“From the director of Homicidal, the author of Psycho, and the co-star of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” reads the byline for producer-director William Castle's 1964 thriller Strait-Jacket. Although I've seen this Joan Crawford movie dozens of times, I still go back to it whenever I want a “post-Baby Jane” fix. In that category, Strait-Jacket and Berserk!, the latter also starring Crawford, are the only two that I appreciate.
For Strait-Jacket, Castle jumped at the chance to lure a real movie star into one of his exploitation movies. As everyone knows (or should know), Joan Crawford plays Lucy Harbin, an axe-murderess released from an “insane asylum” after twenty years. (And once again, Crawford is saddled down with a rotten daughter, here played by Diane Baker.) Without giving the plot away, I'll just say that this is kind of like Lizzie Borden with a twist.
Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket: From shy and dowdy to jewel-clad sexpot
Crawford incarnates the dowdy, gray-haired Lucy with plenty of pathos and sincerity, but when she gets all dolled-up in sundresses, black wig, and cheap dangling jewelry rattling loud enough to wake the dead, she goes way over the top. For in Strait-Jacket Crawford gets to mug like crazy – flirting, dressing sexy, striking a match on a record playing on a phonograph – while displaying Pepsi-Cola cartons everywhere.
Unfortunately, I've never understood her character's motivation for suddenly turning from a shy, reclusive old woman into a seductive sexpot. But then everything in Strait-Jacket feels contrived. In other words, it's best not to take it all that seriously. If you just go with it, you'll enjoy the crazy ride.
© Danny Fortune
Strait-Jacket (1964). Dir.: William Castle. Scr.: Robert Bloch. Cast: Joan Crawford, Diane Baker, Leif Erickson, Howard St. John, John Anthony Hayes, Rochelle Hudson, George Kennedy, Edith Atwater, Mitchell Cox, Lee Majors.
Joan Crawford Strait-Jacket photo: Columbia Pictures.