- Strait-Jacket (movie 1964) review: Psycho-ish horror cult classic works as a larger-than-life Joan Crawford showcase – as long as you just go along for the ride and refrain from asking any questions about plot and character.
Strait-Jacket (movie 1964) review: Who would have guessed that Joan Crawford would one day become an (ex-?) axe-murdering sexpot?
“From the director of Homicidal, the author of [the 1959 novel] Psycho, and the costar of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” reads the byline for producer-director William Castle’s 1964 horror thriller Strait-Jacket, written by Robert Bloch and starring Best Actress Academy Award winner Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce, 1945).
Although I’ve seen Strait-Jacket dozens of times, I still go back to it whenever I want a “post-Baby Jane” Joan Crawford fix. In that regard, Castle’s thriller and Jim O’Connolly’s British-made Berserk (1967), the latter also centered on the former MGM and Warner Bros. star, are the only two that I appreciate.
For Strait-Jacket, the gimmick-savvy Castle had jumped at the chance to lure a real movie icon into one of his exploitation flicks.
As everyone knows (or should know), Crawford plays Lucy Harbin, an axe-murderess released from an “insane asylum” after 20 years. Once again, the actress is saddled down with a rotten daughter – see, for one, Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce – here played by Diane Baker (Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Silence of the Lambs).
Without giving the plot away, I’ll just say that Strait-Jacket is kind of like the story of Lizzie Borden with a twist.
From dowdy frump to jewel-clad sexpot
At first, Joan Crawford incarnates the dowdy, gray-haired Lucy with plenty of pathos and sincerity.
But once she gets all dolled-up in sundresses and a black wig, in addition to some cheap jewelry dangling and rattling loud enough to wake the dead, Crawford goes way over the top, mugging like crazy – flirting, seducing, 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.
Strait-Jacket (movie 1964) cast & crew
Director: William Castle.
Screenplay: 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.
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling.
Film Editing: Edwin H. Bryant.
Music: Van Alexander.
Production Design: Boris Leven.
Producer: William Castle.
Production Company: William Castle Pictures.
Distributor: Columbia Pictures.
Running Time: 90 min.
Country: United States.
“Strait-Jacket (Movie 1964): Joan Crawford Mugs It Up” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes © Alt Film Guide.
“Strait-Jacket (Movie 1964): Joan Crawford Mugs It Up” notes
Producer-director William Castle and novelist-turned-screenwriter Robert Bloch would join forces once again on another 1964 thriller, The Night Walker, notable for having reunited ex-spouses Robert Taylor and, in her final big-screen role, Barbara Stanwyck (in place of original choice Joan Crawford).
Strait-Jacket movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog website.
Joan Crawford Strait-Jacket movie image: Columbia Pictures.
“Strait-Jacket (Movie 1964): Joan Crawford Mugs It Up” last updated in April 2023.