Sunday, August 21, 2011

Flamingo Road

By now, if you've been reading this blog long enough, you should know about Joan Crawford and the 150% performances she gave in a lot of her later movies after leaving MGM. Tomorrow happens to be Crawford's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, and one of those late 1940s performances that I haven't mentioned before is on the schedule: Flamingo Road, at 2:30 PM.

Crawford plays Lane Bellamy, a circus carnival girl who frankly is far too old to be playing the part, but this is Joan Crawford: who's going to say "no" to her? The carnival winds up on the outskirts of some southern town where it's discovered that the books are in a mess, and when the local police want the carnival to move on, Lane stays behind. She's met by Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott), a sheriff's deputy who was supposed to see that the carnival moved on, but found only Lane there. He picks her up, but in the romantic sense, not the criminal justice sense; taking her into town, getting her a meal and ultimately a job, as well as falling in with her.

Now this is a problem, for Fielding is a protégé of the local sheriff, Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet) who has plans that Fielding should go on to big things in the state legislature. Having a wife like Lane wouldn't do, and indeed, Titus had planned for Fielding to marry the much more proper Annabelle (Virginia Huston). To make certain Fielding can't marry Lane, Titus has Lane brought in on trumped-up prostitution charges, and sent off to jail. Oh, yeah; I probably should have mentioned that the sheriff is one corrupt SOB. Lane, having learned this the hard way, decides to get revenge on the sheriff, which starts off with getting a job in the local road house where the bigwigs meet to plan their corruptitude.

But in addition, Lane marries the lawyer Dan Reynolds (David Brian), who also has political aspirations, and is the one man in town who might have even a 1% chance of standing up to the sheriff. Not that he's completely clean himself, since small-town politics have always been incestuous at best. You know that all this is going to result in conflicts between David and Titus, as well as conflicts between David and Fielding....

Flamingo Road has some problems with the plot, in that the whole ending seems forced and not quite right. Plus, Crawford is much too old to be playing this role, even if she is as compelling as ever playing it. To be honest, though, the real attention should be paid to Sydney Greenstreet. He was about 70 in real life when he made this film, and was suffering from diabetes. He looks physically terrible, as though he's going to keel over and drop dead at any moment. Yet that physical degradation actually works well, as it gives him the air of a man who has to get things done now before he dies, and also lends a sense of physical corruption to his moral corruption.

Flamingo Road is one of those movies that's not an all-time great, but is entertaining and endearingly melodramatic. And with Joan Crawford and Sydney Greenstreet, you know you're getting two performers who are giving a professional job. Flamingo Road was released as part of a DVD box set which contains several other movies that are also showing up on Monday.

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