Joan Crawford Movies: 'Mildred Pierce,' 'Flamingo Road'

Joan Crawford, Daisy KenyonJoan Crawford (right, in Daisy Kenyon) is Turner Classic Movies' next "Summer Under the Stars" star. On Monday, August 22, TCM will be showing 13 Joan Crawford movies, in addition to Peter Fitzgerald's documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star, narrated by Anjelica Huston. (Curiously, Crawford is nowhere to be found in any of the 40+ films directed by Anjelica Huston's father, John Huston.) (See Joan Crawford Movie Schedule further below.)

As an MGM and WB star, Crawford is one of TCM's most visible stars. Every week, there's some Joan Crawford movie or other on TCM – at times, a number of them. Even so, there's plenty of room for variety, as Crawford made about 60 films between 1930 and 1950, roughly her (talkie) time at MGM (1930s and early '40s) and WB (late '40s). There would be even more room for variety if TCM bothered showing more of Crawford's silents. She appeared in about 25 of those, precious few of which have surfaced so far.

Unfortunately, TCM won't be presenting a single Crawford silent on Monday, even though most of them are gathering dust in Time Warner-owned vaults. Sally, Irene and Mary, Twelve Miles Out, The Understanding Heart, The Taxi Dancer, and others are all waiting for someone at TCM to have the guts to program them – even without musical accompaniment. After all, it's better to watch a silent silent movie than no silent movie at all.

Among the Crawford vehicles TCM will be presenting, I'd recommend Mildred Pierce (1945) to those who have never watched it despite the fact that it's on TCM just about every other week, it seems. Crawford fully deserved her Best Actress Oscar and National Board of Review Award, while Ann Blyth and Eve Arden fully deserved their Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominations. The film was also up for Best Picture, though strangely (and unfairly) Michael Curtiz was bypassed.

I should add that Mildred Pierce is seen by many as "camp." I couldn't disagree more. In my view, this film adaptation of James M. Cain's novel is dark drama – with quite a bit of social commentary – of the highest order. Indeed, I find it unfortunate that Crawford, one of the greatest film actress of the last century, has been a victim of a reputation-murdering drag-queenization. I've nothing against drag queens, but the actress herself – and her often brilliant performances – deserve more respect from film scholars.

Curtiz's Flamingo Road (1949) may not be great drama, but it should be better remembered – and better appreciated – than it is. Crawford is particularly good as the "low-class" dancer who becomes a member of small-town society.

Torch Song (1953) offers a middle-aged Joan Crawford displaying a couple of shapely legs (though Marjorie Rambeau was the one who ended up with an Oscar nod), while The Shining Hour (1938) has her sharing the screen with Margaret Sullavan. Both Crawford and Sullavan are equally fine in this beautifully shot (George J. Folsey) and perfectly watchable romantic melodrama, once again featuring issues of class and a dancer from the wrong side of the tracks. Frank Borzage directed. Melvyn Douglas, Robert Young, Fay Bainter, Frank Albertson, and the great Hattie McDaniel are all part of the drama, too.

Crawford is fine in Robert Z. Leonard's When Ladies Meet (1941), though by then she was at the end of her MGM contract. As a result, the studio (and director Leonard) clearly placed the dramatic focus of this romantic melodrama on newcomer Greer Garson, who would reign for several years as the Queen of the MGM lot. Beware: When Ladies Meet, which also stars Robert Taylor and Herbert Marshall, begins quite slowly. Do hang on, as the drama becomes quite intriguing once Taylor and Marshall all but disappear from the scene, leaving Crawford and the (nowadays) much underrated Garson alone to strut their dramatic stuff.

Photo via Doctor Macro

Robert Montgomery, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Forsaking All Others
Robert Montgomery, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Forsaking All Others

Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:

6:00 AM FORSAKING ALL OTHERS (1934) A woman pursues the wrong man for almost twenty years. Dir.: W. S. Van Dyke. Cast: Robert Montgomery, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable. Black and white. 83 min.

7:30 AM I LIVE MY LIFE (1935) A flighty society girl tries to make a go of her marriage to an archaeologist. Dir.: W. S. Van Dyke. Cast: Joan Crawford, Brian Aherne, Frank Morgan. Black and white. 97 min.

9:15 AM LOVE ON THE RUN (1936) Rival newsmen get mixed up with a runaway heiress and a ring of spies. Dir.: W. S. Van Dyke. Cast: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone. Black and white. 80 min.

10:45 AM WHEN LADIES MEET (1941) A female novelist doesn't realize her new friend is the wife whose husband she's trying to steal. Dir.: Robert Z. Leonard. Cast: Joan Crawford, Robert Taylor, Greer Garson. Black and white. 105 min.

12:45 PM DAISY KENYON (1947) On the rebound from a married man, a woman marries a veteran, just as her lover becomes available. Dir.: Otto Preminger. Cast: Joan Crawford, Dana Andrews, Henry Fonda. Black and white. 99 min.

2:30 PM FLAMINGO ROAD (1949) A stranded carnival dancer takes on a corrupt political boss when she marries into small-town society. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Cast: Joan Crawford, Zachary Scott, Sydney Greenstreet. Black and white. 94 min.

4:15 PM TORCH SONG (1953) A tempestuous musical theatre star falls for a blind pianist. Dir.: Charles Walters. Cast: Joan Crawford, Michael Wilding, Gig Young. Color. 90 min. Letterbox Format.

6:00 PM THE STORY OF ESTHER COSTELLO (1957) A bitter divorcee works to educate a deaf and blind girl. Dir.: David Miller. Cast: Joan Crawford, Rossano Brazzi, Heather Sears. Black and white. 102 min. Letterbox Format.

8:00 PM POSSESSED (1931) A factory girl rises to the top as mistress of a tycoon falls in love. Dir.: Clarence Brown. Cast: Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Wallace Ford. Black and white. 76 min.

9:30 PM JOAN CRAWFORD: THE ULTIMATE MOVIE STAR (2002) A TCM original documentary that examines Crawford's life and unparalleled movie career. Narrated by Anjelica Huston. Color. 87 min.

11:00 PM MILDRED PIERCE (1945) A woman turns herself into a business tycoon to win her selfish daughter a place in society. Dir.: Michael Curtiz. Cast: Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott. Black and white. 111 min.

1:00 AM SADIE MCKEE (1934) A working girl suffers through three troubled relationships on her road to prosperity. Dir.: Clarence Brown. Cast: Joan Crawford, Gene Raymond, Franchot Tone. Black and white. 93 min.

2:45 AM THE SHINING HOUR (1938) A nightclub dancer marries into society and has to contend with her jealous sister-in-law. Dir.: Frank Borzage. Cast: Joan Crawford, Margaret Sullavan, Melvyn Douglas. Black and white. 77 min.

4:15 AM MONTANA MOON (1930) A flapper weds a cowboy and has to adjust to life out West. Dir.: Malcolm St. Clair. Cast: Joan Crawford, John Mack Brown, Dorothy Sebastian. Black and white. 89 min.

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