Crawford, then in her middle forties, was in yet another phase of her remarkably resilient career, which had taken her from flapper to proletarian working girl to fur-swathed MGM glamour queen to steely, against-all-odds survivor in her Oscar®-winning Mildred Pierce (1945) at her new studio, Warner Bros. Her subsequent roles were even fiercer. In his 1983 book, Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Star, Alexander Walker writes that Flamingo Road (1949), The Damned Don't Cry (1950), and Harriet Craig "all feel like darkening admonitions of a neurotic descent into Crawford's 'panic period,' in which the roles are fashioned to exploit her emotional dependence."
Harriet Craig was Sherman's second of three films with Crawford. During their previous collaboration, The Damned Don't Cry, the married Sherman had begun an affair with his star that would continue through Goodbye, My Fancy (1951). As production on The Damned Don't Cry was wrapping up, Columbia Pictures asked Crawford to star in a remake of Craig's Wife, to be called Lady of the House. She asked Sherman's opinion, and he told her he thought it was dated and wouldn't work, so she turned it down. Soon after, Warner Bros. loaned out Sherman to Columbia for a film with Margaret Sullavan, which he agreed to, not realizing that the film would be Lady of the House. When he found out, he protested, but Columbia chief Harry Cohn insisted. When Crawford heard about it, she called producer William Dozier and told him that she would do the film after all. Sherman was the first, but not the last, to see the similarities between Harriet Craig and Joan Crawford. As he recalled in his 1996 autobiography, Studio Affairs, "I realized that in many ways, she was the embodiment of Harriet Craig...in her obsessive attitude toward her home; her distrust of men [because she had been abandoned by her father] and her desire to control; her power of manipulation; and her concept of the proper way for a man to behave toward his wife." Years later, when Crawford's daughter Christina published her tell-all memoir, Mommie Dearest, it was not difficult to see those same parallels in her daughter's description of Crawford's compulsive housekeeping.
Sherman was not happy about making Harriet Craig, but he worked with screenwriter James Gunn to revise the screenplay, and recalled the production of the film as a rewarding experience. He especially enjoyed his creative collaboration with cinematographer Joseph Walker and editor Viola Lawrence, one of a handful women editors in Hollywood at that time.
K.T. Stevens played the role of Harriet's niece, whose romance Harriet tries to destroy, precipitating a showdown between Harriet and her husband Walter. Born Gloria Wood, Stevens was the daughter of director Sam Wood. She made her film debut at the age of two in her father's film Peck's Bad Boy (1921), and changed her name as a young theater actress in the late 1930s, so she would not be accused of exploiting her father's name. She appeared in a few films throughout the 1940s, including Kitty Foyle (1940), directed by her father, but never became a big star. In the 1950s, she began a long and successful career in television, including a four-year stint in the soap opera, The Young and the Restless in the 1970s. She died in 1994.
Crawford's performance in Harriet Craig earned her some of her best reviews since Mildred Pierce. "Joan Crawford does a prime job of putting over the selfish title-character, equipping it with enough sock to cloak the obviousness that motivates the dramatics," according to Variety. Otis Guernsey, Jr. of the New York Herald Tribune agreed. "The film gives authentic movie star Joan Crawford an opportunity to command the camera's attention through an authentic star role. She remains, as always, a stylish performer in her clear and forceful characterization....Her vehicle may be somewhat laborious but it is steady enough to carry Miss Crawford's act."
Director: Vincent Sherman (
Producer: William Dozier
Screenplay: Anne Froelich, James Gunn, based on the play Craig's Wife, by George Kelly
Cinematography: Joseph Walker
Editor: Viola Lawrence
Costume Design: Sheila O'Brien
Art Direction: Walter Holscher
Music: George Duning
Cast: Joan Crawford (Harriet Craig), Wendell Corey (Walter Craig), Lucile Watson (Celia Fenwick), Allyn Joslyn (Billy Birkmire), William Bishop (Wes Miller), K.T. Stevens (Clare Raymond), Viola Roache (Mrs. Harold), Raymond Greenleaf (Henry Fenwick), Ellen Corby (Lottie).
by Margarita Landazuri