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At Balboa Beach, California, a drunken Eloise Crandall threatens to call the police after discovering that her lover, Drummond Hall, and his cohorts, Osbert and Queenie Sorenson, have been trying to bilk her of her fortune. Drummy storms out the patio door, and when Eloise stumbles after him, she falls from the balcony to her death. By the next day, real estate agent Amy Rawlinson has readied the house for Lynn Markham, the young widow of its owner, late millionaire gambler Ben Markham, who plans to sell it. After hearing that Drummy ties up his boat at her private dock, and then finding his jacket and pipe in the house, Lynn asks Amy to keep him away. Later, Lt. Galley, who is investigating Eloise's death, arrives and insults Lynn by detailing her past as a dancer and unhappily married woman. The next morning, Lynn is woken by Drummy's loud motorboat, and soon after, she finds him preparing fresh fish in her kitchen. Impervious to his good looks and easy charm, Lynn kicks him out, but he informs her that, because his fuel pump is broken, the boat will have to remain at her dock. Drummy returns to the Sorensons', at whose house he lives in return for a percentage of the money he swindles from rich widows, and they urge him to seduce Lynn. Although he is reluctant, he swims out to Lynn's dock and tries again to win her over. She continues to rebuff him, but when he grabs her and whispers that she seems lonely, she sinks into his arms for a moment before walking away. When Lynn returns to her house, Amy is there to report that she has found a buyer, and Lynn insists that she receive a deposit and then asks her to leave. Amy asks Drummy to accompany her on a motorboat ride, but in the boat, he fails to respond to her pleas for attention, and in response, she almost wrecks the boat. When Amy accuses Drummy of hating women, he touches a deep scar on his neck but says nothing. That night, a lonely Lynn wanders out to join Drummy on his boat. There, he confesses his "job" and his lowly past, and, impressed with his honesty, she allows him to leave his boat at her dock. When Drummy kisses Lynn this time, she does not pull away, but turns away when he releases her. At home, Galley is waiting for her, and, noting the grease stain Drummy has left on Lynn's arm, warns her that Eloise may have been murdered. The next day, Lynn is pleased to be invited to the Sorensons' to play cards, but immediately after, discovers Eloise's diary hidden behind a loose brick in the wall, and reads the story of how Drummy seduced the lonely widow: At first, Eloise is overjoyed by her handsome neighbor's attentions, but her love soon turns to desperation as the Sorensons ask for more and more money, and Drummy begins to avoid her. Eloise clings to Drummy, but the more cold and threatening he grows, the more she uses alcohol as an escape. On the night of her death, she writes that Drummy has learned that she might call the police and will visit soon. Lynn burns the diary, and soon after, Drummy arrives, announcing that he has cancelled their card game in favor of a private dinner. Just then, the Sorensons show up, uninvited, and Lynn kicks them out and then throws her drink in Drummy's face, informing him that she has read the diary. He grabs her, and when she pulls away, he chases her out to the beach. Lynn is scared for her life until he catches her and pulls her into a passionate kiss. The next morning, Osbert and Queenie pressure Drummy to move in on Lynn, but he does not call for days, causing her to sit by the phone and, finally, begin drinking in anguish. One day, Lynn finds a dangerous shark hook on her stairs, and Galley warns her that a female on the beach is bait for such a hook. When she returns home, Amy presents the house buyer's deposit, but then Drummy calls to invite her boating, and a thrilled Lynn announces she will never sell the house. On the boat, Drummy explains that he stayed away until he was sure that he was serious about her, and reveals that it was his mother who scarred him, just before committing suicide. The next day, Drummy informs the Sorensons that he is marrying Lynn for love and dissolving their partnership, and in retaliation, they anonymously tip off Galley about Drummy's involvement in Eloise's death. While Lynn presents Drummy with a new fuel pump and they plan to take a honeymoon cruise, Galley arrives at the Sorensons' and discovers the truth about Drummy and Eloise. He then visits Lynn and there accuses Drummy of having killed Eloise, and Lynn throws the detective out. The next morning, Amy admits to Lynn that she loves Drummy and warns her that he will leave her after her money runs out. After Lynn and Drummy marry that afternoon, Drummy urges Lynn to leave for