Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


FLAMINGO ROAD (1949). Michael Curtiz.

It's Joan Crawford vs. Sydney Greenstreet in this entertaining melodrama which combines the stars of Mildred Pierce (Crawford, Zachary Scott) with that film's director, Michael Curtiz. (As well, Scott appeared with Greenstreet in the former's film debut The Mask of Dimitrios.) Crawford also plays a waitress (part of the time) as she did in Mildred. This time, as Lane Bellamy, she's stranded in a small town when the carnival runs off, and is befriended by Deputy Sheriff Field Carlisle (Scott), who, unfortunately, already has a girlfriend, Annabelle (Virgina Huston). Greenstreet is Sheriff Titus Semple, who wants his protege Field to go places in politics and wants Lane run out of town, even going so far as to have her arrested on trumped-up prostitution charges. When Lane whacks him in the face (not once but twice) for his role in this, it begins a formidable battle between two forces of nature, involving not only Field but also political boss Dan Reynolds (David Brian). Giving Titus a steely look across a restaurant table, Lane tells him how an elephant had to be shot down at the circus when it attacked its trainer. "You have no idea how hard it is to dispose of a dead elephant," says she. Flamingo Road could be called anti-corpulent were it not for the fact that Greenstreet/Semple's excessive avoirdupois is neatly tied into the plot.

All of the performances are good in Flamingo Road -- including Gladys George as the owner of a risque roadhouse and Gertrude Michael as a saucy waitress-friend of Lane's -- but Greenstreet pretty much walks off with the picture. Although he never manages a convincing Southern accent, his performance is still powerful, and Titus Semple is, in fact, one of the best roles the portly actor was ever given on the screen. Letting out with a rough giggle after George makes a comment about his weight as he climbs the stairs of her establishment, or confronting a whole roomful of men as he cheerfully blackmails them, Greenstreet is never less than mesmerizing. Curtiz' direction is brisk, Max Steiner's score evocative, and the dialogue positively crackles with gems ("My boyfriend cut himself on a knife I was holding," says Iris Adrian, one of the other women incarcerated with Lane). Oddly, the [uncredited] white maid, Sarah, speaks exactly as if she were doing an imitation of Butterfly McQueen (who was Crawford's maid in Mildred Pierce.) As an added bonus, Crawford does a sexy, smoky rendition of "If I Could Be with You One Hour Tonight." A rags to riches story that also serves as a highly entertaining study of social hypocrisy. Not as good as Mildred Pierce, but not bad.

Verdict: Lots of fun! ***.

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