Thursday, February 7, 2008

FLAMINGO ROAD (Warner Bros. 1949) Warner Home Video

An utterly nonsensical claptrap of absurdity, Michael Curtiz’s Flamingo Road (1949) rounds out Joan Crawford’s tenure at Warner Bros. on a decidedly sour note. She stars as carnival belly dancer, Lane Bellamy – a victim of the vial machinations of southern caricature, Sheriff Titus Semple (Sidney Greenstreet – at his most menacing). Semple’s deputy, Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott) is also his reluctant protégée. After an unrequited affection develops between Fielding and Lane, Semple sets about to destroy Lane's morale and then run her out of town.

Fielding gets Lane a job at a greasy spoon – a step just barely up from the carnival. But Semple has her fired and then trumps up a charge of prostitution. The charge sticks and Lane is sent to prison. Now, Semple throws socialite, Annabelle Weldon (Virginia Huston) at Fielding’s head; forcing a marriage between the two. But Lane is not about to be discounted just yet.

Determined to exact her revenge on Semple after her prison stay, Lane gets a fresh start and a job at a bawdy roadhouse run by hard-knock madam, Lute Mae Sanders (Gladys George). One of Lute Mae’s frequent clients is fast-rising politico, Dan Reynolds (David Brian); a man caught in a power-struggle with Semple over control of the town. Dan suits Lane’s purpose and the two begin dating. Eventually, they marry and Lane, invigorated with revenge, confronts Semple who has set out to destroy Dan by whatever means he can.

In the meantime, Fielding’s marriage to Annabelle crumbles. Distraught and with nowhere else to turn, Fielding shows up at the Reynolds' home. Consumed with self pity and takes his own life. The suicide generates a public scandal that Semple exploits to his advantage. However, Lane has had enough. She returns to Semple’s country estate with a gun and accidentally kills him after a struggle ensues. While his wife waits for her sentence, Dan realizes how much Lane loved him and vows to remain true and at her side, whatever the verdict.

Flamingo Road is an overly self-indulgent soap opera that takes itself much too seriously. Max Steiner’s overwrought score is ideally suited for the soppy froth of this bizarre and often gritty garage full of oddities. But the narrative is largely forgettable. The frivolities in Robert Wilder’s screenplay have little merit except to act as dubious distractions that allow Crawford to run amuck on her all too familiar road to martyrdom yet again.

Warner Home Video’s B&W transfer is impressive with refined image quality, a good spread of tonality and limited age related artifacts. There is some minor digital noise but nothing that will distract. Contrast levels are bang on. Blacks are very deep. Whites are almost pristine. Overall, the image is smooth and sharp without appearing digitally harsh. The audio is mono and adequately represented for this dialogue driven melodrama. Extras include Warner’s usual smattering of cartoons, short subjects and a theatrical trailer. This disc is available ONLY as part of Joan Crawford: Vol. 2.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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