• U.S.

Cinema: The New Pictures, Jun. 16, 1947

6 minute read

Possessed (Warner) gets off to an exciting start with some suspenseful shots of a dazed derelict (Joan Crawford) wandering the streets of a great city at dawn, in search of a man named David. When she collapses, Miss Crawford is taken to a psychopathic ward. By the time the psychiatrist’s drugs loosen her locked tongue enough to tell her story, Joan’s desperate beauty and her fine, florid movie personality have aroused an intensity of interest which only a top grade picture could satisfy.

Possessed is not quite top grade, but most of it is filmed with unusual imaginativeness and force.

Joan’s story, told in flashbacks, is cluttered with woman’s magazine heartthrobs and too much elementary psychology. Her trouble really started when she fell possessively in love with David (Van Heflin), a cold-blooded man who can take his women or leave them. Joan got left. She had other troubles, too: Raymond Massey’s mentally sick wife, whom she was nursing, was jealous of her without cause, and committed suicide. Since she was getting nowhere with Heflin, Joan married Massey. His daughter, Geraldine Brooks, believing her late mother’s fantasies about the treacherous nurse, hated Joan. And every time Heflin turned up, Joan got wobbly in her loveless marriage. Worse still, she saw an affair ripening between Heflin and her stepdaughter.

It was no wonder that Joan’s mind began to come apart. A prey to confused motives, she tried to “save” the girl from Heflin when she was really trying to save him for herself. She also gradually became convinced that she had murdered Massey’s wife. Even more frightening hallucinations followed. After a fierce burst of melodrama, Joan winds up on the hospital cot. The cautious prognosis: she is a schizophrene, but conceivably curable.

Some of this story could better “be embroidered on a housemaid’s knee than on film. But the picture’s writers, director and musicians have done some effective things with sound (heartbeats, exaggerated rain, distorted musical flashbacks, etc.) and with storytelling; they have even risked confusing the audience by taking it a little way inside Joan’s split sense of reality. Other moviemakers ought to take more such risks: the results are much more exciting than confusing.

The film is also uncommonly well acted. Van Heflin puts a lot of bite into his work; Newcomer Geraldine Brooks has looks, talent and vitality. Miss Crawford, though she is not quite up to her hardest scenes, is generally excellent, performing with the passion and intelligence of an actress who is not content with just one Oscar. In fact, the weaknesses in this unusual movie do not greatly matter beside the fact that a lot of people who have a lot to give are giving it all they’ve got.

Dear Ruth (Paramount), a midwar hit on Broadway, was a neat, machine-turned farce which depended almost as heavily on its particular period as day before yesterday’s racing form. But, even tardily, as it comes to the screen, it is still reasonably entertaining.

Mona Freeman, a dreadful little adolescent patriot, can never find enough to do for the “war effort.” She and her girl friends want to wire Washington (“We insist on our right to be drafted”); she gets Papa Edward Arnold bled white at the blood bank, without bothering to consult him first. Without bothering to consult elder sister Joan Caulfield she launches a letter-writing campaign to an unknown soldier (William Holden), signing sister’s name to the letters, and sending photographs that fill Mr. Holden with every romantic hope in the book. Unexpectedly Holden turns up, madly in love and in a rush to marry the girl. The rest of the picture, a galloping complication of cooked-up farce and moderately genuine fun, shows how embattled Miss Caulfield tries to handle the situation without breaking the soldier’s heart.

As is usual when such artificialities run amok, Big Sister’s efforts involve a good deal of heartlessness and stupidity; it is far too clear that she postpones the bad news chiefly to keep the story spinning. However, Dear Ruth is presented with a kind of Broadway crispness.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (Monogram) that Victor Moore, a lovable old bum, sneaked into a millionaire’s boarded-up mansion, by way of the coal chute, to spend his customary sedate, solitary winter disguised as a capitalist. But it also happened that there was a housing shortage that year, and the old fellow couldn’t resist sharing his cavernous blessings with a homeless veteran (Don DeFore), who brought along some fellow veterans and their families.

The millionaire’s rebellious daughter (Gale Storm) turns up, to provide love interest for the bachelor veteran; and in due time the owner himself (Charles Ruggles) and his divorced wife (Ann Harding) also join the menage, disguised as elderly tramps, just to keep the plot boiling. Also, the plot has something to do with the veterans’ effort to start a housing project of their own; Mr. Ruggles’ heartless schemes to foil them; Mr. Moore’s blissful ignorance of the identity of the mansion’s owners; his innocent efforts to warm up a romance between them. In the long run the sour millionaire is sweetened up, all disguises are cast off, and everybody is happy, including the audience.

Most plausible explanations for the picture’s success are: 1) the presence of Victor Moore, past master of creaky charm and pathos; 2) a show as generally oldfashioned, in a harmless way, as a 1910 mail-order play for amateurs; 3) the fact that now, as in 1910, a producer cannot go wrong with a mass audience if he serves up a whiff of comedy and a whirlwind of hokum.

Copacabana (United Artists) will gratify such admirers of Groucho Marx as have always wanted to see the face behind the black-paint smear of mustache. This time Groucho wears a smaller, neater, more realistic brush, made of crepe hair. As was predictable, the face that launched a thousand quips is a keen one, as adaptable to drama as to comedy, should Groucho ever feel the urge to go both smooth-faced and serious. In Copacabana Groucho goes light on his eyebrows, and does without his brothers altogether. The result is not so wildly zany as the best Marx brothers collaborations, nor is it designed to be. But it is an unpretentiously entertaining movie.

Moth-eaten and glib as ever, Groucho lands his girl friend (Carmen Miranda) two jobs at once in different rooms of a nightclub. Downstairs, she is her fruit-bearing, clattering Brazilian self. Upstairs, in a blonde wig, she is a Frenchy load of froufrou. The trouble is that she will be fired if her boss learns that she is playing a double role on his payroll.

Suitors and policemen help to complicate matters and Andy Russell bursts into song at the slightest provocation. On one occasion Groucho climbs into his old regalia, complete with the tired buzzard’s walk, and sings too. Groucho’s best scene: half-starved, he wangles food for himself and Carmen, while confronting the indignant trained seal whose supper he has pinched.

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