the cruise immediately. Amy stops Lynn on her way to the boat and wishes Drummy "success," prompting Lynn, who then discovers that the old, dangerous fuel pump is still installed in the boat, to suspect that Amy and Drummy are planning her murder. She runs to the house to call Galley, but he is not in, and Drummy interrupts her call. Frightened, she backs away from him, while he explains that he did not love her at first but now does. She reveals that she knows about the fuel pump, and before he can respond, the police call, and Drummy tells them Lynn no longer needs them. Lynn slaps Drummy, drawing blood, and then races from the house and into the water, where she hangs on for life to the dock. Meanwhile, Drummy staggers after her, shouting her name, and is surprised to see Amy on the pier. Galley is hiding on the beach, and after he overhears Amy confess to Drummy that she killed Eloise and replaced the new fuel pump in order to get rid of Lynn, the detective grabs her and informs Drummy that Lynn ran back into the house. Drummy finds her there, still terrified of him, but when she backs into the still-broken balcony rail, Drummy saves her from falling, and Lynn realizes she has blamed him unfairly. Begging for his forgiveness, she crumples into his arms.
Leslie I. Carey
Russell A. Gausman
Richard Alan Simmons
Joan St. Oegger
Female on the Beach
The 1955 Joan Crawford melodrama Female on the Beach has achieved cult status thanks to its plummy dialogue and the on-screen teaming of the iconic star with Universal's top action star and the future Lovey Howell (of Gilligan's Island fame). But its real claim to camp status may actually derive from the involvement of producer Albert Zugsmith, breaking into the big time at Universal in a career focused largely on exploitation classics like High School Confidential! (1958) and Sex Kittens Go to College (1960).
By the 1950s, Crawford was too old for the shop-girl-makes-good stories on which she had built her stardom at MGM. Instead, she played a variation on them, as women who had risen from humble beginnings only to struggle with the loneliness brought on by a strength that drove most men away. She had first mined the film noir potential of such a role in Sudden Fear (1952) as a wealthy playwright set up for murder when she marries a younger actor (Jack Palance). The film had revived her career and brought her the last of her three Oscar® nominations. Three years later, she was dating Milton Rackmil, the president of Universal Pictures, when he offered her a similar role. Lynn Markham had started life as a "specialty dancer" (i.e., stripper), then married a wealthy Las Vegas gambler. His death leaves her rich, lonely and vulnerable, despite her hard-as-nails surface. So when she moves into a beach house her husband had rented to a recently deceased widow (who died under mysterious circumstances, of course), she finds herself pursued by the late woman's former lover, a beach bum romancing lonely women so his card-sharp partners can take them to the cleaners.
Rackmil gave Crawford the run of the lot. She not only commandeered the largest dressing room, but also demanded script changes to enlarge her role and had her pick of leading men. Having learned from Sudden Fear that in her mature years she needed a co-star whose masculine presence could stand up to her own powerful screen image, she chose the studio's top action star, Jeff Chandler. It didn't hurt that he was also their top box-office star. The role of the aging beach bum gave the studio ample opportunities to display Chandler's ample chest, making him more than a match for Crawford's powerhouse acting and still impressive figure. The skilled Chandler, an Oscar® nominee for playing Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950), was also more than a match for Crawford as an actor, perfectly capturing his character's growing disgust with his dissolute lifestyle.
Helping push the whole project over the edge of melodrama to pure camp was producer Zugsmith. After a few low-budget films and the screen version of Phil Silvers's stage hit Top Banana (1954), he had bought the film rights to Robert Hill's play The Besieged Heart. Zugsmith worked extensively with the writer to turn the script into the film he wanted to produce, although he could not take credit for the adaptation since he didn't belong to the Writer's Guild. He was already friends with Rackmil, who suggested he offer the project to Universal's head of production, Ed Muhl. Eager for a women's picture that would draw audiences, Muhl not only bought the script, but also agreed to let Zugsmith produce on a week-to-week contract. At the end of each week the studio could fire Zugsmith, or he could quit. Universal also paid him their top rate for producers, $450 a week.
