By May of 1946, Joan Crawford had seen her film career revived by the release of "MILDRED PIERCE", her first starring role since leaving M.G.M studios after 18 star studded years. Crawford assended even further when she recieved the Academy Award as Best Actress. A renewed, lucrative contract with Warner Bros. studios quickly followed, under which she completed some of her finest films. "POSSESSED", written and produced by the same team which created "MILDRED PIERCE", began filming two months after she recieved the Academy Award. It is perhaps because of this sudden burst of praise, that Crawford was able to tap deeper into her talents and deliver first rate performances in the three films she made during this period. In portraying Louise Howell in "POSSESSED", Crawford gave what was arguable the most vivid and well crafted performance of her 81 film career. As a mentally unbalanced private Nurse involved in a one way love affair, Crawford dominates the film, but doesn't push her co-stars out of the frame. Instead, she works with them to help her create a portrait of a schizophrenic woman teetering on the edge of self destruction. Her descent into madness is slow, but evident from the start. Every detail of this production is geared torwards creating an atmosphere of despair and lunacy (In the wedding scene, Crawford's black wedding suit is adorned with various straps making it seem almost like a black strait-jacket). From the clinging, pathetic creature hoplessly in love with a self absorbed engineer to the rigid private Nurse ascending the stairs of her employer's home, to the rejected woman accepting her employer's propsal of a marriage of convenience, to the crumbling and scorned woman lost in her own private hell, Crawford is nothing short of mesmerizing. After "MILDRED PIERCE","HUMORESQUE" and "POSSESSED", never again would Crawford reach the same level of carefully nuanced acting. There would be ambitious attempts, but never again would all the elements blend together to create a classic Crawford film.
Any of the numerous detractors who complain about Joan Crawford's acting ability need to watch a screening of the Warner Bros Noir classic "Possessed". I'm sure they will be pleasantly pleased by the wonderful range of ability displayed by Joan in what is without a doubt one of her finest performances during the 1940's. Often overshadowed by her wonderful performance in her first Warner film in 1945 "Mildred Pierce", for which she won an Oscar as Best Actress, "Possessed" involved a far more difficult acting task for Joan Crawford in a role that had numerous layers of complexity dealing as it did with the tragic issue of schizophrenia and its effects on the mind. Crawford rises admirably to the task and received a second Academy Award nomination for her work here. "Possessed" (not to be confused with an earlier film of the same name that Joan made costarring Clark Gable at MGM in the 1930's) tells the story of a personal nurse Louise Howell who suffers through a one sided love affair with David Sutton (Van Heflin in a stand out performance) an eternal bachelor type who is not willing to commit to an ongoing relationship and treats Louise with a dimissive attitude that feeds her inner uncertainity. The tragic consequences of this lack of love in Louise's life eventually leds to murder and a total mental breakdown with her being taken to a psychiatric hospital. Despite eventually marrying the husband (Raymond Massey), of her sick charge after her death as a form of compensation the obsession with David never leaves Louise and when he returns to her part of the world after working in Canada the old attraction that Louise thought she had buried forever returns with tragic results. The lack of response in David to her advances unhinges Louise's mind and she eventually forsakes her new family and shoots David as a form of revenge for the hurt he has caused her. This action springing from her schizophrenia completely sends louise over the edge to the extent that she looses the knowledge of who she is and what she has done. Joan Crawford's handling of this complex role is light years away from much of her earlier work at MGM. Her depiction of the schizophrenic mind at work and how it distorts the personality is brilliantly displayed. Crawford made a famous quote about this film in that she stated that she worked harder on "Possessed" than on any other film in her career and it is easy to see that she was corrct in saying that. She is at times loving, desperate, frantic in her illusionary world and lack of control of it, and heart wrenching as her character progressively looses her grasp on reality. Besides her power house performance most of the other characters have a hard time competing. Van Heflin is fine as the object of her desire who moves from a playful dismissing of Louise's affections to an almost open hostility towards her to his own detriment and Raymond Massey in a surprise performance creates a sympathetic portrayal as Louise's devoted husband who marries her despite knowing her attention is elsewhere and who battles trying to fully understand Louise's condition and possible treatment. One standout in the cast is young Geraldine Brooks as Louise's step daughter Carol who begins a relationship with David under Louise's nose unwittingly triggering off Louise's psychotic tendencies. Done with all the customery gloss of the noir genre at its height the film benefits from beautiful photography and a distinctly shadowy black and white look. This shadowy effect really heightens the "grey" feel of the story and makes the progression of Louise's character so much more engrossing to witness. This is an instance where colour photography would have been a grave error. In "Possessed" Joan Crawford has rarely been photographed more stunningly and it's a shame that it almost marked the last time she was so flatteringly photographed just prior to the hardening that her screen image began to take on in the late 1940's. Depressing and heavy the theme of "Possessed" may appear to the reader however what unfolds is an fascinating story that is bold in the theme that it explored. Schizophrenia is not a topic often tackled by mainstream Hollywood but it is dealt with in an honest and straightforward manner. Joan Crawford's understanding of this role gives the film a strong conviction that rings true and it all adds up to an engrossing melodrama of the higest order with an interesting storyline, terrific performances and a bit of education of just how the mind can react under different circumstances. Enjoy Joan Crawford in her greatest acting role of her 1940's career.
Joan Crawford said that the role of the nurse, Louise, in "Possessed" was the most emotionally and psychologically demanding she undertook in her long career. This is a satisfying potboiler of a 1940s movie with themes of love (of course!),jealousy, guilt, obsession and murder. Crawford's Louise is a calm, quiet, very competent and tactful nurse whose foiled love affair unbalances her to the core. Van Heflin plays a rather sardonic, heartless type; Raymond Massey turns in a fine performance as a wealthy man who falls in love with Louise and marries her. Joan Crawford fans will relish this movie, which deserves a high ranking among 1940s era films. Highly recommended.