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"EVERY INCH A LADY...till you look at the record!"
Tagline for This Woman Is Dangerous
Joan Crawford finished her Warner Bros. contract with This Woman Is Dangerous, the 1952 crime film cum soap opera that should serve as the quintessential title for a Crawford film. Although it was never going to make her an Oscar® contender, it gave her a role combining the toughness and romantic vulnerability that still makes her a fan favorite. In addition, the sight of Crawford as the brains behind a criminal mob is pretty much irresistible. Sadly, the film didn't do much for the actress, who would later call it her worst picture ever.
This Woman Is Dangerous was not exactly a top priority for studio head Jack Warner. For one thing, the script was strictly B-movie material: a female gangster sees the light when she falls for her doctor while recovering from eye surgery. Some sources have even suggested that Warner offered Crawford the story, hoping the expensive star would turn it down so he could put her on suspension. That was the same reason he offered the eye surgeon's role to Dennis Morgan, whose box-office appeal had diminished since World War II, when he had built up a fan following while more popular actors were in the military. To Warner's surprise, both stars accepted the film, though Crawford then instructed her agents to negotiate an end to her contract at the studio. She wasn't about to stay where she didn't feel wanted. Moreover, she had come upon a highly promising script for the independently produced Sudden Fear (1952) and wanted to make that film without having to arrange a loan from Warner's.
By 1952, Warner's was saying farewell to most of its classic stars. Bette Davis, Crawford's chief rival at the studio, had left three years earlier, while Morgan and the film's other leading man, David Brian, were also on the way out. Crawford had enjoyed a career renaissance at Warner Bros., signing with the studio after leaving MGM, where she had risen to stardom then devolved into box-office poison. After a smashing come-back with her Oscar®-winning role in Mildred Pierce (1945), her box-office had slowly waned as the rags-to-riches vehicles that had been her mainstay fell out of fashion. Most recently, she had scored a flop with Goodbye, My Fancy (1951), partly because Warner's had removed the play's sharp political satire to turn it into a conventional love triangle.
After three films in a row with director Vincent Sherman, with whom she had an affair, Crawford found herself working for the only time with Felix Feist, a director who had done some of his best work in film noir thrillers (most notably 1947's The Devil Thumbs a Ride). He had a fine cinematographer in Ted McCord, who had worked his magic with Crawford on her previous film, but the studio pushed the picture toward romance when it could have worked better with an edgier approach. At least Feist gave Crawford one memorable scene. While waiting for Morgan outside a prison where he's seeing a patient, she cringes as the matron berates a group of female prisoners, showing a lifetime of pain in her expressive eyes. And McCord used heavy shadows and scenes shot through objects to try to enliven the trite, predictable plot.
As Crawford and probably Warner himself expected, This Woman Is Dangerous did not do well theatrically and brought her some of her worst reviews. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times led the Bronx cheers: "Those who admire the actress may be most tenderly moved at the evidence of the suffering she stolidly undergoes. And to these the arrant posturing of Miss Crawford may seem the quintessence of acting art. But for people of mild discrimination and even moderate reasonableness, the suffering of Miss Crawford will be generously matched by their own in the face of This Woman Is Dangerous." In fact, his attacks on Crawford, for whom he rarely had a kind word, led her to ask her friend publisher Lawrence Quirk to find out why he hated her so much. Quirk (who had started his career working with Crowther) simply advised her that the critic was "a man of rather rigid tastes."
This Woman Is Dangerous might have hurt Crawford's career a lot more had she not already started on Sudden Fear. The new film's success six months later not only brought her an Oscar® nomination, but revived her career, setting the stage for a new string of vehicles at Columbia. Although hardly considered among her best films, This Woman Is Dangerous at least has developed a fan following. Viewers today value it for its connections to two other films casting Crawford as criminals, the much superior A Woman's Face (1941) and The Damned Don't Cry (1950). In addition, the film's print quality (recently restored for DVD), showcases McCord's atmospheric cinematography. For even the casual Crawford fan, it offers a chance to see how the star could manage to bring together toughness and vulnerability in a single role and sometimes, as when she tries to leave Morgan for his own good, a single scene.
Producer: Robert Sisk
Director: Felix Feist
Screenplay: Geoffrey Homes, George Worthing Yates
Based on the story "Stab of Pain" by Bernard Girard
Cinematography: Ted McCord
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter
Score: David Buttolph
Cast: Joan Crawford (Beth Austin), Dennis Morgan (Dr. Ben Halleck), David Brian (Matt Jackson), Richard Webb (Franklin), Mari Aldon (Ann Jackson), Philip Carey (Will Jackson), George Chandler (Dr. Ryan), Sherry Jackson (Susan Halleck), Douglas Fowley (Club Manager).
by Frank Miller
Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell