Nick-Davis.com: 100 Favorite Films
(USA, 1947; dir. Curtis Bernhardt; scr. Silvia Richards, Ranald MacDougall, and Rita Weiman; cin. Joseph Valentine; with Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks)
This slot could have gone to The Bad Seed, with its delectable camp excesses and deliciously
maladroit psychologizing, or to Mildred Pierce, which devotes considerable technical talent
and a terrific Crawford performance to an impressively absurd premise. But, in the interest of economy as well as honesty,
why not go with Possessed, the film that synthesized all of those films' bad-good qualities and added some more
of its own to boot? Crawford, a recent Oscar winner for Mildred, scored a second nomination here as Louise Graham,
who shuffles unsteadily into the early sequences, mumbling about someone called "David" on the sidewalks of LA before suddenly
collapsing into a coma. Worse, her scrubbed and denuded face looks like ten miles of hard road in Hell. It's kind of amazing
that Crawford of all people agreed to look this bad, though it's no less amazing that she agreed to say things like, "'I love
you' is such an inadequate way of saying 'I love you.' It doesn't quite describe how much it hurts sometimes. Sometimes I
get the sniffles and then my nose gets runny because I'm happy because I'm in love." Hard to explain, too, what Van Heflin
and Raymond Massey are doing lumbering around with their impossible characters, though Heflin at least has a good time
getting soused and shrinking uncomfortably from Crawford's fierce but addled affectionsor is it from her fierce but
addled performance, which itself is some kind of apex in the eternal almanac of Bad-Good?
There is much that is fascinating about Possessed, including the way it refuses to be written off as a crappy movie,
even when the plot takes its serial nose-dives into purple implausibility, even when Franz Waxman indulges the most
apoplectic arpeggios and electric-organ decrescendoes in the certifiably insane score. However ancient its notions of
sciencethe title comes from Dr. Harvey Willard's expert opinion that Louise's schizoid persecution complex is one of
many mental-health states that amounts to being "possessed by devils"there's a feral, almost involuntary conviction to
the film's interest in psychic unease that you don't really find in The Snake Pit or The Three
Faces of Eve or other, comparable voyages into the classical Hollywood booby-hatch. The form of the film convulses
amidst its own insensible agonies, alternating amongst elegant lakeside establishing shots, harshly expressionist chiaroscuro
effects, uneasy dissolves, and at least one handheld tracking shot from the point of view of a dead woman who may or may not
be haunting Louise (who, in turn, may or may not have killed this woman). It's easy to cackle and shrug at Warner Bros.
potboilers like this, and Possessed repeatedly earns the cackliest cackle you can manage: it's that crazy, and that
much fun. But it also feels symptomatic of...something, and harshly sincere: the sour force of spurned passion and the
suffocating pressure of obsessive lovers who won't go away have rarely been given such free rein. The violence they exact
on the movie's formal discipline is a major part of why you remember the picture.
Well, that and the ecstatic wrongness of Crawford's pleas that the alcoholic musician-engineer-mathematician played by
Heflin (!!) stop dodging her with his lovingly traced parabolas and his attempts to interest her in the complex calculus
of steel girders. "Why don't you love me like that?" she barks. "I'm much nicer than the girder, and a lot more
interesting." Joan, never a truer word was said.