Classic Movies

Hold on tight—you know she’s a little bit dangerous


I’m only speculating here, but I have a feeling that the reason for TCM’s showing of Mildred Pierce (1945) on The Essentials Saturday night was to cash-in on the 2011 remake that’s currently in progress on HBO (which I have not seen, but because the good people at Hobo are nice enough to send Ed Copeland free screeners he has the skinny here).  This is not, of course, necessarily a bad thing because it gave The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ (ka-ching!) carte blanche (as in “But you are, Blanche! You are in that chair!”) to round out the rest of the evening with some post-Mildred Joanie flicks: Daisy Kenyon (1947), This Woman is Dangerous (1952), Goodbye, My Fancy (1951) and The Damned Don’t Cry (1950).

I’d never seen Dangerous so I surgically attached myself to the TV couch where I was held in rapt attention for an hour and thirty-seven minutes of pure sudsy Joanie melodrama, directed by journeyman Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a RideThe Threat), co-scripted by Daniel Mainwaring (as “Geoffrey Homes”) and co-starring Dennis Morgan, David Brian, Richard “Captain Midnight” Webb, Mari Aldon and Philip “Captain Parmalee” Carey.  Okay, I’m probably exaggerating about the “rapt” part but even though it’s far from Crawford’s best work (it’s basically just a retread of some of her earlier WB films like Flamingo Road and Damned) I didn’t feel as if it were a colossal waste of time.  But after the movie, TCM oracle Bobby Osbo offered up this little trivial tidbit—Crawford considered Dangerous the worst film of her career.

Joan Crawford in a wardrobe test for This Woman is Dangerous (1952).

I couldn’t hold back a heartier-than-usual snicker after I heard this, and I think I said to myself: “Now, was that before or after Trog (1970)?”  As it turns out, it was after; Crawford apparently made the observation at the 1973 “Legendary Ladies” show at Town Hall—but this just goes to show that we often aren’t the best judges of our own work.  I suspect Joan’s animosity towards the movie was due to it being her last film for the Warner Brothers studio rather than any blight on the cinematic arts.  She’d have to make strong arguments for the redeeming values of dreck like The Ice Follies of 1939 and Berserk (1967) to make a believer out of me.

In Dangerous, Crawford plays Elizabeth “Beth” Austin, moll to mobster Matt Jackson (Brian) whose gang has just ripped off a casino of $90,000 and is having to lie low in order to avoid detection by the police.  Beth has been struggling with blinding headaches, and a trip to her friendly neighborhood oculist reveals that unless she seeks an experimental operation at a prestigious Indiana clinic all she’ll have to worry about from then on is the “blinding” part.  Her boyfriend Matt is convinced that Beth is cheating on him (egged on by his brother Will, played by Carey) but she manages to talk him into letting her travel to the Hoosier State for the operation and she asks him to continue avoiding any confrontations with the cops.  This promise lasts just about as long as it takes for Matt, Will and Will’s wife Ann (Aldon) to be pulled over by a highway patrolman (Fred Graham) after a drunken Matt chucks a whiskey bottle out of the window of the trailer he and Will are riding in (with Ann at the wheel of the car towing them).  Matt ends up croaking the highway cop and the three of them really have to find a place to hide.

Joan Crawford and Dennis Morgan in This Woman is Dangerous (1952)

The clinic in Indiana is run by Dr. Ben Halleck (Morgan), one of those handsome doctors so common to movies of this type who successfully performs the necessary operation on Beth so that it won’t be necessary for her to stand on a street corner with pencils and a tin cup.  Halleck takes an unusually attentive interest in his patient, instructing her that she needs to undergo a long period of convalescence in order that his fine work not be undone…but we later learn that the length of her recuperation has been dictated solely by the fact that he has fallen in love with her.  (I should also point out that at no time in the movie is Halleck lectured on his ethics.)  It’s bad enough that Beth has to fend off the amorous advances of Dr. Horny, but she’s also having to deal with a skeevy private eye (Ian MacDonald) hired by Jackson to keep tabs on her and a team of FBI agents (headed up by Webb) who are watching her every move in order to locate Jackson’s whereabouts.

Beth feels that she’s not worthy to be Mrs. Halleck because of her checkered past (she did a stretch in the women’s pen) and fearing that Jackson will air condition the doc with a .45 agrees to go back to her man…who by this time has tracked Halleck down with the intention of icing him.  The entry for Dangerous at Wikipedia says “The FBI steps in before any violence is done” but considering Jackson gets shot and falls through the window of an operating room observation deck and Beth takes one in the shoulder I would venture to say the Feds didn’t step in quickly enough.  Beth will have to serve out a short sentence back in stir but optimistically will be able to resume her life with Halleck upon her release, providing he’s not squidding around with some other female patient by then.

Crawford, David Brian, and Mari Aldon

I think This Woman is Dangerous would have been a better picture if they had taken the trouble to show a little bit of Joan’s character’s former life (as in The Damned Don’t Cry) because Beth Austin is supposed to be a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who was rescued and made “respectable” by gangster Jackson.  I just don’t buy it, and what’s worse is Joan goes through all of this perfectly coiffed and stunningly wardrobed, like she’s just some society dame who’s had the misfortune to go slumming with the criminal element.  There is a nice scene, however, that alludes to Joan’s previous life in the jernt when she and Morgan make a stop at a women’s prison (Morgan is treating a patient there) and she witnesses a group of female inmates being shaken down by a screw who wants to know which one of them was breaking the rules by smoking in the transportation van…

Because this is a Joan Crawford movie she’s pretty much the entire show—none of the other female characters really stand out (I like Aldon but I associate her more with TV appearances such as Bachelor Father and Shotgun Slade) and the male contingent all seem to have graduated from the George Brent School of Dramatic Arts (though I did tee-hee whenever Carey started overacting with the tough criminal shtick).  Dangerous was Dennis Morgan’s penultimate workout at Warner’s; he’d do one more film, a western entitled Cattle Town (1952) that also stars Carey, Amanda Blake and Rita Moreno before moseying on.  But since I’ve always been partial to Morgan’s silver screen partner Jack Carson I think Dangerous would have been a far livelier picture if Carson had played the medico who falls for Joan (“There’s something about the sound of my own voice that fascinates me!”).  If you missed This Woman is Dangerous on TCM the other night, it’s available in an MOD release from the Warner Archive.

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