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Joan Crawford's screen status had begun to decline in the late '40s, whenJack Warner decided to make lightning strike twice by re-teaming her withthe director, producer and leading man of her Oscar®-winning hitMildred Pierce (1945). Although Flamingo Road (1949) was hardly thecomeback the earlier film had been -- still ranked as one of the greatestin film history -- it helped Crawford bounce back and maintain her hold onthe box office for a few more years.
In truth, Flamingo Road brought back the formula that had stoodCrawford in good stead since the early days of talking films. In what isbasically a rags-to-riches tale, she stars as a carnival dancer marooned ina small Southern town. It's love at first sight when she meets sheriff'sdeputy Zachary Scott, a young man with political ambitions, but hate atfirst sight when she meets his boss, corrupt sheriff Sydney Greenstreet.When Greenstreet keeps her from finding work in town, she signs on to singat a juke joint just outside his jurisdiction. There, she attracts theattention of local political boss David Brian, whom she marries for prestige and power - and to take revenge on Greenstreet.
Mildred Pierce, in which she rose from impoverished housewife tobusiness magnate, had put her back on top after being labeled box officepoison. But her subsequent films, though quite well made, had broken theformula. Although each turned a small profit, Humoresque (1946), inwhich she gives arguably her best performance, and Possessed (1947),which brought her another Oscar® nomination, had been less successfulthan Mildred Pierce. Concerned that he had an aging star of limitedappeal on his hands, studio head Jack L. Warner instructed his minions tokeep an eye out for any sign of temperament he could use as an excuse tocancel her contract.
At the time, the failed stage play Flamingo Road was floating aroundthe studio. Director Vincent Sherman (who had an affair with Crawford) turned it down, preferring to dealwith Errol Flynn's ego on Adventures of Don Juan (1948).Meanwhile, director Michael Curtiz was looking for another project. Tokeep him from jumping ship and accepting an invitation to join fellowdirectors Frank Capra, George Stevens and William Wyler in the newly formedLiberty Pictures, Warner had offered him his own production unit.Curtiz's major accomplishment as a producer had been the discovery of DorisDay, whom he had signed to a personal contract and introduced to the screenin Romance on the High Seas (1948). With Flamingo Road, hehad a chance to return to the feminist film noir he had helped create withMildred Pierce and prove that Crawford was still a viable star.
Helping tremendously was the supporting cast. Zachary Scott, who hadexcelled as the oily society charmer who woos then betrays Crawford inMildred Pierce, got a role closer to his Southern roots as thesmall-town sheriff plagued by insecurities. And Sydney Greenstreet, anaccomplished Shakespearean actor on stage, brought his authority andimpressive girth to the role of the evil sheriff. Many critics think italmost matched his work as Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon(1941), one of the screen's greatest villainous performances.
With lots of moody, dark shadows, a tried-and-true rags-to-riches story andplenty of the Crawford pizzazz (she even showed her still attractive legsin the early carnival scenes), Flamingo Road was a box office success and guaranteed her a few more years at Warners. Thefilm's soap opera elements made it a natural for television during theheight of the prime-time soap opera. A new version of Flamingo Roaddebuted on NBC in 1980, first as a TV movie, then as a weekly series.Cristina Raines took over Crawford's role, with Mark Harmon as the deputyand Howard Duff as the sheriff. Crawford's original role was farovershadowed, however, when a supporting character not even in the originalfilm generated more buzz, making Morgan Fairchild, as the tempestuousSouthern belle who steals Harmon from Raines, the series' true star. Itwas the kind of performance Crawford herself would have given in herprime.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producer: Michael Curtiz, Jerry Wald
Screenplay: Robert Wilder, Edmund H. North
Based on the play by Wilder and Sally Wilder
Cinematography: Ted D. McCord
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter
Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Joan Crawford (Lane Bellamy), Zachary Scott (FieldingCarlisle), Sydney Greenstreet (Sheriff Titus Semple), David Brian (DanReynolds), Gladys George (Lute Mae Sanders), Virginia Huston (AnnabelleWeldon), Fred Clark (Doc Waterson), Gertrude Michael (Millie), Iris Adrian(Women's Prison Inmate), Dale Robertson (Tunis Simms).
BW-94m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller