Friday, June 24, 2011

QUEEN BEE (Columbia 1955) Sony Home Entertainment

On the road to becoming an iconic screen legend Joan Crawford's career went through several mutations. The first saw her as a 20's flapper liberally indulging in Charleston contests and bathtub gin. In phase two Crawford morphed into the elegant shop girl with a penchant for wearing sporty clothes that no depression era working gal could ever afford. But the third time around Crawford became a tough as nails socialite clawing her way to the top as she plucked the eyes out of any woman who dared come between her and the leading man. By the mid-1940s Crawford entered her 'crazy lady' period exemplified by a series of highly potent performances as women on the verge of becoming raving psychotics.
Director Ranald McDougall attempts with varying degrees of success to straddle the latter two phases of Crawford's career in Queen Bee (1955); an unsettling, often garishly over the top tale that casts La Crawford as an overly possessive middle-aged viper. As scripted by McDougall, the film is very loosely based on a novel by Edna B. Lee, a potboiler for die hard Crawford fans in which our diva wastes no time dominating virtually every scene.
We are introduced to Eve Phillips (Crawford) living in seemingly pastoral luxury on her southern plantation with husband Avery (Barry Sullivan); an emasculated shell of a man who has turned to drink to cope with Eve's seduction of his business partner, Judson Prentiss (John Ireland). An extreme narcissist, Eve is a destructive force of nature and pure poison to anyone who has the misfortune of befriending her. This proves a tragedy for Eve's newly-arrived cousin, innocent Jennifer Stewart (Lucy Marlow) who has yet to figure out she has entered the monster’s lair. Judson's fiancĂ©e Carol Lee Phillips (Betsy Palmer) is obtuse to his affair with Eve. In truth, even he realizes what a colossal mistake it's been. He wants nothing more to do with Eve.
Unfortunately for all, Eve is calling the shots. After her attempts at renewing her affair with Judson are spurned Eve confronts Carol with the truth about his infidelity. This revelation shatters Carol's faith in their relationship. Jennifer and Judson later discover that Carol has hanged herself in the stable to be free of the lot of them. Indeed, death itself seems the only possible escape from Eve’s clutches. As MacDougall’s screenplay unravels, Eve becomes more and more calculating and destructive; a viper determined to wreck everyone else’s happiness, regrettably, also at the expense of her own.
Meanwhile Jennifer's naive attempts to befriend the embittered Avery have translated into a platonic romance. Eve warns Avery of the consequences for his dalliances. But Avery, unable to man up and simply ask for a divorce, instead decides there's only one thing to do; murder his wife by driving them both over a cliff. Realizing how much Avery loves Jennifer, and at the same time how much he hates Eve, Judson sabotages Avery's plan by offering to escort Eve to a party one dark and stormy night. Instead, he drives himself and Eve over the cliff as per Avery's plan leaving Avery free to pursue his relationship with Jennifer.
Queen Bee borders on grand guignol, its' noir elements playing second fiddle to Crawford's beastly perfection at chewing up the scenery. There's so much of Crawford in Queen Bee that at times it’s impossible to tell whether she is acting or simply being herself. The slap she gives Lucy Marlow midway through the first act is real and frightening. It must be said of Joan Crawford that whatever her personal misgivings and shortcomings she is one hell of a perfectionist on camera. Despite the rather sordid story line, she sells this macabre little nothing as no other actress can. Her performance is both compelling and tragic. The rest of the cast, particularly Barry Sullivan are all quite good if given precious little to do in the wake of hurricane Crawford. There isn't much more to say about Queen Bee except that it's a must for die hard Joan Crawford fans. It isn't one of her better films but her turn as the venomous self-destructive grand lady of the maison still packs a wallop. As pure bitch-fest there are few films to compete with Queen Bee.
Sony Home Entertainment's DVD, minted all the way back during DVD's infancy under the 'Columbia Classics' banner in 1997 still exhibits a mostly pleasing anamorphic transfer. The 1:75:1 image is sharp and mostly free of age-related artifacts. But the gray scale appears to have had its contrast levels boosted. Mid-register tonality is lost during some scenes while others look fairly accurate. Occasionally the image becomes softly focused, as though second generation elements were used as inserts into the original camera negative. It's difficult to assess the reason for this anomaly but suffice it to say that it does exist. There's also a minor amount of edge enhancement that crops up now and then, particularly in the horizontal shutters that decorate practically every window in every room in Eve's plantation. The audio is mono and adequate for this presentation. Extras are regrettably limited to talent bios and a theatrical trailer. Bottom line: for Crawford fans a must!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)

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