The type of script Zugsmith wanted turned out to be one of the ripest in screen history. Although tame by modern standards, the level of sexual innuendo earned Female on the Beach an adults-only rating from the Legion of Decency. For example, when Mrs. Sorenson urges Chandler to go after Crawford, she says "It'd be an act of kindness to offer her your friendship -- all of it." Today, the dialogue tends to elicit howls, particularly for Crawford's putdowns of everyone around her. When Chandler first comes on to her while she's sunning on her dock, she tells him "You're about as friendly as a suction pump." Later, when she finds him in her house, she dismisses him with "I'd like to ask you to stay and have a drink, but I'm afraid you might." When her real estate agent warns her about Chandler, she gets rid of her, too, with, "I have a nasty imagination, and I'd like to be left alone with it." Best of all, is her attack on Chandler after she reads his former mark's diary: "You were made for your profession -- all very nicely put together -- nice to look at, nice to touch; the great god of the senses, sparkling on the beach. Until you realize that sewers empty into the ocean. I wouldn't have you if you were hung with diamonds, upside down!"
Zugsmith and Universal put together a dynamite supporting cast that only adds to the film's appeal today. As the love-starved real-estate agent who wants Chandler to herself, they cast Jan Sterling, who had played one of the toughest femmes fatale in film history opposite Kirk Douglas in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951). The gambling couple intent on cheating Crawford is played by classic character actor Cecil Kellaway and future Gilligan's Island star Natalie Schafer (who had earlier crossed swords with Crawford as a Nazi's mistress in the hilarious Reunion in France in 1942). Stage veteran Judith Evelyn, who had played opposite Vincent Price on Broadway in Angel Street before playing Miss Lonelyhearts in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), is cast as the ill-fated paramour of Chandler. And physique model and future "Son of Hercules" star Ed Fury appears briefly as the muscleman Kellaway and Schafer pick up to replace Chandler after he marries Crawford.
Thanks to Crawford's popularity, Female on the Beach performed well enough to keep her career going and move Zugsmith into a more permanent berth at Universal. Crawford did not stay at Universal, instead signing a short-term deal at Columbia. The relationship with Rackmil didn't last either. The film wrapped on New Year's Eve, and Crawford stayed in her dressing room to finish answering fan mail, eventually deciding to spend the night. It was there she received a holiday phone call from friends in Las Vegas who took the opportunity to introduce her to Pepsi Cola executive Al Steele, who would become her fourth husband. Eventually Female on the Beach would become a part of the Crawford legend in another way when Faye Dunaway studied it to capture Crawford's mannerisms and makeup style for Mommie Dearest (1981).
Producer: Albert Zugsmith
Director: Joseph Pevney
Screenplay: Robert Hill, Richard Alan Simmons
Based on the play The Besieged Heart by Hill
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Score: Heinz Roemheld, Herman Stein
Cast: Joan Crawford (Lynn Markham), Jeff Chandler (Drummond Hall), Jan Sterling (Amy Rawlinson), Cecil Kellaway (Osbert Sorenson), Judith Evelyn (Eloise Crandall), Charles Drake (Police Lieutenant Galley), Natalie Schafer (Queenie Sorenson), Marjorie Bennett (Mrs. Murchison), Ed Fury (Roddy).
by Frank Miller
Female on the Beach
How do you like your coffee?- Drummond Hall
Alone!- Lynn Markham
I'd like to ask you to stay and have a drink, but I'm afraid you might accept.- Lynn Markham
I wouldn't have you if you were hung with diamonds upside down!- Lynn Markham
You hate women.- Amy Rawlinson
I don't hate women. I hate the way they are.- Drummond Hall
Female on the Beach was shot on location in Balboa Beach, CA.
Released in United States Fall September 1955
Released in United States Fall September 1955