- Strait-Jacket (1964) movie 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 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 co-star 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.
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.
“Strait-Jacket (1964): ‘A’ Star in ‘B’ Horror Cult Classic” review text © Danny Fortune; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Strait-Jacket (1964) Movie Review” endnotes
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).
Joan Crawford Strait-Jacket movie image: Columbia Pictures.
“Strait-Jacket (1964): ‘A’ Star in ‘B’ Horror Cult Classic” last updated in October 2021.