Classic Movies

Adventures in Blu-ray: Crime of Passion (1957)

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I don’t mind telling you—when my part-time employer, ClassicFlix, announced in February of this year that they were rolling out their very own DVD/Blu-ray label…I was a tad skeptical.  But their releases have surprised even jaded, cynical ol’ me; they’ve brought back quite a few titles from the Land of Dead DVDs (also referred to as OOP) and in doing so, have enabled some great movies to debut on Blu-ray, like You Only Live Once (1937) and The Noose Hangs High (1948).  (The crown jewel in CF’s release schedule is the re-release of three classic noirs directed by Anthony Mann [though he receives onscreen credit for only two of these features)—T-Men (1947), Raw Deal (1948), and He Walked by Night (1948)—in superlative Blu-ray editions.  To demonstrate how long it’s been since I’ve been adding DVDs to the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives…I still have my Roan box set of these three titles.)

crime15(I hope to have reviews of these CF releases for you at this here brand-spanking-new WordPress site soon [I do have T-Men waiting in the wings], and in the interest of full disclosure I need to impart to you that I receive these screeners from my freelance work for the company, writing liner notes for their DVDs/Blu-rays.  So when ClassicFlix’s upcoming releases Casanova Brown [1944] and Along Came Jones [1945] hit the streets on December 5th—not to mention Tomorrow is Forever [1946] December 19th—you’ll be reading my contributions once you turn the DVD or Blu-ray over.)

It’s #Noirvember on Twitter this month, and so I thought it would be appropriate to look at a classic that the company introduced to Blu-ray in SeptemberCrime of Passion (1957) stars Barbara Stanwyck as Kathy Ferguson, a San Francisco newspaper advice columnist who helps two L.A. homicide detectives—Captain Charles Alidos (Royal Dano) and Lieutenant Bill Doyle (Sterling Hayden)—round up a fugitive who’s croaked her husband and fled to Frisco.  Kathy’s coverage of the event earns her quite a few kudos from her peers with the fourth estate…including a job offer with a New York paper.  But Kathy is going to wind up telling the Big Apple “no dice”; she’s fallen in love with Bill, and she’ll tie the knot with the big lug before the second reel runs out.  (You know it’s serious because our heroine earlier told her husband-to-be: “No, Bill…I don’t think I ever will get married…it’s propaganda…not for me.”)

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Royal Dano, Sterling Hayden, and Barbara Stanwyck in Crime of Passion (1957)

Whisked away to a home in San Fernando Valley, the new Mrs. Doyle starts to develop cabin fever, chafing at the banality of being a good little wife to a man she dearly loves…but who doesn’t appear to have any ambition with regards to moving up in the department.  Kathy—a regular little schemer–connives to ingratiate herself with the wife (Fay Wray) of Bill’s commanding officer, Inspector Tony Pope (Raymond Burr).  So skillful is Kathy at office politics that she effortlessly muscles out the competition in Sara Alidos (Virginia Grey), Charlie’s wife; Charlie is Pope’s number-one man and the only impediment to Bill’s departmental fast track.  Mrs. Doyle then steps up her game by spreading a vicious rumor that Sara and Charlie have been gossiping about her “friendship” with the Inspector…prompting Bill and Charlie to come to blows and Pope issuing a reprimand to Alidos by transferring him to another division and appointing Doyle acting captain.

Now that she’s in for a penny she might as well be in for a pound; Kathy has an affair with Pope to ensure Bill’s mobility through the ranks…but the Inspector gets a case of the guilts after their assignation and announces to Kathy that he’s going to promote Charlie once he and Mrs. P retire to Honolulu.  A desperate Kathy is forced to implement Operation: Last Resort…with tragic results.

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Take a good look at her face…you know, her smile seems out of place. Barbara Stanwyck tries to find a little joy in having her nails done.

Directed by Gerd Oswald (A Kiss Before Dying, Screaming Mimi) from an original story and screenplay by Jo Eisinger (whose noir resume includes Night and the City [1950] and The Sleeping City [1950]), Crime of Passion has earned considerable cache from noir devotees due to its unconventional heroine, a proto feminist driven to homicide by her vacuous, stifling existence in suburbia.  The only time we see Kathy Ferguson happy is at the beginning of the film; she’s infiltrated a “man’s world” and is treated with respect by her colleagues…well, for the most part—her editor (Jay Adler) doesn’t seem to think much of her work (he suggests running one of her old columns—reasoning that “no one will know the difference”—when her assignment to cover the female fugitive threatens to scotch her deadline).  Editor Adler comes around eventually, offering her a raise to stay with the paper when New York comes a-callin’.

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Stanwyck’s Ferguson learns that the weed of crime bears bitter fruit.

Once she’s agreed to become Mrs. Bill Doyle, however, it doesn’t take long for Kathy to realize she’s made a huge mistake.  This ennui is brilliantly conveyed in a scene where she ditches the other wives at a neighborhood affair (she’s bored by their silly conversation) and attempts to infiltrate the “man talk” from the husbands in the other room…only to be rebuffed.  Kathy’s been sentenced to a hellish torture of mediocrity, compounded by her husband’s insistence that he’s fine where he is in the department and he doesn’t want to rock the boat.  Kathy’s so desperate that she even pleads with Bill to put in for a transfer with the Beverly Hills police force (I couldn’t stifle a chuckle at this development, because I was reminded of the classic Jack Benny broadcast/telecast where he depends on that august force to locate his stolen Maxwell); something Bill isn’t too crazy about because he’ll lose his current seniority in L.A.  He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make Kathy happy, but he gets a reprieve when Pope asks him to reconsider his move.

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Raymond Burr and Stanwyck

Crime of Passion was released in February of 1957, a few months before actor Raymond Burr (you’ll probably be taken aback at how thin Ray is in this one) became a boob tube fixture as TV’s Perry Mason.  It’s Burr’s noir swan song; he had established himself in the style as a most effective villain in such films as Raw Deal and Pitfall (both 1948).  Passion was also the last journey for star Barbara Stanwyck down Noir Alley, and she, too, would start making weekly appearances on the small screen with The Big Valley in the fall of 1965 (created by another familiar name in noir, A.I. Bezzerides).  Sterling Hayden—admittedly a favorite here on the blog—may not have been the best actor in the movies but in presentations like this one he gets the job done…and doesn’t worry about being overshadowed by Stanwyck and/or Burr.  The supporting cast—Dano, Wray, Grey, Adler, and Malcolm Atterbury—acquit themselves nicely as well.  (I chortled seeing Stuart Whitman as a lab technician…and that guy doling out the sandwiches in the courthouse press room is also a familiar TV face, Joe Conley—“Ike Godsey” from The Waltons.)

MGM/UA released Crime of Passion to DVD in 2003, but it’s most welcome to see it given a new lease on life via ClassicFlix (particularly the Blu-ray edition) as it looks—how do the French say it—tres spiffy.  A movie quite ahead of its time—it’s got the same cynical outlook on ”the American Dream” as fellow noirs like The Prowler (1951) and Shield for Murder (1954)—Passion only stumbles in its third-half, once Babs has done the dirty deed and you’re just waiting for the shouting to be over.  It’s still a worthwhile watch, and I recommend it highly for the trenchcoated Dark City maven in your family.

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