Double Feature Days Part Quatre

Once again, I couldn't help but force my favorite film pairings out there on the internet. I hope you all enjoy these for the long weekend!

Possessed (1931) and Possessed (1947):

Possessed and Possessed: No, one is not a remake of the other. No, the stories are not the same. The main thread they have in common is that Joan Crawford is the star of each movie. 

The first Possessed came out in 1931, and paired Crawford with one of her most frequent costars (and on-and-off screen lover for years, but that's another story) Clark Gable. I personally find Possessed to be the steamiest film that Crawford and Gable ever made together. Their sexual chemistry is very strong, and because this was made during the 'pre-code' era, the script could be a little more blunt about sex, and audiences were given more chances to let their imaginations run wild. For example, at one point Gable goes up behind Crawford and undoes her pearl necklace, which promptly falls to the floor, and then the screen fades to black...You get the idea.

Crawford plays Marion Martin, a disillusioned small town factory worker who dreams of a better life. After a chance meeting with Wallace Stewart (Richard "Skeets" Gallagher), a drunk Park Avenue man on a train, she heads to New York and takes him up on his offer to look him up. Stewart advises her to meet a rich man, or she'll never get along in the city (it was a different time). She follows his advice, and does her best to meet rich, eligible men. When she meets Mark Whitney (Clark Gable), he is immediately attracted to Marion, even though she admits to him that she is only after his money. A few years pass, and she becomes Mark's 'kept' lover, taking on all the responsibilities of a wife, but without a ring (Beyonce was not around). Mark also tells everyone that she is a wealthy widow to keep her true identity a secret. Marion has turned herself into a sophisticated and elegant woman, but Mark is still hesitant to marry her because he has been married before, and it didn't end well. He's also concerned about his bourgeoning political career, and doesn't want any scandal attached to him.

The second Possessed (1947) is an entirely different story all together, and has no connection to the 1931 film, except for the title and Joan. It's a film noir/psychological drama, where Joan plays Louise Howell, an emotionally unstable nurse who can't get over an old boyfriend (Van Heflin). She enters into a marriage of convenience with the husband (Raymond Massey) of one of her former patients, who died in mysterious circumstances (!!). After the marriage, David (Heflin) returns to work with Louise's husband, and promptly falls in love with Louise's step-daughter (Geraldine Brooks). This causes Louise to become unhinged. Believe it or not, it gets more dramatic and out-of-control from there, but I don't want to ruin too many of the dramatic plot points.

Both movies show Crawford playing her best kind of roles at two different phases in her career: the self-sacrificing, lower class girl who rises in social status was a role she played often in her early films, and the role of a slightly unstable woman who loves too deeply, which ultimately leads to intense tragedy was something she perfected during her career resurgence in the 1940's. The latter character is a bit similar to her Oscar-winning Mildred Pierce (1945), and actually Crawford received her second nomination for Possessed (1947), illustrating how much the powers-that-be in Hollywood (a.k.a. The Academy) liked seeing Crawford play that kind of role.

To be quite honest, I'm not the biggest fan of Joan Crawford. It's not that I don't think she's a good actress, but I find it harder to connect to her on screen. However, with these two films, they are great examples of her work from two very different parts of her career, and are interesting to watch together to see how much she matured as an actress, and in general the different tastes and direction that Hollywood films developed between 1931 and 1947.

Illicit (1931) and Forbidden (1932):

The day after watching Crawford's double Possessed, I decided to watch two movies that had similar-meaning adjectives as the titles, and with the same leading lady: Barbara Stanwyck. I'm a bit obsessed with Barbara. She's a Brooklyn gal (like myself), and watching her on the screen taught me what it means to be sexy, but still hold on to your power. Truly a revelation to a teenage me who was still struggling with the idea that girls seemed to be pigeon-holed as the madonna or the whore, nothing in the middle, and no one seemed to be allowed to be both. Barbara showed me that women can use everything at their disposal to manipulate men, but still shouldn't be afraid to show their vulnerability. 

Illicit is probably the ultimate of the pre-code era, in terms of content. Not only is it a movie that doesn't shy away from sex, but it shows off the idea that marriage does not have to be for everyone, and in fact, it might actually destroy a relationship. Also, strangely enough, it's Stanwyck's character who doesn't want to get married, while her boyfriend really does. Total gender-swap since usually women are portrayed as people who are desperate to get married, and the men usually have to be coerced into it. Anne Vincent (Stanwyck) is a woman who firmly believes that marriage kills love, so she puts off marrying her boyfriend 'Dick' Ives II (James Rennie). Anne and Dick do move in together, but without marrying (very shocking for the time), and eventually Anne does give in to marrying Dick. They start to act like a typical married couple, and that's when all the trouble starts. They start to become bored with each other, and both seek out other partners: Anne goes after a former boyfriend who still loves her, while Dick falls for another girl. Ironically enough, Dick and Anne both become bored with their new sexual partners, and go back to each other in the end.

In Forbidden, like Crawford in Possessed (1931), Stanwyck plays a self-sacrificing woman who puts the happiness of the man she loves above herself. On a trip to Havana, Lulu Smith (Stanwyck) meets politician Bob Grover (Adolphe Menjou). They fall deeply in love, and a few months later, Lulu is pregnant with their child. She doesn't know though that Bob is married, and that his wife is an invalid, so to divorce her would be insanely cruel. Once she finds this out, despite still being in love with him, she kicks him out of her life, without telling him that he's going to be a father. Sometime later, Lulu has given birth to a girl, and Bob is the new District Attorney. Bob tracks her down, and when Lulu brings her daughter to meet her father, a meddling reporter named Al (Ralph Bellamy), who has a thing for Lulu, comes along and questions her about the baby's father. To protect her daughter and Bob's reputation, Lulu lies and says that the baby is the new adopted daughter of Bob, and she is simply the baby's governess. Lulu's life further spirals because of all her sacrifices.

During the pre-code era, Stanwyck played a vast array of women: the modern, forward-thinking woman and the mother who gives up her happiness for her child. She hadn't yet done any comedy, which she excelled at during the 1940's, but watching her in these two movies, especially together, always makes me appreciate her acting range.

Are any of you readers fans of Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck? Do you enjoy the pre-code era? Are there any pre-code movies you think make for a great double feature?