Friday, February 24, 2012

"Crime of Passion" (1957)

   You didn't know Kathy Ferguson (Barbara Stanwyck) was a lesbian? Don't be daft. Or rather, what did you expect from an advice columnist for a San Francisco newspaper, who is preternaturally disposed against marriage because it will imprison her?
The peculiar boudoir.
   The film begins at Kathy's desk, where her colleague is reading the letter from a 17-year-old girl who is in love with a married man. Kathy's advice: run away with the wife. But before Kathy can get very far with that line, her editor interrupts her and sends her to police headquarters to cover the story of an L.A. woman who has murdered her husband and fled to San Francisco. When Kathy tries to get information from L.A. detectives Captain Alidos (Royal Dano, impassive and skinny as a rail in his suit, but with steely ice blue eyes) and his partner Doyle (Sterling Hayden, the heavy), she is snowballed and told that her place is to be at home making supper for her husband.
   So Kathy turns to her own column's forum to draw the suspect forth, with a plea to a woman who--as read by a series of shots of some (one at home in bed next to her sleeping deadbeat, one sitting next to her friend in a bar before a bored, half-attentive bartender, one in a sleeping gown reading to another sitting by her also prepared for bed (frame included), and finally, la pièce de résistance, two women employed in a parking garage whose sexuality is undeniable (frame included))--having been forsaken by the man she trusted can only turn to another woman. Kathy writes to her "heart to heart" …
The innocuous parking lot attendants.
   In the next scene Alidos and Doyle again visit Kathy because they understand the murderess has contacted her. Kathy gives a fake address to Alidos when he tells Doyle to stay with her. After he's gone she reveals that she has saved the real address for Doyle, who she hopes to help get ahead.  Dutiful Doyle calls his partner and tells him to return, explaining to Kathy that he and Alidos are partners and hinting to  the meaning of the fraternal order and that he feels no need to compete with Alidos. As they talk it becomes clear that both are single and he asks her out for dinner that night. At dinner, their conversation interrupted in media res, Kathy confesses she will probably never get married. Doyle asks what "greater ambition could she have other than to get married", to which Kathy responds that marriage sounds like a "life sentence." She gives every appearance of being resolute, but she goes with Doyle to the airport as he and Alidos leave with their woman.
   As a result of her having drawn forth the murderess, before the public eye no less, Kathy is no longer beholden to her job at the newspaper and prepares to leave for New York. While she is collecting her things from the office, Doyle calls and invites her to to stop in L.A. on her way. She seems very taken with him. When he meets her at the airport, he asks if she loves him and she says he does. In the next shot they stand in front of the justice of the peace.

   Okay, so you can see already why this is a B movie, given that all of the preceding happens within the first 15 minutes of the film. This woman, who is not only uninterested in marriage, but more so the male sex, meets Hayden's quiet unambitious Doyle and abandons these basic doctrines of her faith …?
Pope offers to show Kathy his file
 on "strange offenses committed
by seemingly normal people."
  As you might have guessed, this marriage is not going to end well. Kathy's conversion both is and is not complete. She claims she wants nothing more than to darn his socks, but she also wants him to succeed and is disappointed by his apathy toward the social ladder. Behind the scenes, she accidentally meets the wife of Inspector Pope (Alidos and Doyle's boss, played by a svelte and melting Raymond Burr, before he was Raymond Buuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrr) and not only gets her husband within the Inspector's coveted social circle (a scene of the wives of Doyle's colleagues chatting while the men play poker, during which the sycophany for Pope and wife is only bested by the compliments on the olive loaf), but even seduces the boss.  Although the latter is a gesture made for the sake, diegetically, of Doyle's replacing Pope upon an early retirement, rather than Alidos, there is every indication that it may have been undertaken merely to sate Kathy's lust for a man in power.
  But Pope backs out on his deal and explains to an exasperated Kathy that it was only "pillow talk" and that he will not give over his department to a less capable man because of her sex. Then Kathy channels the woman that she had seduced with her written word and, in the middle of the night, kills Pope in his living room (the wife is in the hospital).
   In Alidos' absence, Doyle spearheads the investigation and eventually realizes, on examining certain evidence, that it was his wife. From their home he drives her to the station, telling the night sergeant that she is there for questioning.

  It's a B movie, but it is also elegant in its organization, hilarious in its presentation, and smoldering with sexual pathos. So why is the conversion both complete and not complete? Because although Doyle is the object of her total love, it is a love that demands an ambition from him that he never gives the slightest indication of manifesting (or even admiring). She wants him to be a man. Whereas he is happy as a lowly Lt., developing his nest egg and slowly accumulating a middling seniority. He wants only to love her.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Great comments on this! This movie kept lurching between terrific to terrible, the dainty allusions to queerness, delicious Raymond Burr, FAY WRAY! Against the impossibly clunky I don’t even want to call it love affair between Hayden and Stanwyck. One moment she’s a top career newsroom woman, allergic to marriage, the next moment she’s married to the most boring person on the planet, excited about darning his socks and having to listen to a bunch of olive loaves. And picking up the gun that’s just lying around…”this oughta work!” But Raymond Burr. Glad I saw it.