What’s The Story? Harriet Craig (our Joan) is a woman who runs her home like a ship. Everything in the right place, everyone doing what they’re told. Harriet will maintain control, no matter how many lies she tells her husband Walter (Wendell Corey) to keep him in line or her niece Clare that works as her unpaid secretary. Or even Walter’s boss to prevent him from getting a promotion that would take him to Japan for three months.
Based on George Kelly’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Craig’s Wife, this movie puts Joan into the anti-hero role. Harriet is conniving, vain, and highly manipulative. You do see flashes of why she’s doing what she does and at the end when her plans unravel, Harriet has a huge monologue detailing why she is the way she in (in a way that only a Pulitzer Prize-winning play from the 1920’s can). The film is very engaging. You really love to hate Harriet even though you get why she is the way she is. When she gets her comeuppance, it’s very well earned.
Oh, And How’s Joan? This is 5 years after Mildred Pierce and a good 12 years before the hagspoiltation apotheosis Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? So, I call this her “Manicured Battle-axe” phase. She has the style and beauty from her earlier years but with the flintiness and coldness of some of her later years. Sure, Bette Davis and other actresses can do this kind of thing too, but Joan does it with cold efficiency and a ton of heart. Helen in Humoresque may on the surface have a lot of things in common with Harriet, but the ticking heart underneath each role is very different. The supporting cast is very game, including Wendell Corey as her husband and KT Stevens as her put-upon niece. Everyone seems like they are in the same film and the same world, which isn’t always the case with Joan’s films.
She also looks amazing. I mean, this is how she looks in a dinner party scene:
In her signature red lips and arched eyebrows, Joan added a severe left part in her hair to the look. Which works. It adds a slightly masculine vibe to Harriet, showing she’s the real man of the house. Joan really comes to life in Harriet’s many confrontations with her staff and when she’s having to spin one lie to the next. The script can be very hokey and obvious, but Joan makes it all work.
Should I See It? Absolutely. It’s not one of her best films but she’s great in it. The acting really help to sell a story that was creaky by 1950’s standards (and it practically antediluvian now).
How Can I See It? It’s currently available via Amazon Prime. You can watch it here.