Thursday, May 6, 2010

QUEEN BEE


QUEEN BEE (1955). Director [and screenplay]: Ranald MacDougall. From a novel by Edna L. Lee.

"Never come between me and my liquor. You might get knocked down." -- Avery.

"You can't imagine the things they've made me do trying to protect myself." -- Eva.

Well ... what to make of this picture? We have a bitter Eva Phillips (Joan Crawford), who is still smarting over the way her southern in-laws treated her when she came from Chicago; her heavy-drinking husband, Avery (Barry Sullivan) who has a big scar on his cheek from a car accident and is nicknamed "Beauty;" cousin Lucy (Jennifer Stewart), who comes for a lengthy stay and is caught between neurotic factions; sister Carol (Betsy Palmer), who only wants to marry Eva's cast-off lover Jud (John Ireland), but is tempting fate; and poor batty Sue (Fay Wray), who was literally left at the altar on her wedding day when Avery ran off with Eva. This is the kind of over-baked melodrama in which characters stand around and talk about the problems that define them at the drop of a hat. To say it lacks subtlety is a massive understatement. At the same time it's quite entertaining and oddly riveting, and works itself up to a dramatically horrifying climax. Everyone in the film seems to have studied at the School of Unnatural Acting, but most are effective, with Crawford being quite authoritative and giving her fans a good show. She is wise enough to show the vulnerability beneath her character's bitchiness. After her, Betsy Palmer comes off best, but both Ireland and Sullivan have their moments, and Katherine Anderson makes a mean nurse in Miss Breen. Years later Palmer played deranged maniac Mrs. Voorhees in the original Friday the 13th.

Verdict: Not exactly Tennessee Williams, but strangely compelling. ***.

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