The Lasting Miss Crawford

As the end of this year gets closer, I’m thinking about movies, actors, and actresses I’ve loved most over its 12 months. I’m also looking back on the history of “Garbo Types!” as I revisit subjects addressed in the past. It’s like making sequels. After my loosely connected posts related to “The Paleface” and “Son of Paleface”, I’m doing a more ‘direct sequel’ by reflecting on Joan Crawford again.

I remember how I felt when I wrote about her way back in January. I was so moved by 1931’s “Possessed” that I wanted to immediately go online and announce my love for this woman to the world. I can never forget how she looked into Clark Gable’s eyes while singing “How Long Will It Last?” and wondering about his feelings for her. I questioned my feelings too. Would other movies and performances disappoint me and diminish my affection for her? Or would I continue to find ones that reinforce and sustain it?

9 months later, I’m still a Crawford fan, thanks in part to her performances in several ‘rags to riches’ stories. I recently learned that audiences in the ’30s loved watching her play low class working girls who attain high class lives. Girls in movies may do that either by being honest and hardworking underdog heroes or gold digging villains. Joan Crawford has played characters who didn’t fit into one category or the other, landing in between the two extremes.

They support their families by doing such difficult jobs as waitress, maid, or burlesque dancer…like good girls. They choose men based on wealth instead of love…like bad girls. I’m emotionally engaged by contradictions of these characters and conflicting feelings they provoke. I find myself switching between sympathetic and disappointed. When a girl exploits or hurts rich men because she doesn’t want to be poor anymore, I understand the why behind actions while disapproving of the how.

In movies like “Possessed” (1931) and “Sadie McKee” (1934), I can’t keep my eyes off Joan Crawford…and not just because of her beauty (although it’s definitely a factor)! A more significant cause of my fascination is complexity of her characters. Depth, vulnerability, and conviction make them (and my feelings) unpredictable and changeable. In spite of their sins, I want Crawford’s characters to be redeemed, not punished. She makes them forgivable with heartfelt acting that conveys how much they want to do the right thing.

Crawford’s social climbers were never passive and always flawed, with passion that gave resonance to their stories. This year, Joan Crawford has been responsible for many of my favourite characters and performances in movies. I can think of one reason that’s more important than any others. It may explain why her career started in the 1920s and continued until 1970: She was built to last.