about to be released from the asylum, to be turned over to the care of her brother and his wife, who have raised Lucy's daughter Carol (played by Diane Baker, having just as much fun here as she was in Marnie) on their farm. Carol wants things to be just as they were twenty years ago, right down to the same ghastly dress and wig Lucy wore back then. There's also the problem of Lucy's past; Carol is about to get engaged, but worries that her boyfriend's parents won't approve of Lucy. Things go from bad to worse when Lucy's former doctor pays a visit, and gets his head chopped off. Of course Lucy did it... or did she?

Strait-Jacket is delightfully over the top, as Joan Crawford runs the gamut of emotions from a repressed librarian type (think Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life during the scene when George Bailey is being shown what things would be like if he had never been born), to libidinous vamp, in a scene when she comes on to Carol's boyfriend. William Castle directed it. He was known for introducing gimmicks to get people to see his movies; it was he who had theater seats wired to produce electric shocks at key points of The Tingler. Here, though, there isn't really much of a gimmick, just a fun little thriller, even if the plot is predictable. Watch also for George Kennedy as a farm hand, and the obligatory product placement for Pepsi -- at this stage of her career, Crawford was the widow of a Pepsi executive, owned a lot of stock in the company, and sat on the board, leading her to place Pepsi products in her movies.

Strait-Jacket is available on DVD, and deservedly so. It's not exactly great, but it's a heck of a lot of fun.

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