We return to Season Three of the collaborative series Hit Me With Your Best Shot with not one but two tales of love-madness. I hadn't meant to pair them but I was so late with Possessed and it was time to bring the series back with The Story of Adele H. So there they were, two brunette screen goddesses Joan Crawford and (today's birthday girl) Isabelle Adjani, double-teaming me with their crazy-making sob stories of unrequited love. We'll cover Adele H tomorrow (yes, I'm running behind) but tonight, the first of these two Best Actress Nominated pictures.
This 1947 noir stars the inimitable Joan Crawford as Louise, a woman who we meet after the events of the picture have taken place, wandering around in a daze looking for a man named "David". She is soon in a mental hospital and her back story, the story, begins to emerge. David (the dependably caddish Van Heflin), as it turns out, is the love of her life who she met while both were under the employ of a rich businessman. Louise, a feminist's nightmare, tosses aside all her dignity to veritably beg David to love her back and when he won't, she marries the boss instead and spends the rest of the movie obsessing over David and prone to jealous rages over her step-daughter's budding romance with her former lover. Louise is one of Crawford's most famous Victim roles but the actress is sly enough to also understand that Louise is enough of a masochist to also qualify her as the Film's Villain. The movie's best passage takes on a dream-like quality which is appropriate since Louise is a walking nightmare.
The crucial narrative pivot point for both Louise's Going Mental arc and the film's slide toward homicide comes right after a step-mother/daughter date that has been ruined by David's return. He flirts with the daughter sending Louise into a tailspin from which she won't ever recover. She feigns sickness and returns home but finds that she can't sleep, hearing noises in the wind, storm, house. She falls on the bed dramatically and stops her rhythmically tick-tocking clock. But the metronomic beat continues eerily with raindrops on the window sill as if the thunderstorm itself is mocking her. Louise bolts to the window slamming it shut.
Louise, Louise... there's no shutting out the crazy.
Eyes may be the preferred figurative window to the soul -- and Crawford's giant defiant dark orbs are great ones -- but when it comes to Possessed my "best shot" is a more literal interruption. This window shot (actually broken up by two inserts of David dropping Carol off at the house) is both beautiful and sad and it's utterly frantic despite the beat where Louise drops her forehead against the window temporarily keeping that storm at bay.
But, you see, the storm is inside her.
As she quickly backs away from the window and spins to run towards the front door to see what Carol and David are up to, she's running right into the eye of it.
This is the kick off to the film's amazing "Hallucination" setpiece, in which Louise will experience Carol's return home... twice. I don't want to get into spoilers but that setpiece is such an intricate mini-masterpiece of staging, edits, and performance that the whole film would qualify as one if it didn't flail about or stall intermittently during the build up and the come down.
Throughout the film director Curtis Bernhardt and his DP Joseph A Valentine favor make expert use of both zoom ins and zoom outs such as in the reveal of the stormy window or during Joan's wonderfully acted psychotic break. When they're not zooming in and zooming out, Joan is moving towards or away from the camera as if Possessed itself can't decide how close it dares get to her. This woman's soul is a frightening vision.
More "Possessed" Blogs. Read Them!
Film Actually thinks that Oscar nomination was well deserved
Antagony & Ecstacy on the woman in black in a world of greys
Cinesnatch straight out of The Twilight Zone
Paraphrased Kulchar silent film training and mid career naturalism
musicinephiles mixed messages from the doctors and Joan. Those nails!