One year, one film: 1947
Possessed, dir. Curtis Bernhardt
starring Joan Crawford and Van Heflin
Recommended | Highly Recommended | Must-See
When I discovered Possessed in 2013, I declared it my new favorite Joan Crawford film. Joan was, at one time, on my list of least-favorite classic film actresses, but over the course of this blog’s life, I’ve grown to appreciate her. She’s not only made her way off of my “least” list, but made her way on to my “best,” thanks in part to this film.
Possessed tells the story of Louise Howell, a woman who has had a breakdown and been put under the care of Dr. Harvey Willard (Stanley Ridges). Once Dr. Willard convinces his patient to start talking, the truth of her past — an ill-fated, one-sided romance, and later an unhappy marriage, among other downfalls — comes to light.
Joan Crawford gives a stellar performance in the role of Louise, which completely makes the film. The character is a complicated one — desperate, vengeful, but also vulnerable. Van Heflin also gives a strong performance in the very important role of David, Joan’s would-be love who does not reciprocate her feelings.
I gave this film a “5/5” rating when I reviewed it, but what did the critics of 1947 think?
Variety, like TMP, gave high praise to Joan Crawford’s performance, writing that she has “a self-assurance that permits her to completely dominate the screen even vis-à-vis such accomplished players as Van Heflin and Raymond Massey.”
Modern Screen appreciated the performance of Van Heflin, writing in a 1947 issue that though he was still finding himself as a screen personality, he delivered “consistently knockout performances in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Possessed, and Dolphin Sreet.” The mag’s formal review, written by Virginia Wilson, describes Crawford’s performance as Oscar-worthy.
Another positive (and quite scholarly, in tone) review came from Cinema‘s August 1947 issue, which states that the film offers “an honest treatment of the typical Crawford vehicle and a realistic rendering of the star’s typical role. […] An odious troublemaker at the start, [Crawford] swiftly makes you feel the torturous compulsions she is undergoing, and for the first time in my experience of her is genuinely moving and pathetic.”
It seems that the critics of 1947 were every bit as impressed with Joan and this film as I remain, nearly three years after discovering it. Possessed is highly recommended for any Crawford lover or fan of classic, melodramatic thrillers.